Detroit Lions: Charles Woodson

As free agency begins Tuesday and the Detroit Lions figure out exactly how to fill their holes, certain players will stand out.

And over the past three days, the Lions have spent time in the beginnings of talks with free agents as they try to maximize about $11 million in salary-cap space.

It might sound like a lot -- and it will be enough to get a couple of deals done -- but the total is in the lower half of the NFL and could keep the Lions from being major movers in the market, at least until a new contract is worked out with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

If that happens.

As everyone settles in for the insanity of free agency, here is a look at players the Lions could target on defense.

DEFENSIVE LINE:

Why: This could be predicated on what happens with defensive end Willie Young. If the team is able to bring Young back, the Lions might be done at the position in the near term. If not, they might look for a replacement. At defensive tackle, the team already signed Corvey Irvin and has depth.

Two candidates:
  • Young: Last season was his first consistent extended action, and he was effective. He had 47 tackles and three sacks, but his size and speed make him an attractive free agent for teams. At 28, he is in his prime.
  • Brett Keisel: He is a 3-4 defensive end who can play defensive tackle in the 4-3. Though 35 years old, he had 29 tackles and four sacks in 12 games last season. He could be a cheap alternative if the team feels there is a need for another veteran on the line.
LINEBACKER:

Why not: Sure, there could be a deal made with someone for cheap or a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, but with DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch returning and the team playing more nickel than ever, it could be tough for them to lure a big-name player.

Two options:
  • LaMarr Woodley: Expected to be released by the Steelers later Tuesday, he has connections to the state and can play both linebacker and defensive end, making him a potentially cheap, versatile piece.
  • Larry Foote: Like Woodley, this is more about someone who has connections to Michigan. If Foote is planning on being a starter, he isn’t going to come to Detroit -- and his price tag would likely be too much anyway.
CORNERBACK:

Why: Despite the team having money wrapped up in Chris Houston and a bunch of younger cornerbacks ready to seek out playing time, the Lions might be wise to invest in another veteran, much like they did with Rashean Mathis a season ago.

Four candidates:
  • Mathis: He showed he can still play after becoming the team’s top cornerback last season and was a steadying influence in the Detroit locker room for those younger cornerbacks. He would probably still come cheap.
  • Corey Graham: He played last season under new Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin and has familiarity with Austin's schemes. At 6 feet, Graham has the height Austin wants, made 68 tackles and intercepted four passes a season ago. He could be a strong fit.
  • Alterraun Verner: The Lions reportedly reached out to the former Tennessee cornerback, but he is expected to be pursued heavily in free agency. Though the Lions could be a fit, Verner might end up being too expensive.
  • Charles Tillman: He told reporters during Super Bowl week that he wouldn’t rule out playing for the Lions, and he could be an interesting cornerback/safety hybrid. He also has familiarity with the division, having played for Chicago, and has the respect of receiver Calvin Johnson.
SAFETY

Why: Other than receiver, this might be the biggest need of all for Detroit after the team released starter Louis Delmas. Though the Lions could address this spot in the draft, they likely would like to put someone experienced opposite Glover Quin.

Some candidates:
  • T.J. Ward: The Cleveland safety has been the name most tied to the Lions during the four-day lead up to the beginning of free agency. He had 112 tackles and two interceptions last season and could be a good complement to Quin. He is going to be highly sought after, so if Detroit lands him, he might be the team’s big free agency move.
  • Chris Clemons: His former team, the Dolphins, signed Delmas on Monday, meaning Clemons is likely headed elsewhere. He has been productive the past two seasons with 90-plus tackles in each. If the Lions don’t land Ward, Clemons could be a strong second option for Detroit. Insider Matt Williamson considers Clemons one of the best bargains of this free agent class.
  • James Ihedigbo: He doesn’t have the name recognition of Ward or Clemons, but like Corey Graham, he is someone Austin is familiar with from Baltimore. Ihedigbo, 30, had a career year in 2013, making 99 tackles and intercepting the first three passes of his career.
  • Ryan Clark: The Steelers safety could be a cheap, valuable addition and an instant locker room leader like Delmas and Nate Burleson were. At age 34, Clark has had three straight seasons of 100 tackles or more.
  • Charles Woodson: This would almost scream cheap, one-year deal for an aging veteran with ties to the state. He made 97 tackles last season and still seems in shape to play. He could provide good tutoring and a high level of play for Detroit, and told the Detroit News “never say never” when asked about playing for the Lions. He has also been around the state the past few days, but that likely means nothing in terms of free agency.
Each day this week, we’ll look at one of the closer calls the Lions had during their 22-game losing streak in Wisconsin.

