NFC North: Detroit Lions

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The position remains the same -- and likely will, barring major moves in free agency or a draft shakeup -- but the defensive tackle ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has selected for the Detroit Lions has changed.

After going with Texas tackle Malcom Brown in his previous mock draft, Kiper Jr. predicts Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman to the Lions at pick No. 23 in his third mock draft Insider.

Goldman is a possibility to Detroit, as is almost any defensive tackle that could be taken in the first two rounds of the draft. This position is Detroit's largest need as only three tackles are on the roster right now: Caraun Reid, Xavier Proctor, and Jermelle Cudjo. Of the three, only Reid played a snap for the Lions last season, and he was used sparingly behind Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, and Andre Fluellen -- all of whom are free agents.

The 6-foot-3 Goldman is the No. 3 defensive tackle on the ESPN/Scouts Inc. rankings and the No. 18 player overall. It would be a somewhat sensical pick for the Lions, although it would be interesting to see what could happen if the Lions brought back Fairley and had Goldman next to him since those would be two massive players next to each other.

Some other potential early-round picks for the Lions at tackle would be Brown, Iowa's Carl Davis and Ohio State's Mike Bennett.
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After focusing on the lines with their first three pre-draft visits, the Detroit Lions have moved to a skill position for visit No. 4 of 30, bringing Indiana running back Tevin Coleman into the facility Thursday morning.

Coleman is an intriguing prospect after leaving the Hoosiers early. The 21-year-old was an explosive back throughout his three years in Bloomington, Indiana, with 452 carries for 3,219 yards and 28 rushing touchdowns. He can catch passes out of the backfield, too, with 54 career receptions for 383 yards and no touchdowns. Interesting small fact: His middle name is Ford, which means nothing except the Lions are owned by the Ford family.

Coleman measured at 5-foot-11 and 206 pounds, with 32-inch arms and 8 5/8-inch hands. He had 22 reps on the bench press at the NFL combine. He is rated as the No. 4 running back prospect and No. 51 overall prospect by ESPN.com/Scouts Inc. His scouting profile lists him as above average in competitiveness, vision/patience and agility/acceleration, with average in power/balance and in the passing game.

For more on Coleman, I reached out to colleague Adam Rittenberg, who covers college football for ESPN, for a scouting report:

"Strengths: Doak Walker Award winner Melvin Gordon played for a better Big Ten team, but Coleman often showed just as much or more explosiveness, particularly in the open field. He recorded four 200-yard rushing performances, three against Big Ten opponents, and had a career-high 307 rush yards against Rutgers. Coleman is a big-play machine and shows both power and elusiveness between the tackles. He ran behind an underrated Hoosiers line but produced at an extremely high level despite playing alongside a freshman quarterback (Zander Diamont) who no one expected to play going into the season. His yards-per-carry average (7.5) obviously jumps also, but he also rarely lost yardage (just 26 yards for the season).

"Weaknesses: The only potential knock on Coleman is durability at the NFL level. He has good size but doesn't fit the power-back mold. He missed the final three games in 2013 with an ankle injury. Toughness isn't a question, though, as Coleman played the second half of the season with a broken toe."
All of the focus of the Detroit Lions and free agency is focused on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh -- and rightfully so at this point -- but the list of issues facing the franchise goes beyond trying to bring back the All-Pro.

And in part becaue of that, at least one NFL insider believes Suh won’t return to Detroit.

"They have some issues to work through," said ESPN Insider Louis Riddick, the former Director of Pro Personnel for Philadelphia. "I don’t see Suh going back there. Nick Fairley is the guy in focus.

"Get a corner, address that offensive line, and that’s really how I see them going there."

Riddick said he believes Suh will sign a "record contract" that will be in the teens per year for whatever club signs him -- somewhat approaching high-level quarterback money. He also said Suh should command "well north of $50 million guaranteed money." That could end up being too expensive for even the Lions, who have made Suh their top priority this offseason.

Should the Lions fail to acquire Suh, Riddick sees Detroit focusing on three areas: Defensive tackle, cornerback, and the offensive line.

