Detroit Lions: Lions position outlook

If Detroit navigates the first half of its schedule and is still in playoff contention, how it fares during the second half of November could dictate the Lions' playoff fate. Back-to-back road games against Arizona and New England, followed by a quick turnaround to face Chicago on Thanksgiving, are three games against likely playoff contenders in a short stretch. It is a brutal schedule for the Lions. Survive that -- going 2-1 or better -- and the Lions could end up in the playoffs for the first time since 2011.

Complete Lions season preview.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with cornerbacks.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen; Defensive ends; Defensive tackles; linebackers.

2014 free agents: Rashean Mathis; Chris Greenwood (exclusive rights)

Mathis
The good: Mathis was an inspired late signee. The team brought him in during training camp and the former All-Pro turned into the team’s top cornerback by the middle of the season. He had 47 tackles and also took a mentoring role for rookie Darius Slay, who improved throughout the season and could be ready for a larger role in his second year. Mathis is one of the key free-agent decisions the Lions are going to have to make this offseason. Another surprise was the decent play of the team’s young cornerbacks -- Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Greenwood -- toward the end of the season when Slay, Mathis and Chris Houston were hurting.

The bad: Houston had a rough season. For every good game he had, he had an equally rough game to follow up. He specifically struggled with double moves from top receivers like A.J. Green. As a unit, there was little consistency except from Mathis. Slay had some rough outings, especially early in the season when teams appeared to pick on him whenever he was in the game. Bentley had some strong moments in the nickel, but also had far too many times where he would struggle as well. It is a position group in need of improvement.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Houston is scheduled to make $4.8 million against the cap this season, more than the rest of the Lions cornerbacks combined. Slay is in line to make $1,202,114 against the cap. Bentley has a cap number of $727,278 and Green is at $594,250. In all, the Lions have $7,323,642 tied into the position right now and expect them to add at least one if not two more cornerbacks through free agency and the draft.

What Caldwell might favor: This might be defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s call as much as Jim Caldwell. With the Ravens the past three seasons, Austin clearly preferred taller cornerbacks. Of his starting corners, only one -- Lardarius Webb -- was not at least 6-foot. It was something Austin had his final year in Arizona as well, when both of his starting corners were 6-foot or taller.

Potential cuts: Houston is a top target here, mostly because of his price tag and his inconsistent play from last season. He is signed through 2017 and is scheduled to make a lot of money in each of those years. If the team doesn’t believe he can be their top cornerback, they could look to make a move. Bentley and Green both showed promise at the end of the season, so they likely stick around. Slay is going nowhere.

Draft priority: Very high. This is probably the biggest position of need for Detroit right now. If the team chooses to use the No. 10 pick on a corner, Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State might be the target. Either him or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. It would be very surprising -- unless they make a move in free agency first -- to see the Lions not take a cornerback with one of their first two picks.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with linebackers.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen; Defensive ends; Defensive tackles.

2014 free agents: Rocky McIntosh; Julian Stanford (exclusive rights)

The good: It starts with DeAndre Levy, who had a Pro Bowl-level season for the Lions. His six interceptions were tied for second in the NFL, only behind Seattle’s Richard Sherman. He had 119 tackles and was a force stopping the run and sniffing out screen passes. By the end of the season, he became the Lions best defender. Stephen Tulloch had a team-high 135 tackles -- the second-highest total of his career -- and a career-high 3.5 sacks. He and Levy were part of one of the best run defenses in the NFL. Ashlee Palmer, the team’s third starting linebacker, played decently in essentially spot duty since he split snaps with Detroit’s nickel cornerbacks. Tahir Whitehead was the Lions’ top special-teams performer.

