Detroit Lions: Dominic Raiola
General manager Martin Mayhew said Friday morning that Reiff could play another position on the line in 2015.
Reiff played fairly well at left tackle for the Lions this season, grading out along with right guard Larry Warford as the team’s best linemen according to Pro Football Focus.
But the argument could be made that Detroit’s other tackles -- particularly Cornelius Lucas -- looked better on the left side replacing Reiff than he did on the right side when he was replacing LaAdrian Waddle last season. There’s also a chance the Lions could draft a tackle in the first round, which would further shake up the offensive line.
Detroit is in the midst of at least somewhat of an overhaul on the offensive line. The team already moved on from center Dominic Raiola and there are questions as to whether Rob Sims will return to the Lions. Then there’s the tackle situation, which appears to be at least open to some competition.
It could also be a young offensive line in 2015, especially if Sims does not return. Reiff, entering his fourth season, would be the longest-tenured lineman at that point. So that could be a reason to retain Sims for at least one season, potentially giving him the chance to groom his replacement.
These are some of the decisions that the Lions need to make on their offensive line over the next couple of months.
“Leadership is really important in that group, as you know,” Mayhew said. “Not having Dom, obviously, Riley would be a really key part of that. On the other hand, you also want to see some of the young guys, the younger guys, Riley Reiff -- is he still a younger guy now? He’s got a bunch of starts under his belt.
“You want to see some young guys step up and lead, too. There’s a point where the handoff has to happen to the next generation, so to speak, but yeah, Rob’s been a great guy in the locker room and great leader and just a really tough guy.”
1. Caldwell’s combine role is large: This isn’t a massive surprise considering how much he likes to have control of everything within his football team, but Caldwell said he is part of every session at the combine, except when he met with the media Thursday. He will also sit in on a lot of interviews with potential prospects. What does he look for? "We have a set group of questions that we ask and how we go about conducting business and those kinds of things to see if there’s a fit. But we’re also looking for unique traits and characteristics."
3. Don’t expect the Lions to pass more than 2014: As part of an answer to why running back Theo Riddick didn’t have much of a role toward the end of the season, Caldwell started talking about why the franchise didn’t throw to tight ends more. He explained that targets needed to be divvied up in a certain way, and the team didn’t want to take chances away from their two biggest playmakers, Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. From the way he spoke, it sounds like things could be similar in 2015 as long as Tate and Johnson remain healthy. The Lions threw 644 passes this season between the regular season and playoffs.
4. Not bringing back Dominic Raiola was tough on Caldwell: Caldwell said the decision to not bring back the longtime center came after assessing where Raiola was and what he could potentially give to the Lions in 2015. But when it came to making that decision, Caldwell said they had to make the best decision for the franchise. "They’re not always the most comfortable," Caldwell said. "Some of them are hard. That’s a hard one because I love the guy."
5. Riddick’s role not set: In his limited playing time over the first two seasons of his career, Riddick has shown to be a good receiver out of the backfield, but was barely used as a more traditional running back. He has more receptions in his career (38 for 342 yards) than he does carries (29 for 76 yards). "It depends on what we want to do with him," Caldwell said. "But he’s capable of carrying it more than what we gave to him. But he’s also, I think you can see his numbers in terms of his out of the backfield catching the ball. They jump out at you, so he’s got a unique skill there, but he’s also a good ball carrier. So, we’ll see how that goes."
A closer look at the areas the Detroit Lions could address in the draft. We'll get started Monday with a look at the offensive linemen, who are scheduled to work out Thursday and Friday in Indianapolis.
Position of need: The Lions need to draft linemen as part of reshaping an offensive line that allowed 45 sacks of Matthew Stafford in 2014. The team already moved on from Dominic Raiola and has decisions to make on left guard Rob Sims and reserves Corey Hilliard and Garrett Reynolds. Detroit could have as many as three new starters by 2015's season opener.
