- 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 complete series to date, click this link.
Free agent to be: Rashean Mathis
Years in the league: 11
What he made last season: $555,000 (cap value); $940,000 (cash value and base salary)
What he did last season: Mathis was signed midway through training camp in 2013, the first team he had played with since being drafted by Jacksonville in 2003. He left the Jaguars as the team’s career interceptions leader, but struggled with injuries during his last years in Florida. He bounced back from that with Detroit, playing in 15 games and making 47 tackles. He initially was a depth player used for mentoring some of Detroit’s younger cornerbacks, but he took over the starting job from Darius Slay in Week 3 and turned into the Lions’ top cornerback in 2013.
His potential market value: Pretty good. Mathis’ age will be a concern, but he proved last season he can still play at a fairly high level when he is healthy. He has said before he would like to play one or two more seasons if teams want him and his body will let him, so he should be able to find a home if the price makes sense. He is a smart, intelligent cornerback who is also a good influence in the locker room for younger players at the position and on the defense.
Will he fit the Lions still: At the right price, he should. It would be unlikely he would come back as a presumed starter – the team is hoping Slay can slide into that role. He was a strong mentor to last year’s second-round pick and a gaggle of other younger cornerbacks on the roster. Whether or not they develop could end up being the difference if there is a slot on the roster for Mathis. The Lions have a lot of young corners and an inconsistent veteran in Chris Houston at the position, so he could fit the team as long as he’s willing to come fairly cheap.
What happens: This, along with Willie Young, are the toughest ones to predict. While it would seem unlikely Mathis will be the first option Detroit targets in free agency – the team will probably want to get younger at the position if it were to dip into the free-agent market – he could be a viable one. If Mathis does not find a suitable suitor for his services, the team could end up bringing him back for another season. He fit in well in the Detroit locker room and Slay credits some of his development to Mathis’ help, so he would be a good player to have around. If it were me, I would try to bring him back for the veteran minimum, but that is not a guarantee at this point. Detroit’s win-now mentality could aid that as the Lions know what they will be receiving in Mathis.