The bad: Detroit’s linebackers struggled in coverage even with Levy’s interceptions, particularly on tight ends. Travis Lewis was suspended for using Adderall and missed the final four games of the season. The team’s depth at the position was also highly suspect beyond the veteran McIntosh, who is an unrestricted free agent.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Tulloch has a fairly high cap number at $5,050,000 and with three years left on his deal is a tough candidate for a restructure. Levy is a manageable $3,250,000 cap number. Palmer, entering the final year of his contract, is at $1,583,334. Whitehead is at $623,000 and Lewis at $584,793.

What Caldwell might favor: This is probably a coincidence, but almost all of coach Jim Caldwell’s starting linebackers in Indianapolis were 6-foot tall and weighed between 230 and 240 pounds. The exceptions were 6-foot-2 Philip Wheeler and 5-foot-11 Gary Brackett.

Potential cuts: Palmer is a possibility, depending on what the Lions do in the draft or free agency. Lewis could be a cut as he is a special-teamer and the team didn’t appear to struggle on special teams without him.

Draft priority: Somewhat high. The Lions need depth at the position behind Levy and Tulloch and could even be shopping for a starter if the Lions aren’t big on Palmer.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with defensive tackles.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen; Defensive ends.

2014 free agents: Andre Fluellen

Suh
Fairley
The good: Ndamukong Suh was a Pro Bowler again and had possibly the most consistent season of his career. He spent the majority of 2013 facing double teams and still managed 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks and five pass breakups. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 54 hurries -- second among defensive tackles -- and graded out as the second-best defensive tackle in the NFL. He also only picked up eight penalties this season. When Nick Fairley played well, he played exceptionally well this season. He stayed healthy for most of the year, had 35 tackles and six sacks. He also had 21 quarterback hurries according to PFF, and graded out tied with Pat Sims for the best defensive tackle in coverage this season. C.J. Mosley, despite playing a third of the snaps, graded out as Detroit’s third-best defender according to PFF. Detroit’s run defense was also among the top run defenses in the NFL.

The bad: For as well as the Lions played against the run, they struggled getting to the passer. Despite not blitzing much at all, Detroit’s defensive linemen were 12th in the league as a unit in quarterback sacks, with 27. Not terrible numbers, but when the defense is predicated on getting enough pressure from the front four to force havoc in the back seven, they needed more.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Suh is the big question here, as he has an astronomical $22,412,000 cap number entering the final season of his contract. That makes for 34.02 percent of the defensive cap and 18.01 percent of the Lions’ total cap right now. Getting him to take a cap-friendly extension will be critical. Fairley is slated to make $3,146,500 against the cap in 2014 and Mosley is slated to make $1,725,000 next season as a cap number.

What Caldwell might favor: Most of this isn’t shocking for a defensive tackle. Caldwell’s defensive tackles were typically in the 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3 range and usually over 300 pounds. Both Suh and Fairley are listed as being a little bit taller than that, but they’ll fit into what Detroit wants to do defensively, especially since the coaches haven’t changed along the defensive line.

Potential cuts: Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Xavier Proctor were both practice squad guys last season who were signed to futures contracts. Neither is expected to make much money, but could see one of the two end up either back on the practice squad or off the roster. Suh, Fairley and Mosley would likely be safe.

Draft priority: Medium. Much like at defensive end, can’t see the Lions going with an early draft pick here, mostly because the team has used first rounders here in 2010 (Suh) and 2011 (Fairley). If there is someone in the middle rounds, though, this could be a drafted position, especially if the team chooses to not pick up the fifth-year option on Fairley or can’t come to an extension agreement with Suh by the draft.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with defensive ends.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen.

2014 free agents: Willie Young, Israel Idonije

The good: Ziggy Ansah was drafted as somewhat of a question mark in the first round and turned into a better-than-expected surprise throughout the season. He led all rookies and the Lions in sacks with eight. Ansah also showed some strength against the run. Devin Taylor played well in spot duty, notching 2.5 sacks and forcing two fumbles in his rookie year. Young, a free agent, also had a good season. He was particularly strong against the run and had career highs in tackles (47) and fumble recoveries (2).