Three players the Lions could target in the draft:
Ereck Flowers (OT), Miami (Fla.): It would be somewhat surprising if he fell to Detroit at No. 23, but if he were there, the Lions should grab him immediately. He has great size for a tackle at 6-foot-6, 325 pounds and has started at left and right tackle in his career. His ESPN/Scouts Inc. profile rates him above average in pass protection and run blocking along with having exceptional toughness. He is ranked as the No. 3 tackle in the draft and the No. 15 player overall.
La'El Collins (OT/OG), LSU: He has played both tackle and guard during his time with the Tigers, giving Detroit versatility in where he could play if needed in a pinch. Named the top offensive lineman in the SEC as a senior, the 6-5, 315-pound Collins is rated as the top guard in the draft according to ESPN/Scouts Inc. He projects better as a tackle, though, and was a second-team All-American as a senior.
Laken Tomlinson (OG), Duke: This is not a first-round selection, but the Lions have done well finding quality linemen in the second and third rounds the past two years -- Travis Swanson in 2014 and Larry Warford in 2013. If Tomlinson, who was an AP All-American as a senior, is around in the second or third round, he might be a wise pick for Detroit. He is 6-3, 325 pounds and is ranked the No. 3 guard in the draft class according to ESPN/Scouts Inc.
Free agent to be: Dominic Raiola
Years in the league: 14
What he did last season: Raiola played in 15 of 16 games -- missing one game due to a suspension following a stomp on the ankle of Chicago defensive tackle Ego Ferguson. After a strong 2013, Raiola regressed in 2014. Pro Football Focus graded him out as having the worst grade of any Lions offensive player along with crediting him for allowing four sacks, two quarterback hits and 17 quarterback hurries. He rated 37th among all centers according to PFF.
His potential market value: The demand for 36-year-old centers is fairly low, and Raiola has played his entire career for the Lions. Where he could provide value is if a team wants to bring along a center to groom and need a veteran presence in the middle for one year only. That’s where a team could look to Raiola. It would have to be a similar role to the one he played this year with Detroit, mentoring Travis Swanson while also starting for the Lions. He would not have long-term value to any team. His durability could also intrigue a team since he's remained largely healthy through his career.
Will he fit the Lions?: No. The Lions have already said they are moving on from Raiola and are likely inserting Swanson in as the starting center for 2015 and probably beyond that. The only way that would change -- Swanson, not Raiola -- is if the team found a more capable center and used him at guard in 2015. Raiola, though, no longer fits in Detroit’s plans.
What happens: He is going to be an interesting case because he has never left Detroit and has always wanted to return to the Lions the rare times he was close to reaching free agency. Even if he does end up somewhere else in 2015 -- and that is an if due to his age and the likelihood that a team is only going to bring him in to start, not be a backup -- I’d expect he would eventually retire as a Lion with a one-day contract or something. When that occurs -- this year or next -- is the unknown. But he is the Lions franchise leader in starts with over 200 games in his career. He leaves a complicated legacy in Detroit but was a stalwart with the franchise for over a decade.
With Wednesday being signing day for high school football players around the country, we decided to look back for the second year in a row at how the Detroit Lions were rated as high school players.
The rankings from 2006 forward are ESPN’s rankings when available. Others are from Rivals.com. In Dominic Raiola’s case, there were no rankings available. The roster we used for this project was the final roster for the Lions’ season for the 53-man roster and injured reserve.
This post covers the offense. On Tuesday, we covered the defense and specialists. What you'll see is not every Detroit player took an easy path to the NFL and many bloomed later than others, especially on the offensive line.
- Matthew Stafford (Class of 2006): No. 1 quarterback; No. 5 overall player. Signed with Georgia
- Dan Orlovsky (2001): The Hartford Courant reported at the time of Orlovsky’s commitment he was a three-star recruit by Rivals.com. He signed with Connecticut.
- Kellen Moore (2007): No. 162 quarterback. Signed with Boise State.
- Reggie Bush (2003): No. 1 running back per Rivals.com; No. 2 player overall by Rivals.com. Signed with USC.