At defensive tackle, he said the Lions should focus on re-signing Nick Fairley to a deal that protects the Lions because of his inconsistent play (and probably his inconsistent health as well). He mentioned how the Lions built their team over the past five seasons with the strength being on the defensive line, and they can’t lose the entirety of the middle of their defense.

At cornerback, he offered no suggestions about who they could look at to partner with starter Darius Slay, but that they need to add at least one starting-caliber cornerback to go with him.

"Darius Slay is nice and he’s starting to come along, but they need to build their complementary pieces there on the corner," Riddick said. "Especially coming out of that division where teams are going to be able to throw the football around. If they want to dethrone the Packers, they better have another corner besides Darius Slay."

The last place he would look is at offensive tackle, particularly left tackle. As we’ve reported here before and as general manager Martin Mayhew said last month, it isn’t a lock Riley Reiff remains at left tackle for the Lions in the future. He could flip to the right side (or, less likely, inside to guard), necessitating a player in free agency or the draft to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blind side.

There is one thought that the Lions could try Cornelius Lucas or LaAdrian Waddle at left tackle, but Detroit would also probably bring someone in through free agency or the draft to give more depth and added protection.

"There’s a reason they didn’t run the ball very effectively last year," Riddick said. "It’s not just because the running backs are not dynamic or Reggie Bush was injured or any other reasons that people come up with, because the offensive line isn’t very good.

"They need some help. The left tackle position, to me, is not one that would make me very confident with Riley Reiff there."
When Darryl Tapp had his exit interview with the Detroit Lions' coaching staff in January, he left with an inkling he would be returning to the franchise for a second season in 2015.

What surprised him, though, is how soon he ended up back with the Lions.

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Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesDarryl Tapp shined for the Lions last season after the team cut him following training camp.
The Lions actually re-signed Tapp to a one-year deal a little bit after the NFL combine, but the deal ended up being announced Monday -- still way earlier than he expected to be brought back. And that left Tapp, who just moved into a new home in Northern Virginia and has been training with Lions defensive end Devin Taylor during the offseason, pretty happy about his situation.

“I wanted to be here and I feel like this is a great situation, the way they do things,” Tapp told ESPN.com Monday afternoon. “The way everybody is on the same page as far as the powers that be upstairs, the players, everybody was together.

“That’s so unique on this level, the NFL, that’s very rare. I’m just happy with the way they do things around here.”

Tapp saw that early in his tenure with Detroit. He was cut following training camp last season but team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew told him there was a good chance the team would bring him back soon -- essentially after the team placed Kyle Van Noy on injured reserve-designated to return.

What impressed him, though, was that instead of waiting until after the first week of the season, when veteran contracts would not be guaranteed for the season, the team brought him back for the first game of the year. That meant his contract as a vested veteran would be guaranteed.

That was something the Lions didn’t have to do, but did -- leaving an impression on Tapp.

Tapp, who turns 31 this season, had 17 tackles and a half-sack last season as a rotational defensive end and emergency defensive tackle. He said the Lions haven’t told him what they envision his role being in 2015, but that might have to do with the questions surrounding many of Detroit’s other defensive linemen, including Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley, Andre Fluellen, George Johnson and Ndamukong Suh.

As for Suh, Tapp said he’s paying attention to what happens with the defensive tackle he considers a “little brother” much like everybody else in the NFL.

“I’ve played with this guy for an entire year,” Tapp said. “I’ve seen how he prepares and seen how he does things, which is the right way. The intensity that he brings to practice, takes care of his body and he’s a consummate professional.

“He deserves everything that he gets and will get and I just hope that it’ll be in the Honolulu blue.”
The Detroit Lions are slowly starting to re-sign their own free agents.

According to NFLPA records, defensive end Darryl Tapp signed a one-year deal with a base salary of $870,000 to remain with the Lions. No other details were immediately available.

Tapp, 30, signed with Detroit during free agency in 2014 and was initially cut out of training camp but re-signed with the Lions before the first week of the season after an injury to Kyle Van Noy.