The bad: Jason Jones was brought in as a free agent to play opposite Ansah. He was lost for the season during the Washington game with a ruptured patellar tendon in his left knee, missing the final 13 games. Idonije came in, but didn’t do much. He had 11 tackles in 15 games, but provided a veteran presence to a mostly-young group. As a group, considering former Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham chose not to blitz often, they did not sack the quarterback enough.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): The Lions have three defensive ends under contract heading into this season. Ansah, last year's first-round pick, will have a cap number of $4,226,023. Jones is due $3,683,333 against the cap. Taylor is due $570,146 against the cap. Detroit will also likely sign or draft at least one other end.

What Jim Caldwell might favor: Caldwell was all over the place when it came to defensive ends, although he clearly preferred speed rushers on the outside with Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney -- both of whom were defensive ends under Caldwell before converting to outside linebackers. Ansah and Taylor, in some ways, can fit a similar mold.

Potential cuts: With only three players at the position, it would be pretty difficult to see the Lions cutting any of the ends they have under contract. With no defensive ends on the practice squad at the end of this past season, the likely only cuts would be players they bring in to camp.

Draft priority: Decent. Tough to see the Lions going after a defensive end early in the draft, but if there is someone they like in the mid-to-late rounds, they could pick another end up there. The Lions have had good success drafting ends in the mid-to-late rounds the past few years in Taylor and Young.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with wide receivers.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles.

2014 free agents: Dylan Gandy; Dominic Raiola

Raiola
Warford
The good: There’s a lot to like here for Detroit. Larry Warford was possibly the steal of the draft in the third round in 2013. He played every snap this season and became one of the best right guards in the league. He didn’t allow a sack -- one of 11 guards to accomplish that. Rob Sims allowed only one sack this season according to Pro Football Focus. Dominic Raiola had arguably the best season of his career. He didn’t allow a sack and graded out as the second-best center in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He was one of eight centers, according to PFF, to not allow a sack this season.

The bad: According to PFF, Sims graded out negatively for the season in run blocking, but the Lions did have a 1,000-yard rusher in Reggie Bush and a 650-yard season from Joique Bell. That is about the only negative you can say about the interior of Detroit’s offensive line this season. Warford and Raiola were particularly strong and Raiola might have played his way into extending his career with the Lions.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Sims is entering the final year of his deal and is slated to make $3.775 million against the cap, the highest of any returning lineman. Leroy Harris, who played in one game this season, is slated to make $2,062,500 against the cap entering the final season of his deal. Detroit’s other two returning guards, Warford and Rodney Austin, are on the cheap and their first deals. Warford is slated to make $714,250 against the cap and Austin $495,000.

What Caldwell might favor: At guard, it is tough to say what Caldwell truly favors from a body type, although he does seem to favor having one guard who is taller -- more like a tackle -- than a shorter guard. That said, it is tough to see the Lions moving on from Sims or Warford this season, so any shaping of the line will be done from depth. At center, he appears to like bigger centers as Jeff Saturday was 6-foot-2, 295 and Gino Gradkowski was 6-foot-3, 300 pounds.

Potential cuts: Harris is likely a clear restructure-or-go case. He won’t beat out Sims or Warford for the starting guard spots and Austin has potential as a backup. If the Lions bring back Gandy -- and he has some familiarity with Caldwell from their shared time in Indianapolis -- there isn’t much reason for keeping Harris around when he didn’t play a season ago at the money he is slated to be making.

Draft priority: Expect the Lions to draft a center somewhere in the middle rounds in May -- perhaps a little higher if Detroit chooses to move on from Raiola. Gabe Ikard, from Oklahoma, is an intriguing prospect. Bryan Stork is the Rimington Trophy winner and could be an interesting choice as well.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, and analyze what worked and what didn't before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is a mere seven or so months away.

Today, the series continues with offensive tackles.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends.