- Joique Bell (2005): Not listed in Rivals' rankings for 2005. Signed with Wayne State.
- Theo Riddick (2009): No. 48 athlete; No. 65 player in the northeast region.
- George Winn (2008): He was the No. 100 running back in his class. Signed with Cincinnati.
- Jed Collins (2004): He was the No. 34 linebacker in his class and the No. 60 player in the state of California, according to Rivals.com. Rivals dubbed him a three-star recruit. He signed with Washington State.
- Calvin Johnson (2004): No. 6 wide receiver by Rivals.com and the No. 37 overall player. Signed with Georgia Tech.
- Golden Tate (2007): The No. 2 wide receiver and No. 11 overall prospect in his class. He signed with Notre Dame.
- Jeremy Ross (2006): No. 174 wide receiver. Signed with Cal.
- Ryan Broyles (2007): The No. 58 receiver in his class. Signed with Oklahoma.
- Corey Fuller (2008): Not rated by Rivals or ESPN. Went to Kansas to run track before transferring to Virginia Tech -- where his brothers played -- for football.
- Brandon Pettigrew (2004): Not ranked by Rivals.com, but was a two-star recruit. Signed with Oklahoma State.
- Joseph Fauria (2008): The No. 15 tight end. Signed with Notre Dame and transferred to UCLA.
- Eric Ebron (2011): He was the No. 8 tight end in his class. He signed with North Carolina.
- Kellen Davis (2004): He was the No. 7 tight end and No. 43 player in the Midwest according to Rivals.com. Signed with Michigan State.
- Dominic Raiola (1997): No rankings available. Signed with Nebraska.
- Rob Sims (2002): The No. 20 offensive guard in his class by Rivals.com. Signed with Ohio State.
- Riley Reiff (2008): Was the No. 84 defensive end in his class. Signed with Iowa.
- Larry Warford (2009): The No. 51 guard in his class. Signed with Kentucky.
- LaAdrian Waddle (2009): The No. 19 offensive tackle in his class and the No. 43 player in the Midlands region. Signed with Texas Tech.
- Cornelius Lucas (2009): He was unrated by ESPN in 2009. He was a two-star recruit by Rivals.com and the No. 52 player in Louisiana.
- Travis Swanson (2009): He was the No. 91 guard in his class and the No. 199 player in the Midlands. Signed with Arkansas.
- Garrett Reynolds (2005): He was the No. 51 tackle in his class by Rivals.com and the No. 12 player in Tennessee.
- Rodney Austin (2007): Not rated by ESPN.com or Rivals.com in his class. Signed with Elon.
- Corey Hilliard (2003): He was rated as a two-star recruit by Rivals.com. Signed with Oklahoma State.
Remember, the Mailbag is only as good as the questions you ask. To ask a question for the Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or shoot a message over on the Facebook page here.
@mikerothstein: It depends on the player. Some, like Dominic Raiola, have already told they won't be back. Others, like Ndamukong Suh, know they are wanted by the Lions. And the Lions had started speaking with the agents of some of their pending free agents before the season ended. Nothing, though, has been announced. Of course, many of Detroit's moves will revolve around what happens with Suh. If I'm the Lions, though, I'm understanding that Suh will likely end up as the highest-paid defensive lineman in the league, and I have to be OK with that. That's how much he means to the Detroit defense.
@mikerothstein: Is it feasible? Sure, it's feasible, but it would likely depend on the structure of the contract. Detroit would almost assuredly want to backload any long-term deal with Suh to lessen the salary-cap hit for 2015 and even 2016. The cap is expected to jump heavily in 2015, and then again in 2016. So a deal with a reasonable cap number over the next two seasons with bigger numbers down the road would be doable for Detroit. It's going to be about the money for Suh, though, and how much the Lions or any other team really want to pay him. I don't know if I'd do that deal if I'm Detroit -- meaning the specific one you've listed -- but it's going to take a lot of money to keep Suh with the Lions.