He ended up as a key part of the Detroit defensive end rotation, making 17 tackles and a half a sack.

Tapp, a second-round pick by Seattle in 2006, has played in 130 games between the Seahawks, Philadelphia, Washington and Detroit. He has 271 tackles, 25.5 sacks, nine forced fumbles, nine fumble recoveries and two interceptions in his career.

A message sent to Tapp was not immediately returned.

Tapp is the second Detroit unrestricted free agent to return to the team in 2015. Long snapper Don Muhlbach signed a one-year deal last week.

Tapp's deal was first reported by the blog Pride of Detroit.
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The decision was difficult, mostly because Ndamukong Suh was the player the Detroit Lions had built so much of their defense around for the past five seasons and into the foreseeable future.

To put a franchise tag on Suh -- a decision the Lions passed on Monday morning -- would have meant potentially tying up an obscene amount of money in the defensive tackle if a long-term deal couldn't be reached for slightly less cash. It would have meant leaving little wiggle room to improve the roster through free agency, and perhaps more cap cuts for players deemed valuable to the franchise.

And it would have come with zero guarantee the Lions would have signed him to a long-term deal anyway. So it was smart of the Lions to pass on franchising Suh, although now it puts a lot more pressure on the team's front office to get a deal done before he hits the open market as one of the most coveted free agents since the inception of free agency in the NFL.

The Lions mismanaged themselves into this position. They restructured Suh's contract enough during the first four years of his deal that it left the franchise with a $22.4 million cap charge for his final season. So they had to understand if the franchise tag became something they would have to consider using, the cost would be the astronomical number it is (almost $26.9 million) instead of a much more reasonable number.

The restructures took what would have likely been a reasonable franchise tag for a player such as Suh -- somewhere between $10 million and $12 million -- and made the number almost impossible to deal with.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh, C.J. Spiller
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsNow that the tag is no longer an option, can the Lions secure Ndamukong Suh to a long-term deal?
The restructures, along with long-term deals for quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson, left the Lions with the potential for three massive contracts on the books while each player was entering or just leaving their primes. It is a financial quandary that would be difficult for any franchise to deal with.

The Lions shortened the window to get something done when they shut down negotiations with Suh prior to the season. This let J.J. Watt and Gerald McCoy essentially set the market price for Suh when he tries to become the highest-paid defensive player in the NFL, something likely to happen by the end of March, with either the Lions or another franchise. If Suh and the Lions had worked out a deal before the season, they could have set the high-end number and not had to worry about whether Suh would be around for the prime of his career.

An earlier contract could have also given more time to rework some other deals to find more room and a way to fit Suh, Johnson and Stafford under the cap and still have some money to improve the roster on the defensive line, offensive line, cornerback, running back and wide receiver. These are all areas where the Lions need to find players through the draft or free agency -- and the reason why they couldn't use the tag with the $26.9 million price tag.

It also would have made the decision to pass on emerging star defensive tackle Aaron Donald during the draft and declining Nick Fairley's fifth-year option in free agency easier to understand.

Yet the Lions did none of those things -- and continued to speak confidently about signing Suh to a long-term deal. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew have been saying this for over a year now, continually offering the same message: a deal, they believed, would get done.

Now, with the tag no longer an option, the Lions have a real deadline to reach a deal. And we'll see whether Lewand and Mayhew's confidence was justified, or a misjudgment of the entire Suh process if he walks to another team willing to pay.
The first part -- and possibly major conclusion -- to the year-long Ndamukong Suh free-agency drama will come to an end by 4 p.m. ET Monday, when the franchise has to make a decision whether or not to use the franchise or transition tag on the defensive tackle.

There are three types of tags that can be used: An exclusive franchise tag, which gives the team exclusive negotiating rights with Suh and assures he'll be a Detroit Lion next season for around $26.9 million unless he is able to work out a long-term deal with the club. A nonexclusive franchise tag does something similar, but allows him to negotiate with other teams. If a team makes him an offer and the Lions decline to match, Detroit receives two future first-round picks for Suh's services. The transition tag is similar to the nonexclusive tag, but with no compensation for losing Suh. If a long-term deal is not done by July 15 with the tag, $26.9 million is his figure for 2015.