2014 free agents: Jason Fox

Hilliard
Waddle
The good: This starts with LaAdrian Waddle, the massive right tackle the Lions were surprised to find as a free agent after last April's draft. Detroit quickly grabbed him and while the initial plan might have been to bring him along slowly, he was forced into the lineup after injuries to Fox and Corey Hilliard. By the end of the season, he turned into an entrenched starter at right tackle and the likely future at the position for the Lions. He graded out as the 13th best right tackle in the league during the regular season by Pro Football Focus. He was charged with 17 quarterback hurries -- not great -- but also no sacks, which is strong for a tackle. Pretty good overall for a rookie thrown into the lineup midseason. Riley Reiff also had a decent season at left tackle, where he was still growing into the position, although he had bouts of inconsistency depending on the opponent.

The bad: Start with the health of the tackles. All four of Detroit's tackles had some sort of injury during the season -- whether they missed part of a game like Reiff against Cincinnati or a good chunk of the season like Fox or Hilliard. Of all the positions on the Lions, this had the most consistent rotation because of injuries. Reiff's sacks allowed, according to Pro Football Focus, were somewhat concerning. He allowed seven sacks, tied for 16th in the NFL, and was 15th in quarterback hurries, with 34. Otherwise, the Lions received good production from this position for the majority of the season.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Entering the third season of his rookie contract and his second year as the starting left tackle, Reiff has a number of $2,180,100. Hilliard, entering the final season of his deal, has a cap number of $1,900,000. Waddle has a cap number of $498,333. Hilliard has a $350,000 roster bonus due in 2014 and a $15,000 workout bonus. The Lions will likely add a fourth tackle somewhere along the line, either in free agency or through the draft.

What Caldwell might favor: Tough to say here, and it might not matter. There is no true blueprint for what Caldwell might want and the Lions brought back offensive line coach Jeremiah Washburn, so it'll probably be status quo here. Detroit could add a tackle through the draft or free agency as we'll cover below, but the starters seem set.

Potential cuts: Likely none, although if Detroit chooses to sign Fox, maybe they would consider releasing Hilliard. Then again, Hilliard has familiarity with Caldwell from his time in Indianapolis and is a good tackle who can play both on the left and the right. Reiff, Hilliard and Waddle should all at least be in camp if not on the final 53-man roster. There is stability here.

Draft priority: Not early. Unless someone of value falls to them in the third or fourth round, it is tough to see Detroit taking a tackle early considering Reiff and Waddle are the likely future at both tackle spots for the team. He's a local guy, but someone like Michael Schofield, who can play both guard and tackle, could be an intriguing mid-round guy who can provide depth across the line.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with wide receivers.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers.

2014 free agents: Brandon Pettigrew; Dorin Dickerson (restricted free agent); Matt Veldman (exclusive rights).

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Fauria
Fauria
The good: After a rough start to the season, Pettigrew ended up having a fairly decent season. He caught 41 passes for 416 yards and two touchdowns, but his main value is in being a dual-purpose tight end. He played in 877 of 962 snaps before injuring his ankle and was a reliable blocker. Joseph Fauria, an undrafted rookie from UCLA, became a sensation early in the season because of his propensity to catch touchdowns -- and then dance after them. While the dancing may have overshadowed some of his actual play, he became a legitimate red zone threat at 6-foot-7. He had 18 catches this season and seven of them were touchdowns. Pettigrew and Fauria did a good job holding on to the ball this season as well. Pettigrew had only four drops -- the lowest total of his career -- and three of them came in the first four games. Fauria had no drops on the season. Dorin Dickerson did fine in limited duty.

