NFC North: free agent tracker

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been spending part of the offseason trying to upgrade their secondary.

On Monday, the team added what could be another piece, signing cornerback Cassius Vaughn to a one-year deal according to the Detroit Free Press.

The 26-year-old Vaughn played college ball at Ole Miss and went undrafted in 2010. He spent two seasons with Denver before heading to Indianapolis for 2012 and 2013.

He played in every game for the Colts over the past two seasons and has played in 54 games in his NFL career, making 116 tackles and intercepting five passes. He has also recovered four fumbles in his career.

Vaughn adds to a large group of cornerbacks already on the roster, including veteran Chris Houston and younger players Darius Slay, Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood. The Lions are also expected to add a cornerback during May's NFL draft, perhaps even with a first round selection.
James Ihedigbo isn't the flashiest player and he might not have been the best safety available when free agency began, but the Detroit Lions focused early on him.

And it would appear they did so with familiarity in mind.

Ihedigbo
When coaches take new jobs, there seems to be a comfort in bringing in players they already know and who they believe can fit their system. That makes a lot of sense, especially in the case of Detroit, where both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are running NFL schemes on their own for the first time.

In Austin's case, he coached Ihedigbo the past two seasons in Baltimore, so he knows what the safety can and can't do. Perhaps they view him as a strong pairing with Glover Quin, whom the team signed last offseason and may have been a better free-agent acquisition for Detroit than the more-heralded Reggie Bush.

The Lions made a smart pairing at safety when they signed Ihedigbo. Quin was the 10th-best coverage safety in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus -- one spot ahead of his now-former teammate, Louis Delmas. Neither, though, ranked in the top 50 against the run.

Ihedigbo, meanwhile, was second among safeties against the run last season according to PFF, so the team might have put together a stronger complementary pair than what they had a season ago.

But signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t deter Detroit from going after a safety potentially early in May’s NFL draft. This signing, in some ways, feels like a stop-gap -- a chance to win immediately with an established, experienced player who will know what Austin expects.

But Ihedigbo will turn 31 in December, and while he hasn’t been a starter for a lot of seasons, the body often begins to slow down from the elite levels needed after 30. So the Lions would be wise to search for Ihedigbo's eventual replacement almost as soon as he steps foot inside the Allen Park, Mich., facilities as a Lions player for the first time.

This could mean investigating safeties early -- the team has already brought in former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a visit and went to check out Louisville's Calvin Pryor at his pro day -- and possibly taking one with the intention of that player learning for a season before starting.

Usually, that doesn’t happen with the No. 10 pick in the draft. But Detroit is filling its win-now needs during free agency, so it might be able to afford taking depth for the future -- whether it's in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver or at defensive tackle.

This, of course, is what good teams in the NFL do and something the Lions haven’t had the luxury or ability to do in years past. Signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t keep them from looking to do that, especially at a position where the team has needed help for years.
DETROIT -- Tom Lewand wouldn't go into specifics and declined to chat about individual players Monday night, but he gave a hint that the Detroit Lions might not be done in free agency yet.

This despite not having a ton of cap room remaining to sign players and the rookie class, but that can always be worked around with contract restructures and a potential Ndamukong Suh contract extension.

[+] EnlargeTom Lewand
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiTom Lewand and the Lions may still have a move to make in free agency.
Of course, Lewand indicated Monday that even if Suh did sign an extension, it wouldn't free up as much cap room as one might think and that the entire salary cap process is more complicated than looking at one year, but rather a multi-year plan.

That said, don't expect Detroit to be finished finding players.

“I wouldn't say that,” Lewand said following an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “We're always looking at ways to improve the team.”

He wouldn't project anything, but Detroit still needs to sign a safety -- they brought James Ihedigbo in for a visit last week -- and a veteran backup quarterback, so some moves will still make sense.

Lewand said the team's backup last season, Shaun Hill, is in St. Louis visiting the Rams, but that he has kept lines of communication open with Hill and his representatives for a potential return to the Lions.

Hill has been with the Lions for four seasons, primarily as the backup to Matthew Stafford, who the team drafted with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.

“Having a good backup is hopefully never necessary,” Lewand said. “But it is a good insurance policy.”

The Lions have signed five free agents since the start of the new league year Tuesday afternoon: Receivers Kevin Ogletree and Golden Tate, defensive linemen Darryl Tapp and Vaughn Martin and tight end Brandon Pettigrew.

The team also kept running back Joique Bell on the roster for the next three seasons with an extension on Tuesday, right before the start of the new league year.

“Joique is a great guy,” Lewand said. “Great running back. Great story for the city.”