So here's a quick look at the reasons for and against tagging Suh. In the past, I've said the Lions need to use the tag on Suh if they believe it is the only way to keep him around, but my belief now is the only way the franchise should use the tag is if it believes there is only a one-year window to win with this group of players.

Reasons to tag Suh:

1. The one-year window: If the Lions want to go all-in for 2015 with the understanding they might not be able to get Suh back in 2016 anyway, then it would make sense to tag him. This would likely mean the franchise believes this is the last year the team can potentially make it to a Super Bowl with the current nucleus that includes Suh, Calvin Johnson, Stephen Tulloch, Joique Bell and others (Matthew Stafford and Golden Tate, for instance, aren't going anywhere either way). If that's the case and the Lions don't believe they will get a long-term deal done with Suh, then that's a reason for the team to use the tag.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsIf the Lions put the franchise tag on Ndamukong Suh, their options in free agency will be limited.
2. Suh is a transcendent player: There is no question Suh is the best interior lineman in the NFL and one of the best defensive players in the league. Losing a player like this -- on a defense that has been built around him and the rest of the defensive line as the crux of a 4-3 scheme -- would no doubt damage the unit in 2015. Players like him don't come around very often and if the franchise believes he is that critical to a defense that was one of the best in the NFL last season, ensuring he is around might be the way to go.

An issue either way:

1. The public relations hit: The fan base appears to be truly divided on this issue. Some want to see the team keep him at all costs. Some want to see the team let him go if he doesn't want to sign a long-term deal to stay with Detroit. The Lions have done a good job keeping things positive with their fans, saying for over a year now they believed a deal would be done with Suh. If Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew can't deliver on that, it might be a bad look considering they were so confident about it. The flip on that, of course, is the Lions can say they tried everything they could (whether they really do or not) if Suh ends up leaving in free agency and isn't tagged.

The reasons against tagging Suh:

1. The money: Giving $26.9 million to Suh plus the $9.7 million in dead money that the Lions are going to have on the books no matter what in 2015 is crippling when it comes to free agency and building depth. It all but means the Lions won't be big players in free agency (although they wouldn't be huge there if Suh signs a long-term deal, either) but Detroit has holes that need to be filled on the defensive line, offensive line, cornerback, running back and receiver. Some will come in the draft, but a good veteran or two wouldn't hurt.

2. You believe Suh isn't worth it: As mentioned above, Suh is a special player. There is no question about that. But if the Lions believe they can replace him somewhat adequately between free agency and the draft and possibly upgrade at other positions (Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell, San Francisco guard Mike Iupati, Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb and Denver defensive tackle Terrance Knighton are some of the possible targets out there) then the sum of what could be brought in instead of Suh might make Detroit better off in the long run. That's a risk, because there's no guarantee Detroit could sign one or all of those players.

3. You believe Suh and the Lions will come to terms no matter what: If this is the case, you take your chances, although the question would also be raised as to why the deal has not been done already if the franchise truly believes this.

These are some of the reasons either way for tagging Suh by 4 p.m. or declining to. At least for Detroit, it'll have a better idea of what's next by the end of business today.
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There are two things the Detroit Lions desperately need as the franchise tries to win its first playoff game in more than 20 years: Defensive linemen and offensive linemen.

Though it is somewhat likely the Lions will go with one of those positions in the first round of this spring's NFL draft in Chicago, where they go has varied.

In his latest mock draft, Todd McShay has looked squarely at the offensive line Insider and taken the most versatile lineman out there: Florida State's Cameron Erving.

Erving would make perfect sense for Detroit because of how he plays. He's someone who will grade out as one of the best centers in the draft should the Lions -- or any team -- choose to use him there. Prior to this season, though, he was an offensive tackle for the Seminoles and did well enough there to start on a national championship team. His size, at 6-foot-5, 313 pounds, could move him to any position on the line if need be, including guard if the Lions feel comfortable with their tackle and center situations.