The bad: Not too much to say here. Fauria needs to improve as a blocker if he wants to become a true top tight end. He also needs to become a better route runner, but he understands the level of improvement that must come from his rookie season to his second season, where he will likely be looked to more. When Tony Scheffler was with the Lions, he had issues hanging on to the ball. He had three drops in five games before being concussed and eventually released at midseason. Dickerson had two drops in five games and played with a concussion during the home finale against the New York Giants. This is a position with a lot of questions entering 2014.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): The Lions have two players under contract for 2014 at the position and both were rookies last season. Fauria, who ended up being a starter by the end of the season, has a cap number of $499,166 and Michael Williams, who was on injured reserve last season, has a cap number of $511,287. The Lions will almost certainly add at least one, if not two, players to this position group. At least one will also be at a higher monetary value than Fauria and Williams.

What Caldwell might favor: Last season in Baltimore, Jim Caldwell carried between two and three tight ends, but it was tough to get a true read because Dennis Pitta was injured for most of the year. Caldwell's time in Indianapolis might be a bigger clue. He carried between three and four tight ends his entire time with the Colts. Usually only one was a main pass-catcher -- often Dallas Clark -- but he also had Jacob Tamme as a blocker. How the Lions treat this spot might be determined by how Caldwell and the front office view Fauria -- as a pass-catcher only or as a guy who could be a complete tight end.

Potential cuts: Probably none. Williams is more of a blocker and Fauria is a pass-catcher. The Lions might not bring back Veldman on an exclusive rights deal, but at this point, that would be it. It’s a thin position group right now.

Draft priority: Medium. Depending on what happens in the first round, the only tight end worth taking there could be Eric Ebron, the 6-foot-4 tight end from North Carolina. A lot of this could depend on what Detroit decides to do with Pettigrew. If the team brings him back, drafting a tight end could turn into a non-issue or at least a late-round one at best. C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa and Crockett Gilmore from Colorado State could be late-round options.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with wide receivers.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs.

2014 free agents: Kris Durham (restricted free agent); Kevin Ogletree; Micheal Spurlock; Jeremy Ross (exclusive rights)

Johnson
Burleson
Burleson
The good: Calvin Johnson had another standout season, catching 84 passes for 1,492 yards and 12 touchdowns in 14 games. He finished eight yards shy of being the first receiver in NFL history to post three straight 1,500-yard seasons. He also had the second-highest yards after contact per reception rate in the league, behind Seattle’s Golden Tate. In nine games, Nate Burleson had 39 catches for 461 yards and showed he can still play at age 32. He also caught 73.6 percent of the passes Matthew Stafford threw to him -- the second-best mark among qualifying receivers in the NFL. Both Kris Durham and Jeremy Ross emerged in different ways. Durham showed he could be a contributor on the NFL level, catching 38 passes for 490 yards and two touchdowns. Ross only caught five passes, and had three touchdowns -- one receiving and two on special teams. He also became a dynamic returner who could be a long-term option both in the slot and returning punts and kicks.

The bad: Start with the drops. Lions receivers dropped 21 passes -- second worst in the league ahead of Cleveland, with 24. The receivers also had a 6.0 percent drop rate, second worst in the league. Their reception percentage of 55.2 was seventh worst in the league, although that has to do with Stafford as much as the receivers. Durham’s 45.2 reception percentage was third worst among qualifying receivers in the league, better than St. Louis’ Chris Givens and Cleveland’s Greg Little. Durham’s drop rate of 7.1 percent was tied for sixth worst among qualifying receivers -- but ahead of Denver’s Wes Welker.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Johnson is third on the team when it comes to his cap number at $13,058,000 -- 10.49 percent of the team’s cap right now. Burleson is entering the final year of his contract at a cap number of $7,531,645, but that is almost assuredly coming down after he said he would be willing to restructure his deal to stay with the Lions. Ryan Broyles has a cap number of $1,003,227. Combined, the three players are at $21,592,872 -- or 17.35 percent of the Lions' cap. This does not include projected cap numbers for Ross (likely the three-year minimum) and Durham if they choose to retain them. Detroit will be adding rookie numbers to this as well after the draft.