Date: Oct. 3, 2010
Score: Green Bay 28, Detroit 26
Records at the time: Packers (3-1), Lions (0-4)

What happened: This might have been the most unpredictable of all of Detroit’s losses in Green Bay over the years. If anything, that the game was as close as it ended up being is the biggest surprise of all.

The Lions were without starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, who separated his shoulder in the opening week of the season. So Detroit went to Green Bay with Shaun Hill as its quarterback.

And Hill almost led the Lions to a win.

Hill completed 34 of 54 passes for 331 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions in the game. He also rushed four times for 53 yards.

But the same issues that plagued the Lions over the years kept them from winning. They had 13 penalties for 102 yards and they couldn’t finish off drives. After a Charles Woodson interception return in the third quarter gave Green Bay a 28-14 lead, the Lions scored on four drives.

The problem was, they didn’t score a touchdown on any of them.

Even then, Detroit had two major chances. The first came on its final drive, when the Lions drove to the Green Bay 37-yard line before Hill threw two incomplete passes to Calvin Johnson before having to punt with 6:32 left.

Then the Lions' defense couldn’t stop Green Bay running back John Kuhn. Kuhn ran the ball seven times on the Packers’ final drive and the Lions only put Green Bay in a third down once on the drive. When they did -- with 55 seconds left -- Kuhn ran up the middle for 8 yards to seal the win.

An interesting nugget in this game was two of the team’s top three targeted receivers were tight ends. Brandon Pettigrew, who led the Lions with eight catches for 91 yards, saw 11 targets -- the same as Johnson. Tony Scheffler was thrown to 10 times, catching six passes for 63 yards.

How the season finished: The Lions, who were 0-4 after losing at Green Bay, finished at 6-10 in their second season under Jim Schwartz. They had won their final four games of the season -- including a win over Green Bay at Ford Field that December. The Packers, meanwhile, made the playoffs as the No. 6 seed and ended up beating Pittsburgh, 31-25, to win the Super Bowl.
Each day this week, we’ll look at one of the closer calls the Lions had during their 22-game losing streak in Wisconsin.

Date: Jan. 1, 2012
Score: Packers 45, Lions 41
Records: Packers (15-1), Lions (10-6)

What happened: Green Bay sat most of its key players, having already wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs, giving the Lions a chance to clinch their own playoff fortunes as well.

And Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford tried to bring the Lions a No. 5 seed instead of a No. 6 seed by throwing for 520 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions -- one of the better passing games in Detroit history.

Here was the problem.

Then-Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn matched him. Flynn threw for 480 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Flynn played because Green Bay sat starters Aaron Rodgers, James Starks, Randall Cobb, Bryan Bulaga and Greg Jennings on offense and Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson on defense.

Both quarterbacks had passer ratings over 100 and QBRs over 84.

The Lions did a lot right in that game. They forced a safety, held Green Bay under 4 yards a carry and outgained the Packers. They even scored a touchdown to take the lead -- a 12-yard pass from Stafford to tight end Tony Scheffler -- with 2:39 left to take a 41-38 lead.

But for Detroit there is something about winning in Green Bay that has been impossible since 1991 and the Packers went 80 yards in eight plays over 1 minute, 29 seconds to score what turned into the game-winning touchdown from Flynn to Jermichael Finley.

In perhaps one of the closer calls of the last 22 tries for Detroit, the Lions actually had the ball on the Green Bay 37-yard line when Stafford threw an interception on a pass intended for Nate Burleson with 25 seconds left to seal the Packers win and the streak.

If you’re curious, Detroit will have nine starters from that game on the field Sunday -- Stafford, Scheffler, tight end Brandon Pettigrew, wide receiver Calvin Johnson, offensive linemen Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims, defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and linebackers Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy.

How did their seasons finish: Instead of facing the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants, the Lions traveled to New Orleans and were blown out, 45-28. Green Bay didn’t win another game that season, either, being beaten by the Giants at Lambeau Field in the divisional round of the playoffs, 37-20.

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