"When I made the switch, a lot of people asked me how I felt about it in terms of the NFL. That wasn’t on my mind," Erving said of the position switch last week at the NFL combine. "I mean, I’ve always been the type of person that does what’s best for the team. When I moved from defense (after freshman season) that was what was best for the team. And that’s how I did.

"As far as moving from tackle to center, it’s what the team needed at the time. So I did it."

Erving started his career as a defensive tackle at Florida State before moving over to offensive tackle in 2012. The other potential option here is if the Lions were to draft Erving -- or another tackle -- in the first round, this could potentially help the franchise move current left tackle Riley Reiff inside to guard.

General manager Martin Mayhew is all about versatility -- especially in this draft -- and Erving would present the most versatile player possible on the offensive line in the Class of 2015.
This seemed inevitable for months now, from the moment Reggie Bush injured his ankle during the fifth week of the season and Theo Riddick darted through the Minnesota defense on the opening drive the following week.

Riddick
Even when the Lions drafted Riddick in the sixth round of the 2013 draft, his skills were similar enough to Bush's -- then the Lions' top offseason free-agent acquisition -- that it seemed like the team signed its present and drafted its future, all in the same two-month span.

It turns out that's exactly what happened, as the Lions cut Bush on Wednesday after two years with the team and with two years left on his four-year contract.

But Bush's fate with the Lions was sealed as much by his inability to stay on the field -- he played 11 games in 2014 and has had only two seasons in which he played all 16 games -- as it was Riddick's emergence in the backfield.

The questions continued to come throughout the season, especially as Riddick played well in Bush's absence. Bush still had the occasional explosiveness. Riddick was the more consistent presence as a receiving back, which essentially became the role for Bush and Riddick in the Detroit offense.

Riddick, who has only 29 career carries and no rush longer than 9 yards, will never be mistaken for a between-the-tackles back, but neither was Bush. When it comes to receiving, though, Riddick had the superior season, even with fewer repetitions. Riddick had 34 catches for 316 yards and four touchdowns, many of those plays coming in big spots.

He had the game-winning touchdown against Miami. He had a massive one-handed catch on the final drive against Atlanta, as well as a touchdown reception. Not coincidentally, Riddick had his most receptions (eight) and targets (12) against Atlanta, a game in which Bush was sidelined.

Riddick was productive when he played but was often behind Bush when he was healthy -- relegating Riddick to becoming the two-minute back because of his work out of the backfield.

Now his role could greatly expand in 2015, or at least he'll be the first player to have a shot at taking the snaps vacated by Bush's release.

"It depends on what we want to do, but he's capable of carrying it more than what we gave it to him," Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last week. "But he’s also, you can also see his numbers of out of the backfield, catching the ball. Things of that nature, 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."
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The staffer walked around the locker room daily after practices and walkthroughs. He’d go to each player and quickly click on a sensor.

Sometimes, he’d grab the heart monitors from the shirts of Detroit Lions players.

Every scan had a purpose, information gathering used to try and help the Lions win games Sundays as they searched for some sort of edge over the rest of the teams in the league. Every team in the NFL -- and every player in the league -- has radio frequency technology in their shoulder pads and around stadiums on game day to measure various movements.

[+] EnlargeTom Lewand
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiTeam president Tom Lewand and the Lions utilize analytical technology as a valuable piece of supplemental data.
 The Lions are believed to be the only team in the league to use the radio-based technology daily. The team, using a system installed by Zebra Technologies, had sensors sewn into practice jerseys to be able to track information even during non-padded practices as part of their analytic analysis. This goes along with a heart rate monitor the Lions players wear on Zephyr undershirts specifically equipped with a snap-on sensors to measure other performance levels.

“At first it’s weird, but once you’re out there at practice, your mind is on everything else,” receiver Ryan Broyles said last season. “When you’re out there and you’ve got pads on and all that stuff, it’s not really that big of a deal. But it tracks a lot of stuff.

“It tracks how fast you go, how much force you put in the ground, the distance you cover and the heart rate monitor shows how high your heart rate is or your intensity is.”