@mikerothstein: I can't say that one way or the other at this point. Too many variables right now.
@mikerothstein: Might as well answer this, too. No, the Lions can't do this. Detroit can franchise or transition tag Suh between Feb. 16 and March 2. So that's the window to watch. Otherwise, it's either signing him to a long-term deal before free agency starts -- that seems unlikely to me -- or seeing Suh test the market beginning March 10..
The play: Detroit center Dominic Raiola stomped on the ankle of Chicago defensive lineman Ego Ferguson.
The situation: The Lions were assured of a playoff berth and a chance at a NFC North title no matter what happened against the Bears in Week 16, but coming out of a scrum on a play in the third quarter, Raiola appeared to intentionally stomp on the ankle of Ferguson, a Chicago defensive tackle. Raiola said he apologized to Ferguson after the game and that the stomp was unintentional. He also spoke with one of his friends on the Bears, Roberto Garza, to reiterate he did not do it intentionally.
The reason it mattered: In the scheme of Detroit’s game against Chicago, this play didn’t matter at all. Everything after did. Raiola said after the game the play was unintentional. Lions coach Jim Caldwell backed Raiola both after the game and the next day, but the NFL reviewed the play and suspended Raiola for the regular-season finale against Green Bay, which was a de facto divisional title game. This left rookie Travis Swanson making his first start at center and might have sealed Raiola’s fate with the Lions. Swanson handled his debut at center well and the team has already decided not to bring back Raiola for 2015.
What Raiola said about the play: “It was totally unintentional. I remember I was stumbling out. I didn't see the end of it. I apologized at the end of the game, told him it was unintentional and we shook hands and that was it."
Some worked. Some didn’t. Here’s a quick primer on some good and bad free agent moves Mayhew made over the past 12 months.
Defensive end George Johnson: He signed essentially as a camp body and ended up making the roster and having a season that likely saved his career. He provided Detroit with a strong third option at defensive end and a second skilled pass rusher on the outside.
Safety James Ihedigbo: A player who understood Teryl Austin’s new defensive scheme and someone who could provide a reliable complement to Glover Quin, Ihedigbo had a standout season for the Lions. He proved to be an upgrade over Louis Delmas, who was released before free agency last season, and gave Detroit one of the top safety tandems in the league to help with one of the top defenses in the league.
Linebacker Josh Bynes: A huge find for the Lions on Baltimore’s practice squad, Bynes turned into a rotational linebacker for Detroit by the middle of the season as well as a good special teams performer. He was a strong complement to Tahir Whitehead and could end up giving Detroit more depth in the future.
Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus: Tate and Ihedigbo had more impact, but Mayhew’s savviest move might have been claiming Abdul-Quddus off waivers during last season’s playoffs. He was a valuable special teams asset to Detroit and showed he could be a future third safety. It was a sly, under-the-radar move that helps make teams into contenders.
Fullback Jed Collins: He had familiarity with what Joe Lombardi wanted to run in Detroit and did an adequate job blocking and as a short yardage rusher.
Defensive end Darryl Tapp: He was initially cut by the Lions after the preseason but quickly re-signed and became a valuable member of Detroit’s defensive line. He was a guy who could fill in at tackle if need be as well as a rotational backup to Jason Jones.
Cornerback Rashean Mathis: The Lions picked him up before the 2013 season and then chose to re-sign him prior to 2014 to a one-year deal. It was a smart move considering he once again provided stability and consistent play to Detroit’s secondary. He’s a high-character guy who is also a leader and a positive influence. It wouldn’t be shocking to see him back again in 2015.
Quarterback Dan Orlovsky: He didn’t play a snap but provided a smart, veteran option for Matthew Stafford to bounce ideas off and to help in preparation.
Kicker Matt Prater: He surprisingly came available after being cut by Denver and he turned into a consistent kicking option for a team desperately in need of one. It was the luckiest signing of the year by Mayhew. Prater made 20 of 26 field goals after being picked up.