What Caldwell might favor: In his three seasons as a head coach in Indianapolis and last season as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator, Caldwell did not have a single receiver that contributed on the roster under 6-foot. In those four seasons, he only had one short receiver -- in 2010, Brandon James was 5-foot-7 -- and James only played in three games. Just something to keep in mind when Caldwell assembles this roster. Another thing to look at: Caldwell has typically kept four receivers active on his rosters throughout his tenure at Indianapolis and Baltimore. This year’s Lions team usually kept between five and six receivers and finished the season with three receivers on the practice squad.

Potential cuts: Burleson should be sticking around as long as he and the team can come to terms on a restructured deal. He had a good enough season and reliable enough season that he should be back. Broyles could come down to his health. He is rehabbing a ruptured Achilles -- the third straight season his year has ended with an injury.

Draft priority: High. Very high. Depending who is available at No. 10, it is very possible the Lions use their first pick on a wide receiver. If Clemson’s Sammy Watkins falls to them, the Lions should sprint to the podium to draft him. Other early options include Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and USC’s Marqise Lee. If the Lions go a different direction in the first round, it is possible Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, Penn State’s Allen Robinson or Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews could be available. Clemson’s Martavis Bryant, at 6-foot-5, could be an intriguing option as well beyond the first round. Depending on what happens with Burleson, Detroit could also look at a slot receiver at some point and South Carolina’s Bruce Ellington, Oklahoma’s Jalen Saunders, UCLA’s Shaq Evans and Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon could be intriguing later-round options, although Ellington (5-foot-9) and Gallon (5-foot-8 1/4) don’t fit the profile of what Caldwell has looked for in the past in terms of height.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with running backs.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks

2014 free agents: Joique Bell (restricted free agent)

Bell
Bush
Bush
The good: Reggie Bush and Bell were one of the top running back tandems in the NFL last season, becoming the first duo in NFL history to have both 500 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving. Bush hit the 1,000-yard marker for the second time in three seasons, gaining 1,006 yards in 14 games and also caught 54 passes for 506 yards. Bell also had a breakout season, gaining a career-high 650 yards with eight touchdowns and also catching a career-high 53 passes for 547 yards. Combined, they gave Detroit a legitimate running game for the first time in recent history. Bush was the first 1,000-yard back for Detroit since 2004. Theo Riddick, a rookie last season, was one of the Lions better special-teams players.

The bad: Fumbles. Drops. Bell had a career-worst four fumbles and lost a career-worst three fumbles. Bush was worse, losing five fumbles (second-worst in his career) and losing four fumbles, the most he had lost in a season in his career. For Bush, it was especially rough because he had guaranteed he wouldn’t fumble again after losing to Pittsburgh and then fumbled twice more. The drops were worse. Bush had nine drops and his drop percentage of 11.4 percent was the second-worst among qualifying players in the league. Bell dropped six passes and his 8.8 percent drop rate was eighth-worst in the NFL. This became a major issue for the Lions, as the drops often stalled drives.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Bush is slated to have a $4.5 million cap number next season, 7.75 percent of the team’s current offensive cap. Montell Owens, who already restructured his contract, is due $1.33 million. Mikel Leshoure, also in the final season of his contract, is at $1,092,693 and Theo Riddick is at $517,750. Joique Bell’s current cap number is unknown since he is a restricted free agent, although he is expected to return. Considering the needs elsewhere for Detroit heading into this offseason, it would be surprising to see the Lions make any major moves here other than ensuring Bell is with the team.

What Coach Caldwell might favor: He might not have much of a choice here. The Lions are locked into Bush and have no reason to not want to bring back Bell. The situation here is somewhat analogous to what he had in Baltimore last season with Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The one spot Detroit might add someone is at fullback, as the Lions have none on the roster at this point. The Bush-Bell combination should work well for Caldwell. In three of his four seasons as either a head coach or a coordinator, he has had at least some sort of two-back system -- either Rice and Pierce in Baltimore or Joseph Addai and Donald Brown in Indianapolis.