The Lions deem this information valuable as supplemental data. The technology helped with measuring a player’s true recovery from injury. In at least one instance last season, a player thought he was ready to return but the data collected by the franchise and then measured to the recovering player had him sit out one more week.

The Zephyr tracker and the Zebra technology have combined to give Detroit a still-emerging picture of how deep analytics could go. Team president Tom Lewand told ESPN.com last season the Lions had their system specifically developed and installed in their Allen Park, Michigan practice facility. This included sensors -- essentially looking like ordinary poles -- around the outskirts of the practice field to help measure various levels of output and distance.

“It gives you a good sense of how much work is being done by the players, how much physical exertion and some other things,” Lewand said. “Without getting too much into the detail of it, it certainly can measure a lot of the physical activity and physical load not just from a distance and miles run, but actually how much exertion there is, what heart rates are, those kinds of things.”

Lewand often declined to give specifics of the system -- one he said was the only one of its kind in the NFL -- during an interview with ESPN.com. Players throughout the season said the coaching staff used the information to taper practices based off the data.

The franchise installed the system on a minimal basis in 2013 and used it extensively for the first time last season. The Lions are tweaking it constantly to find new uses for it. One use came in using the technology to help give information about free agents the team worked out weekly.

Lewand said Lions coach Jim Caldwell has been “a huge part of developing it and customizing” the technology based on what his coaching staff wants to see since being hired in January, 2014. As for exactly what that data is -- Lewand and the Lions declined to delve into specifics. In addition to the system, the Lions had senior coaching assistant Gunther Cunningham dive heavily into analytics and Pro Football Focus last season -- something broken down well by The MMQB.

As far as games go -- and this is something he said could be implemented league-wide eventually -- the system they have can overlay routes run onto game film to measure exact distances covered. It can tell how close a receiver was running to a defensive back and how fast they are in comparison to each other. It can tell how fast a defensive lineman moves off the ball.

All of this information could end up working their way into coaching information and even television broadcasts. This has already shown up when broadcasts show how far a player ran when breaking down certain plays.

That, though, is just the beginning of what can be done.

“I think you’ll see those statistics start coming out as part of the growth of that particular industry,” Lewand said. “As far as the possibilities internally, there are a lot. We’re using some now.

“We’re exploring some other ones actively, and I’m sure there are other ones that our imaginations haven’t gotten to yet.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- The media portion of the NFL combine has ended, and while the actual event continues through Monday, here are some quick-hit impressions following four days in Indianapolis.

1. The defensive tackles in this draft really respect and study Ndamukong Suh. That was brought up over and over again throughout interviews with defensive linemen, including Texas tackle Malcom Brown, who Mel Kiper Jr. has predicted to the Lions in the first round. Florida State’s Eddie Goldman, another tackle target, said he started watching Suh when Suh was a freshman at Nebraska. Considering one of these tackles could end up replacing Suh if he leaves during free agency, that’s critical they would know what they are getting into.

2. This could be another good receiver draft. It’s unlikely the Lions are going to take a receiver in the first round – and probably not the second round, either – but there seems to be some depth to this class. Considering the team’s options behind Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate, that’s a pretty important thing to note for the middle rounds. He doesn’t have the stats of the rest of the guys in his class, but Darren Waller could be an intriguing pick for the Lions or someone else in the mid-to-late rounds. He is 6-foot-5 and 241 pounds. He will be a developmental project in the league, but his 4.46 40-yard dash time should catch the eyes of some teams.

3. The Lions are expecting even more from Ezekiel Ansah. General manager Martin Mayhew praised Ansah again after two seasons where he continued to exceed expectations. Over the past two seasons, Ansah ranks in the top 25 of defensive linemen in sacks (15.5) and continues to grow. The improvement has been vast and Mayhew said he’s still working on his pass-rush skills. “He’s still got more improving he can do,” Mayhew said. “This is a really big offseason for him, I think, as far as coming back and building on what he’s started building.”