Lewand said part of the reason Detroit has been able to attract higher-profile free agents -- Tate this offseason and Reggie Bush last season -- is because of the dynamic of playing with Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Suh along with being able to create cap-friendly, non-top dollar deals with players.

That, he said, didn't exist as much a few seasons ago. Of course, the Lions were also one of the worst teams in the NFL a few seasons ago.

That is no longer an issue, as the Lions have now become a franchise that is at least able to be competitive, although has still not won their division since the NFL shifted to their current makeup.
The Lions, lying in wait for this new year ...

After a week of free agency, one of the areas the Detroit Lions still need to fill is who, exactly, will back up starting quarterback Matthew Stafford.

For the past four seasons, that job has gone to veteran Shaun Hill, who played in 15 games over his four seasons in Detroit throwing 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. And now, Hill is a free agent and at age 34, is likely reaching the point where he needs to figure out where he wants to finish his career.

After the season and even last week, it looked like that destination could still be Detroit. But on Sunday night, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Hill is headed to visit the St. Louis Rams on Monday.

While a visit is not a deal, by getting a player in a facility, it increases their chances for committing to a deal. And the Rams need a backup quarterback after Kellen Clemens left for San Diego.

Hill is from Kansas and started his college career at Hutchinson Community College in Kansas. And Missouri is closer to Detroit than Kansas, if that matters to Hill. So this could be something worth watching Monday as free agency enters its second week.

If Hill were to head elsewhere, 32-year-old Luke McCown could be looked at to be his replacement. McCown has familiarity with offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's offensive scheme.

And now a look at other Lions news from around the Interwebs.

The Detroit Lions are bringing back Brandon Pettigrew and this ensures one thing in Detroit: While the team will have an offense that might look schematically like the New Orleans Saints' offense, this guarantees it won’t be Saints-like.

At least not in the same construct of what New Orleans likes to do.

Pettigrew is not a Jimmy Graham-like tight end. He won’t stretch the field. He won’t create an obvious mismatch against anyone who lines up against him. Though Detroit had said he was a priority free agent throughout the offseason, he is a different type of tight end than Graham.

He is more of a dual-threat tight end, as much of a blocker as a pass-catcher. He was integral in Detroit’s running game as a player who can line up on the line of scrimmage as well as in the slot and even outside. His versatility and flexibility has been one of the more attractive things about him.

He will not, though, break a defense.

In his five seasons in Detroit, his longest-ever reception has been 35 yards. In 2010. He has had only four games in which he had a reception of 30 yards or more, and only one of them came after the 2010 season. Last season he had fewer yards (416) than any season but his rookie year, and also fewer drops (four) than any season in his career. His two touchdowns were his fewest since his rookie year.

He also had declining receptions the past two seasons after an 87-catch, 826-yard season in 2011.

While Pettigrew is still productive and still young enough at age 29, part of the reason Detroit might have brought him back is the lack of experience at the position otherwise. If the team had not kept Pettigrew, the only tight ends on the roster would have been Joseph Fauria, Michael Williams and Matt Veldman. Fauria and Williams were rookies last season, and of the three, only Fauria had any extended playing time or even caught a pass.

Williams spent last season on injured reserve and Veldman was signed for the last game of the season from the practice squad.

With a thin tight end market, there were not going to be any options better than Pettigrew available for Detroit to sign as a veteran. Owen Daniels, Jermichael Finley and Dustin Keller all could have been intriguing options, but they have significant injury histories that made them more of a risk than Pettigrew, who the team drafted in 2009. And Pettigrew has developed a rapport with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

Pettigrew’s signing also probably means the team might avoid taking a tight end early in May’s draft, although depending on how the Lions really feel about Fauria and Williams, it might not completely preclude them from doing so.

But this was the safe signing for Detroit. He was the player the team knew and the one the front office was the most familiar with. With little other options out there, it was also the one that ended up making the most sense.

Even if he can’t do some of the things the team might want him to be able to in the offense.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Shaun Hill is apparently still an option to return to the Detroit Lions.

Hill
A source told ESPN.com on Thursday that Tampa Bay had expressed interest in the Lions' backup quarterback, but the Buccaneers ended up going with Josh McCown instead as someone to compete with and potentially back up Mike Glennon.

The source said the Lions are still a potential landing spot for Hill, who has spent the past four seasons backing up Matthew Stafford. Other teams have reached out to Hill, and the Lions have also been looking around, the source said, but the sides are expected to touch base again soon.

Hill has played in 15 games for the Lions since signing in 2010, completing 269 of 432 passes for 2,891 yards, 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

In his career, he has completed 591 of 954 passes for 6,381 yards, 41 touchdowns and 23 interceptions.