Kicker Alex Henery: The Lions signed Henery after cutting Nate Freese. That didn’t go well. He missed three field goals against Buffalo and lasted two weeks before being released in favor of Prater.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew: Considering the way Detroit used its tight ends this season, bringing back Pettigrew in free agency with $8 million guaranteed seems a bit steep. He continued to be Detroit’s best blocking tight end, but he wasn’t used much in the passing game. For how the Lions used him, they could have gone in a cheaper direction, but that is more on the coaches than Mayhew or Pettigrew. To be fair, this was before the team drafted Eric Ebron, though.
Receiver Kevin Ogletree: The Lions re-signed him on the first day of free agency to a one year deal with $100,000 guaranteed. That isn’t much money for a receiver who played a lot for Detroit in 2013, but he didn’t play a down for the Lions in 2014 before being released.
Center Dominic Raiola: The Lions didn’t quite get a good return on Raiola this season after bringing him back, even if at the time re-signing him seemed like a smart move. He regressed in 2014 from what had been one of his best seasons in 2013. He was also suspended for a game, although there was some benefit since the Lions had him mentor Travis Swanson. He won’t be back in 2015.
The longtime former Detroit Lions center spoke to the media on a conference call for about 10 minutes on Tuesday to address a career lasting 14 seasons, six head coaches, two playoff appearances and one forgettable winless season.
He was out front for so much of it, too, the longest-tenured Lion until a week after this season when he found out he would be a Lion no more.
"If you're one with the city, you understand the passion I played with and what I brought every day. It was grouped together. That's how I was raised and it just so happened it was ironic that I got drafted here and really fell in love with this city and I don't know if a lot of people would say the same back but I would hope that. I would hope that I would be looked at that way."
Raiola always played with passion and an edge to him that sometimes got him in trouble, be it flipping off or cursing at fans or yelling obscenities as the Wisconsin Marching Band. It led to a suspension this season and a fine for another incident as well. Yet that passion is something both general manager Martin Mayhew and head coach Jim Caldwell echoed in statements released by the team about Raiola.
Raiola, though, also represents one of the last vestiges to a rough past for Detroit.
He was the last player on the Lions to play in the old Pontiac Silverdome. He was one of five players on last year's roster -- along with Calvin Johnson and free agents Don Muhlbach, Andre Fluellen and Dan Orlovsky -- to be on the 2008 team that went 0-16.
And he was part of the losing past while trying to change the present. Raiola won little in Detroit. He never picked up a division title. He never played a playoff game at home and never won a playoff game period. The Lions had only two winning seasons in his tenure.
Yet he still felt extremely tied to the city of Detroit and the Lions, mentioning it often during a 10-minute farewell conference call.
"I'm sorry that, that's one thing that if I could apologize to people in this city that I'm sorry that we couldn't be more successful and ultimately win a championship while I was here," Raiola said. "That's, it sucks but I really mean that. Some people can take it how they want but the real fans know that I really mean that and it really comes from the heart."
He found out his fate for sure when the Lions called him into their offices the week after the season ended. He met with offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, team president Tom Lewand, Mayhew and Caldwell to tell him they would not be re-signing him for a 15th season.
Raiola said he wasn't given reasons for why Detroit chose not to bring him back, although there has been a strong impetus with the franchise to become younger on the offensive line after the Lions gave up 45 sacks in 2014.
After a strong 2013 season, Raiola regressed in 2014, rated as the No. 37 center by Pro Football Focus for his play throughout the year. A year after allowing no sacks according to PFF, he gave up four. He has maintained all along he believes he can still play in the NFL and said he hasn't given much thought one way or the other to retirement because right now, he still wants to play.
"Obviously I still think I can play," Raiola said. "I think a bunch of people probably don't think I can but a bunch of people haven't took a snap in the NFL, either. I don't know, I'm just digesting this right now with my family."
