- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.
To see the rest of the Meet the Free Agents series, check out this link.
Free agent to be: Brandon Pettigrew
Position: Tight end
Years in the league: 5
What he made last season: $3,475,425 (cap value); $2,201,675 (cash value); $1,946,250 (base salary); $250,000 (roster bonus); $5,425 (workout bonus)
What he did last season: Pettigrew had an interesting season in 2013. His production went down, with his fewest receptions (41), targets (61), yards (416) and touchdowns (two) since his rookie season. But it was also because his role changed. The number of routes he ran last season didn’t differ all too much from his route-running in prior seasons, but his ability to block as a tight end has been one of his more important traits. His versatility may have hindered his receiving numbers, but it made him much more valuable as a dual-purpose tight end who could line up anywhere from the slot to in the backfield as a blocking back. He caught 67.2 percent of passes thrown to him last season and had four drops -- the fewest of his career.
His potential market value: Pettigrew’s value is going to be higher than you think, mostly because there will be teams that covet his ability to both block and catch at an above average rate. New offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said last week he would like a tight end that can do both, - but so would a lot of other teams. Depending what happens with New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham and Baltimore’s Dennis Pitta, Pettigrew could be the top tight end available in free agency. Jermichael Finley is also a free agent, but is coming off a catastrophic injury.
Will he fit the Lions still: From a playing perspective, there is no doubt he fits what Detroit is looking for. Besides his aforementioned dual-threat ability and Lombardi’s aforementioned interest in that ability, Pettigrew has a comfort level within the Lions' offense. He has played with Matthew Stafford his entire career and the quarterback feels comfortable with him. He’s shown the ability to make the difficult catches in traffic and he’s a good locker room guy who won’t cause any trouble. Where the Lions could have some issues is being able to afford him. Considering his age and the usual length of time for tight ends in the NFL, this is going to be his chance to lock away some real money -- and the Lions' cap issues could make it difficult to retain him.
What happens: Detroit should pursue Pettigrew and would likely want him to return if the price makes sense. It would be difficult to see the Lions using the franchise tag on Pettigrew -- he’s the only player it would even make some sense to use it on -- because of the cap hit that would come with it. Detroit has two young tight ends in Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams on the roster next season and might be able to grab a veteran in free agency or use a second-day draft pick on a tight end. Keeping Pettigrew or letting him go will probably be the toughest decision the team has in free agency, but if the right deal comes along, I don’t think Detroit will be able to match it.