Detroit Lions: Vonta Leach

As free agency begins Tuesday and the Detroit Lions figure out exactly how to fill the holes they have from other players leaving or just poor performances, certain players will stand out.

And over the past four days, Detroit has also spent time in the beginnings of talks with free agents as they try to maximize what is out there for their dollars as the team has just around $11 million to spend on new players and rookies.

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

If that happens.

As everyone settles in for the insanity that will be the free-agent shuffle, here’s a look at players the Lions could target on offense.

QUARTERBACK
Why: The Lions are set with their starter but need to find a viable backup to Matthew Stafford.

Three options:
  • Shaun Hill: He has been Stafford’s backup the past four seasons and has indicated a desire to return if everything made sense. If he wants a chance to start, he’ll leave. If he’s content wearing a baseball cap the rest of his career, the team might be able to keep him.
  • Luke McCown: He has familiarity with Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi from his time in New Orleans last season, and he understands the offense. He hasn’t played much the past two seasons and has thrown nine touchdowns and 14 interceptions in his career.
  • Curtis Painter: It would seem unlikely new coach Jim Caldwell would feel comfortable having Painter as his backup considering what happened during the 2011 season when Peyton Manning was injured, but there is a familiarity there and Painter does have more experience now.
RUNNING BACK:
Why not: The team seems pretty settled there and if Joique Bell signs a long-term contract, it would be surprising to see Detroit bring in a veteran with Reggie Bush, Bell and Montell Owens on the roster. The team tendered Bell with a second-round grade this morning, per ESPN Insider Adam Caplan.

One name to watch: Vonta Leach. He has familiarity with Caldwell and if the team wants a fullback, he could be the guy they look to if Owens can’t handle the role.

WIDE RECEIVER:
Why: The team needs a lot of them. Right now four are under contract who had any sort of significant playing time last season -- Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, Jeremy Ross and Ryan Broyles. But Broyles is coming off an injury and neither Ross or Durham have shown to be big playmakers at receiver.

Five possible choices:
  • Lance Moore: The former Saints wide receiver could fit what Detroit is looking for in the slot, and like McCown, would bring a level of familiarity to the offense immediately. Though his height (5-foot-9) doesn’t fit the prototypical Caldwell receiver as he likes his guys over 6 feet.
  • Jacoby Jones: The familiarity route pops up again. Jones played for Caldwell in Baltimore, has the size Caldwell likes and didn’t drop a pass last season. That’s big considering the Lions' woes there.
  • James Jones: The Lions know him well from his time in Green Bay. He caught 59 passes last season and had only three drops.
  • Golden Tate: The Seahawks wide receiver might be a little bit out of Detroit’s price range, but his versatility -- he can play in the slot, on the outside and be a returner -- makes him an attractive candidate for teams, including Detroit.
  • Brandon LaFell: He is somewhat underrated in the shadow of his potential former teammate, Steve Smith, but LaFell is a tall receiver (6-foot-2) who is young and has been able to produce. His drop rate -- 6 percent -- was a little concerning last season but likely more of an aberration considering his 2011 and 2012 seasons.
TIGHT END:
Why: The team needs to add to the position and while they may do it by re-signing Brandon Pettigrew, that isn’t a lock as he heads on the open market with multiple teams interested.

Three options:
  • Pettigrew: The Lions have said he is a priority free agent and the team will remain in the market to sign him. But there might come a point where too many teams are interested and his price becomes too high for a tight end that is versatile but can’t stretch defenses over the middle.
  • Ed Dickson: The former Ravens tight end has that familiarity with Caldwell and although he hasn’t put up big numbers the past two seasons, he did catch 54 passes in 2011. He has the blocking/receiving combination Pettigrew did as well.
  • Dustin Keller/Jermichael Finley: Both players are coming off massive injuries and could be had inexpensively, although the concern about the health of both players and how much they can really contribute could lead to a bargain deal at some point. If the Lions went with either one, they could end up looking to the draft for a tight end as well.
OFFENSIVE LINE:
Why not: Detroit isn’t in the market for a starter, but could pick up a backup tackle or guard here along the way. Center won’t be an option. Considering the Lions are somewhat set and have likely plans to draft a center, the Lions likely wouldn’t make a move early on an offensive lineman.

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