The 36-year-old center lasted 14 seasons through one of the roughest stretches the Detroit Lions ever faced. He was one of the final players left on the team from the winless 2008 season and had often acted like a bridge between the struggles of the past and their attempts at building a future.
Raiola's agent, Kenny Zuckerman, said on Monday that the Lions would not bring him back next season. While Raiola wanted to return for one more campaign in 2015, it is the right time for the Lions to cut ties. His play slipped in 2014 after a standout 2013 season and the Lions already drafted his eventual replacement, Travis Swanson, last May.
The offensive line struggled this season, allowing quarterback Matthew Stafford to be sacked 45 times. Other than Raiola and Rob Sims, another pending free agent who has an unknown future, the Lions have a young core with guard Larry Warford, tackles Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle and Swanson now at center.
Whether or not Raiola retires or finishes his career somewhere else, his complex legacy with the Lions will remain unchanged.
He is one of the men who taught Warford, Swanson, Reiff and Waddle how to transition to life -- and how to play on the offensive line -- in the NFL. Up until now, Raiola had always been good enough to keep his job. Even as the years crept up and as the faces around the locker room rotated, Raiola was the constant. When he spoke about playoff runs and finally having a satisfying season with the Lions, you could hear the passion in his voice.
And while his emotions fueled some of his best games with the team, they also landed him in trouble, too. He yelled at members of the Wisconsin marching band in 2013, leading to a sizeable donation to the band's fund. He cursed out and flipped off fans. This season, he was suspended for stomping on Ego Ferguson's ankle and fined for trying to club New England defensive lineman Zach Moore. The suspension came during the biggest regular-season game in his Lions career: The finale against Green Bay with a division title on the line.
For someone who had been through so much losing in Detroit, he was always optimistic that the perpetually woebegone Lions were going to turn into a winner. That's why this season meant so much to him. Detroit had become a winner for one of the few times in his career -- a career that he knew was going to end soon.
When he cleaned out his locker the day after Detroit's season ended with a playoff loss to Dallas, he had tears in his eyes. He was adamant he could still play, even though he admitted he didn't know if he would be back with the club.
It was tough to tell whether the emotions were a result of how the Lions' season ended -- in the playoffs following one of two over-.500 seasons Raiola had in his career -- or because he knew there was a good chance this might be the end.
He often spoke about the future of this franchise and how he believed it would be bright. Sooner than he expected, he is no longer part of it.
To start that process moving, we’ll look at each position group over last week and this week analyzing what worked, what didn’t and projecting what could happen between now and training camp, a little more than six months away.
Previous analyses: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles
2015 Free Agents: Dominic Raiola, Rob Sims; Garrett Reynolds
The bad: Raiola did not have a good season after a 2013 where he had one of the best years of his career. PFF graded him out as the worst player on offense for the Lions and the No. 37 center in the league. He was also suspended for the regular-season finale against Green Bay – the biggest Lions regular-season game in more than a decade. Sims had a rough stretch at the beginning of the season. Swanson, as mentioned, had rookie pains. As a group, they allowed 12 sacks and 64 hurries according to PFF. For perspective, the interior line allowed one sack and 41 hurries of Matthew Stafford in 2013.
The money (using 2015 cap numbers from ESPN Stats & Information): Warford is slated to have a cap number of $849,250 – including a $25,000 workout bonus. Swanson has a cap charge of $699,868 – including a $25,000 workout bonus. Rodney Austin, in the final year of his deal, has a cap charge of $585,000 and no dead money.
Potential cuts: None before camp. Warford and Swanson will make the roster. Austin is going to have to have a strong offseason and camp to be around another season.
Draft priority: Very high. This is potentially an area where Detroit could use its No. 23 pick in the first round. The Lions, who will almost assuredly make moves here in free agency as well, need to find a third starter on the interior, especially if they don’t bring back Sims or Raiola.
Every morning as part of the Roar, we'll have a quick statistical breakdown of that position group (regular season only).