4. There were a ton of prospects in Indianapolis, but a couple stood out to me at least in the media room. Quinten Rollins from Miami (Ohio) is not going to be as experienced as almost any other cornerback taken in the draft, but he could end up being worth it. He made the conversion from playing point guard for Miami (Ohio) to cornerback and became the MAC player of the year. He has a lot of room to grow and has great size. If the Lions truly plan on drafting a corner to maybe learn for a year behind Rashean Mathis, he could be a smart selection. Also, guard Laken Tomlinson made an immediate impression in front of the media.

5. It sounds like the Lions are still trying to figure out the exact role for tight ends. Mayhew explained that the three tight ends Detroit has are pretty diverse but the second year of the offense should focus that. Don’t expect to see Brandon Pettigrew revert to a pass-catching tight end, though, because of Tate, Johnson, Eric Ebron, Joseph Fauria and the running backs. The amount of targets just won’t be there.

6. At least from the way Mayhew talked during the combine, he is expecting big things out of the offense and coordinator Joe Lombardi in 2015. A multitude of factors – injuries, inexperience in the new offense, offensive line struggles – hampered the offense. With another offseason to work and theoretical roster upgrades, some of those problems from 2014 should not be issues in 2015.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Before leaving for the offseason, running back Reggie Bush sounded like someone planning on being a part of the Detroit Lions in 2015.

Now, that doesn't appear to be as certain.

General manager Martin Mayhew was noncommittal Wednesday when asked about Bush's future with the Lions, leaving the potential for the team to let him go prior to the season.

"No, we haven't (made a determination) at this point," Mayhew said at the NFL combine Wednesday. "Anybody on our roster, there's a lot of futures up in the air. My future's up in the air, too. It's the NFL. So, yeah, I would say that but I would say that about Ndamukong (Suh). I would say that about all of our free agents, that their future is up in the air."

Bush, though, is not a free agent. He has two years left on the four-year deal he signed with the Lions before the 2013 season. He is due $3.25 million in base salary this season along with a $250,000 roster bonus if he is on the roster in the fifth day of the 2015 league year.

He has a cap number of $5,277,941 for this season and dead money of $3,555,882. When asked about Bush, he said he is in a similar situation to some of Detroit's free agent class.

"A lot of guys under contract are in the same situation," Mayhew said. "It's really about the value that you bring to the organization that's constantly re-evaluated every offseason."

Bush's production waned in 2014 as he dealt with consistent ankle injuries that limited him to 12 games, 334 rushing yards and 263 receiving yards this season along with three total touchdowns.

When Bush was out, second-year pro Theo Riddick took over his role and caught 38 passes for 355 yards. Riddick also became the team's primary two-minute drill back because of his hands and his ability to catch passes.

Running back, due to the ages of Bush and Joique Bell, could be a priority for the Lions in the draft. And Mayhew is trying to find guys with skills to balance out what he already has on the roster.

"I like guys with different traits," Mayhew said. "As you can see, the guys we have now have different strengths and I want to build our roster with guys that can do different things in the course of a game so an all-around back is good obviously.

"But when you have a guy like Theo Riddick, who can make a difference in the passing game, that brings value to your team. When Joique Bell plays between the tackles running for us, it's big and he does a good job catching balls out of the backfield as well. I like guys that are versatile but you got to have a guy that can run between the tackles and you've got to have a playmaker who can do something in space."
The Detroit Lions officially named their new special-teams coordinator Tuesday as they tabbed Joe Marciano to replace John Bonamego, who left to become the head coach at Central Michigan.

Marciano was a special-teams consultant for Minnesota last season after being let go by Houston after the 2013 season.

He spent 12 years in Houston running its special teams and also worked in New Orleans and Tampa Bay.

“Joe obviously has had a remarkable career,” Lions head coach Jim Caldwell said in a statement. “First of all, we were trying to find a guy that had a significant amount of experience. We have a fairly veteran team and we wanted to make certain that we had a guy in there who has been through it before and understands how to implement a new system. Not only that, he had results in the past.