Potential cuts: The two potential cuts here -- at least among 53-man roster participants -- could be Owens and Leshoure. Owens is a player the Lions brought in to be a special-teams piece before last season, but if Riddick beats him out, he might be expendable. That said, he restructured his contract so he could end up staying. Leshoure is a massive question mark. He played in three games and had two carries this season. The Lions probably won’t make a decision on him until they know what happens with Bell, but if Bell returns, then Leshoure could be looking for a new place to play.

Draft priority: None, as of now. Detroit will likely have four of its backs from last season on the roster. If there is a best player available late in the draft, it could be worth taking a chance on a guy, but the Lions have much bigger needs to address.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp, which is only a mere six or so months away.

Today starts the series with, what else, quarterbacks.
Hill
2014 free agents: Shaun Hill.

The good: Matthew Stafford is still 25 years old and turns 26 on Feb. 7. He still possesses all the same skills and attributes that had the Lions both drafting him with the No. 1 pick in 2009 and then deciding to give him a long-term extension before last season. And he looked like he was about to take a drastic step toward elite during the first half of the 2013 season, culminating in a last-minute drive against Dallas in Week 8. He now has a head coach who specifies in working with quarterbacks in Jim Caldwell. This is the first time Stafford has undergone such a drastic coaching change in his career, so it is possible this will awaken something in him to take the necessary improvements he needs to become elite. From many accounts, he already feels comfortable with Caldwell and Caldwell has a specific plan for working on the things Stafford has struggled with.

Stafford
Stafford
The bad: Stafford’s second half of the season was brutal. He threw as many touchdowns as interceptions and consistently made poor reads and forced throws. He was not helped by his pass catchers, who led the league in drops, but many of the mistakes were on Stafford. He clearly regressed during the second half of the season and finished with his lowest completion percentage (58.5 percent) since his rookie season. He also had the most interceptions, 19, since his rookie year. His fourth quarter was his worst quarter. He completed just 54.5 percent of his passes in the final quarters of games and had his lowest passer rating of any quarter in the fourth. It didn’t help, either, that he had just a 54.9 completion percentage to Calvin Johnson, his top receiver, and a 45.2 completion percentage to his No. 2 receiver most of the season, Kris Durham.

Moore
The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Stafford is scheduled to have a cap number of $15,820,000 -- 27.25 percent of the Lions' salary cap. Kellen Moore, the other quarterback on the roster, is scheduled to make $576,668, which is .99 percent of the Lions’ cap. Stafford is Detroit's second-highest cap player next season behind defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, but he isn’t going anywhere and it would be pretty surprising if that cap number dropped at all. Stafford’s base salary for 2014, $2 million, is fully guaranteed. The big money question here is what Detroit decides to do behind Stafford. If the new staff trusts Moore enough to be the backup, then they might be set. But Moore has yet to take a snap in the NFL and always appeared to be former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s project. Hill is a free agent and has said under the right circumstances he would like to return. Anyone Detroit brings in will have to accept being Stafford’s backup, but the Lions should still seek to sign an experienced backup.

What Caldwell might favor: This position has little flexibility for him. He’s married to Stafford for the time being and he knew that going into the job. The question becomes whether he wants to bring in an experienced arm and a rookie or go with just an experienced arm or just a rookie. Or Moore.

Potential cuts: Depending what happens with free agency and the draft, as well as Moore’s development, will be the factor here. If the staff feels Moore is a quarterback who could play, he’ll stay. If not, he is a potential cut, especially since he is due to be a restricted free agent following the 2014 season.

Draft priority: Not high, but if the Lions see someone worth taking a late-round chance on, it could happen. There are a lot of quarterbacks expected to go high in the draft -- eight are listed in the Top 100 players -- but someone like Stephen Morris from Miami (Fla.) could be around late, or South Carolina’s Connor Shaw. Bryn Renner from North Carolina is also an intriguing prospect.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.

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