The Detroit Lions interior line as a whole: It was not the best statistical year for this group. In the run game, Detroit averaged 3.59 yards per rush and 88.88 yards per game -- in the bottom five in the league in both categories. The rushing yards per game was the lowest since the winless season in 2008. The yards per rush was the worst since 2003, when Shawn Bryson and Olandis Gary were the backs. In pass protection, the interior of the line allowed 12 sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 64 hurries according to Pro Football Focus.
The interior linemen as individuals:
Rob Sims: He was the only Detroit offensive lineman to start every game. PFF charged him with five sacks, six hits and 24 hurries on Stafford, but gave him highly positive grades in three of the last five games. He had four penalties for 45 yards this season, but none after Week 11.
Larry Warford: He graded out by PFF as Detroit's best interior lineman. He gave up two sacks, two hits and 12 hurries this season. He missed three regular-season games and the playoff game because of knee injuries. PFF also had the running backs going for 3.6 yards per carry when running behind Warford and Travis Swanson at right guard this season -- better than running behind any other interior line spot. Warford had one penalty this season, but it was declined or offset.
Swanson: The rookie started four games at right guard and one at center, giving up one sack, three hits and 11 hurries according to PFF. He had one penalty this season, but it was declined or offset.
Garrett Reynolds: Played primarily tackle for Detroit, but is more suited for guard. He played his best while subbing for Swanson in the playoff game. For the season, he allowed three sacks, two hits and six hurries according to PFF, but most came at tackle. He had four penalties this season -- three of them counting for 30 yards.
Rodney Austin: The midseason promotion didn't see Austin take any offensive snaps. He was active for the playoff game, but did not play any offensive snaps.
And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions and other news:
- This week's Lions Mailbag. Breaking down the offensive tackles statistically, with a year in review and a draft outlook. Ndamukong Suh pulled out of the Pro Bowl, but two other Lions are now going -- Golden Tate got in, and so did Stafford.
- Tate wrote an essay on the Cauldron where he addressed a lot of issues -- from an alleged affair, to Percy Harvin, to how athletes are viewed.
- Is Stafford great? Free Press columnist Drew Sharp doesn't think so.
- Detroit's practice squad players had a good season, writes Josh Katzenstein in the Detroit News.
- The line was the biggest part of Detroit's offensive struggles this year, writes Justin Rogers in MLive.
- From the NFC title game, colleague Rob Demovsky writes that this loss will haunt Green Bay. Colleague Liz Merrill breaks down the fake field goal touchdown for Seattle.
- This was really interesting from Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated on the men who are body doubles in commercials for guys like Russell Wilson and Calvin Johnson.
And the club has made decisions on some of them, but general manager Martin Mayhew was not saying who the team would like to bring back or move on from for the 2015 season.
The obvious keeper would be Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions are going to continue to negotiate with now that the season is over. Everyone else, though, appears to be up for debate.
“We just had that meeting yesterday, and I have not communicated with players who will be here, who won’t be here for the most part,” Mayhew said. “So I don’t want to get into each individual free agent and what their status is, but we are having those discussions right now.
“We had a big meeting [Wednesday] like I said, had a follow-up meeting with Sheldon White [Thursday] on the meeting from yesterday, and we’ll continue to talk about our roster and make decisions.”
Mayhew said they have made decisions to move on from players, but said they had not spoken with those players or their agents yet.
Detroit has 20 unrestricted free agents, two restricted free agents and one exclusive rights free agent in Jeremy Ross.
Other than the defensive tackle situation with Suh, Nick Fairley and others, some of the more critical decisions will come on the offensive line, where veterans Rob Sims and Dominic Raiola are both free agents. Both have settled into metro Detroit as their homes and have expressed a desire to return to the Lions.
“They are both outstanding guys, Rob and Dom, I think the world of both of those guys and they’ve been big contributors for us over the past few years,” Mayhew said. “As I said, we met yesterday and we’re still making decisions about how to proceed.”