"The role [special-teams coordinators] play is vast within the framework of a team because of the fact that they probably touch, motivate and talk to more players than anyone except for the head coach, so it requires a guy with a unique skill level to be able to do that. He has to be a fine communicator. He also has to have a real fine sense of talent and how to utilize that all within the framework of special teams.”

Marciano will take over a unit that could be looking at an upgrade in returner over Jeremy Ross and still does not have a kicker since Matt Prater is an unrestricted free agent. Punter Sam Martin will return for his third season in 2015.

For more on Marciano, here's the post we did on him earlier this month.
The long-awaited will-they, won't-they on using a franchise or transition tag for Ndamukong Suh can officially be answered starting Monday.

Suh
The two-week window for the Detroit Lions to make a decision on whether to use the tag on Suh goes from now until March 2 at 4 p.m. and the decision could dictate every offseason move the team will make in free agency and potentially the draft.

Despite his immense talent and overall worth to the Lions, Suh's tag number of more than $26.7 million is massive, complicating the decision for the Lions, who still don't know exactly what the salary-cap number for 2015 will be.

Colleague Ed Werder reported Monday morning on SportsCenter that the Lions are still determining whether tagging Suh at that number is a plausible option considering how much the team already has tied up in quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

Suh has $9.7 million in dead money that will be on the Lions' cap payroll no matter what in 2015, so if the tag is used, that means he'll take up more than $36 million of the team's cap space in 2015 if a long-term deal can't be reached.

The Lions also have to weigh how much Suh wants to remain with the Lions in the long term considering what the cost would be to retain Suh at that number. It would potentially mean cutting somewhat valuable starters -- Reggie Bush, Stephen Tulloch, and Jason Jones would be possibilities -- and also decimating the team's ability to make a run at other free agents to help improve a roster that reached the playoffs last season.

What happens with Suh will be the major talking point for the Lions through the NFL combine this week as the franchise tries to figure out exactly what is going to happen and considers options on every level for its future.
It is a loaded 2015 free-agent class -- at least for now, until franchise tags and last-minute deals are applied -- but one player stands above everyone else, according to colleague Kevin Seifert.

That player is Ndamukong Suh.

Suh
The former No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft leads Seifert's list of the top 20 free agents and is the only Detroit Lions player on the list. In the description of why Suh is the top player, colleague Matt Williamson notes that Suh could play in a 4-3 as a tackle or a 3-4 as an end -- making him extremely versatile as well.

So far, teams have only seen Suh line up at tackle, other than a handful of plays in pass-rush situations when Suh lined up outside of the end, turning the end into a tackle and a tackle into an end to leverage blocking situations.

There are many opinions, though, of what the Lions should do with Suh.

Tom Gower from Football Outsiders writes that the Lions should let Suh walk to another team in free agency, and his reasoning is somewhat understandable. The Lions could then afford to sign more high-level players at different positions with the money it would take to retain Suh.

Some of the concern there, though, is how much Suh actually means to Detroit's defensive structure. The Lions spent the past four seasons building a defense around their talented front four and came away with a deep, dominant group last season. Now, both Suh and Nick Fairley are free agents along with role players C.J. Mosley, Andre Fluellen, George Johnson and Darryl Tapp. So the Lions have to decide how much of that front they want to keep and how they want to structure the front overall. If Detroit wants to continue building around a dominant defensive front, bringing back Suh is almost paramount there.

That leads to the argument Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus is making. He is saying Suh is one of 10 players in the NFL who should receive the franchise tag from their teams. At Suh's rate, it would be north of $26.7 million, in addition to the $9.7 million he would cost in dead money no matter where he lands in 2015.

His reasoning is analogous to what I wrote last season and still agree with: Suh is a rare player who can alter an entire team's offensive game plan. He forces double-teams on every play. He is also a player who is good against the run and the pass and -- as mentioned above -- is a cornerstone to what the Lions have tried to build.

Much like when he is on the field, Suh is a polarizing player that everyone has an opinion on, both as a player and where he should land. The two opinions that matter the most -- that of Suh and his agent, Jimmy Sexton -- might be the only two opinions most people don't know about right now.

This year-long saga is now less than a month from a conclusion.

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