Mayhew would not say whether or not bringing both Sims and Raiola back is an either/or proposition despite the presence of rookie Travis Swanson, who was drafted in 2014 to eventually become Raiola’s replacement at center. Swanson started four games at right guard and one game at center this season.
He also injured his knee in the playoff game against Dallas, but head coach Jim Caldwell said he doesn’t believe Swanson will need surgery.
Below is a quick primer on some of the team’s biggest issues as the offseason begins:
2. The Dominic Raiola/Rob Sims question: It would seem highly improbable both are back in Detroit next season, especially with Travis Swanson looking capable of handling either the left guard or center spot. The biggest question here – and what might determine which way the Lions go – is if they believe Sims can play for two or three more seasons at a good level. If they do then keeping Sims might be the way to go since Raiola probably has only one more year left anyway. If they don’t then it could make sense to bring back Raiola for his 15th season and let Swanson play left guard for a year before moving to center.
3. Finding a third receiver: It’s somewhat baffling considering how much the Lions invested in their offense last offseason that once again they are hunting for a receiver. Golden Tate proved to be one of the best free-agent signings in the league, and Calvin Johnson is still one of the best in the game. But the Lions – especially if they are going to pull Johnson and/or Tate off the field again next season for some plays – need better depth. Unused Ryan Broyles enters the final year of his contract. Jeremy Ross, who might not be back if the Lions upgrade at returner, is an exclusive rights free agent. Corey Fuller has some promise but was again barely used. Detroit essentially drafted Eric Ebron to be the team’s third receiver, but he had a mediocre first year. Through free agency or the draft, the Lions once again have to look at receiver for depth.
5. Matthew Stafford: The quarterback is turning into a conundrum. He’ll be 27 next season, which means he still has growth potential, but he is entering his seventh year in the league. Stafford learned a new offense this season and did what was asked of him, although it’s a question of how much that helped. He was sacked more than any season in his career, so he had to make more plays under duress. His completion percentage went up from last season, but it still was average in terms of NFL quarterbacks. His touchdowns were down, but so were his interceptions. His passer rating was his highest since 2011, but his QBR stayed in the same range as the past three seasons. The Lions are tied to Stafford for at least 2015 and possibly 2016 as well, where even though his guaranteed money is gone, he would still have $11 million in dead money. This is the biggest offseason of his career.
Salary numbers in this post come from ESPN Stats & Information.
"I know it," Raiola said.
Raiola said he has not been given any indication by the Lions whether they would like him back for a 15th season.
Raiola had a renaissance during the 2013 season but the Lions drafted his potential replacement, Travis Swanson, in the third round of May's draft. Swanson started four games at right guard and one game at center this season, but injured his right knee during the playoff loss to Dallas. Raiola's play was also less consistent than it was in 2013, when he was graded by Pro Football Focus to be the No. 2 center in the league.
This season, PFF rated him as the No. 37 center in the NFL.
Raiola wasn't the only offensive lineman with a future in doubt with the Lions.
Left guard Rob Sims is one of Raiola's closest friends on the team. Like Raiola, the 31-year-old Sims is a free agent and has expressed his desire to remain in Detroit, where his family has built a home. Sims is the only Detroit offensive lineman to start all 17 games this season.
But Sims also said he doesn't know whether he'll be with Detroit next season and said if this was his last game with the Lions, "it was a [heck] of a ride and a great five years."
When he talked about his conversations with Raiola and the Lions' offensive line over the past day, Sims also got choked up.
"I just, just in the locker room, I went guy-by-guy, telling them what I thought of what their game could be, where it could go," Sims said, choking up a little bit. "And what I thought of them as a man. This is huge for us, man.
"We put everything on this. We put our all into this, for real, you know. So it's tough. It's part of the game, though. You have to deal with it."
For now, both Sims and Raiola are waiting to know if they'll play again and if they'll play again in Detroit.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell did not give any indication what the team will do with Sims and Raiola and said it is "going to take a little bit" when making decisions on the pair and other Lions.