Finding a backup quarterback to Stafford is one of the areas Detroit needs to fill during the offseason. Other than Stafford, the only quarterback on the roster is Kellen Moore, who has yet to play in a game.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Joique Bell had his news conference Wednesday to chat about his new contract that could keep him with the Detroit Lions for the next three seasons, but he also touched on some other topics unrelated to his new deal.
  • Bell
    Bell confirmed that he ran into wide receiver Golden Tate -- a free agent the Detroit Lions are pursuing -- in the hallway of the team's offices Wednesday afternoon. Tate was headed into the room that Bell just walked out of after signing his contract, but Bell didn't know if that meant anything.
  • Bell said he has spoken with Ndamukong Suh -- Suh was the third person to call him after news of his new contract broke -- about Suh's contract negotiations. Or, rather, Suh's lack of negotiations at present.

    "He said they really haven’t been negotiating right now," Bell said. "He said his focus is coming in next season, and it’s easy for us just to be the players. That’s why we hire our agents, to worry about that type of stuff."

    Bell said that's about all he knew about Suh's status. Suh is entering the final year of his contact with a $22.4 million cap number.
  • Bell never worried at all about a long-term contract not getting done with Detroit. That's not surprising since it appeared all parties wanted to do the deal.
  • Bell called offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, who he had as a coach in New Orleans, "brilliant." Bell really seemed high on him and also described Lombardi and Jim Caldwell the same way, as guys who you didn't want to disappoint and coaches who rarely yelled.
  • Bell's son, Jordan, attended his father's news conference because it was a snow day at school in the Detroit area.
  • Bell opened his news conference by offering condolences to the Ford family, who are mourning the death of owner William Clay Ford Sr., who died Sunday at age 88 after battling pneumonia.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- While Golden Tate is the big name coming through Detroit on Wednesday, two other players are also scheduled to visit the Lions in the next 48 hours, according to the team's official reporter.

Center Phil Costa, who was released by Dallas, is scheduled to visit the Lions on Wednesday and fullback Henry Hynoski, formerly of the New York Giants, is slated to come in Thursday.

Hynoski played in 23 games for the Giants, mostly as a blocking fullback along with some special teams. In three seasons, he played 545 offensive snaps and gained 158 yards with one touchdown. He missed most of the 2013 season, though, with a fractured shoulder. The 25-year-old also has his own website that has a picture of him hurdling.

Costa, 26, could potentially be viewed as a more veteran replacement for center Dominic Raiola down the road, while also meaning the Lions wouldn't have to draft a center and then work with him to eventually replace Raiola. Costa started every game for Dallas in 2011, but played in just six games over the past two seasons. He had back and ankle injuries that derailed his 2012 season and then was replaced by Travis Frederick in 2013.

Thus, he became an expensive backup on the Cowboys' roster and was released.
The first move of the Detroit Lions' new league year is not one that could have been expected.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reports wide receiver Kevin Ogletree, who joined the Lions last season after being released by Tampa Bay, will return to the team on a one-year contract. The move was first reported by Pro Football Talk.

Ogletree had said at the end of the season he wanted to return to Detroit if possible and the Lions are desperate for help at receiver.

The 26-year-old signed with Detroit midway through the 2013 season after being released by Tampa Bay after four games. He combined to have 21 receptions for 269 yards and two touchdowns between the two teams last season.

He spent the previous four seasons with Dallas after being an undrafted free agent out of Virginia. In his career, he has 78 receptions for 999 yards and six touchdowns.

This is a fairly low-risk move for Detroit. The team is bringing in a receiver it is familiar with, who can compete for a roster spot and also play special teams. When given opportunities, he was mildly productive, including five catches for 75 yards in the season finale against Minnesota on 10 targets -- the most he had in 2013.

The Lions now have these receivers under contract who played in games for them last season: Calvin Johnson, Kris Durham, Ryan Broyles, Jeremy Ross, Patrick Edwards and Ogletree.

Ogletree is the second signing for Detroit on Tuesday, joining running back Joique Bell.
The Lions made their first big move in free agency, and it was done to keep one of their own.

Joique Bell always said he wanted to stay in Detroit. The Lions insisted he should stick around as well. With the way the Lions are going to use their offense now, looking more like the New Orleans Saints, having both Bell and Reggie Bush on the roster was key.

[+] EnlargeJoique Bell
Raj Mehta/USA TODAY SportsJoique Bell's extension is worth $7 million and will include $4.3 million in guarantees.
The Lions re-signed Bell to a three-year deal (the second-round restricted free-agent tender for 2014 plus a two-year extension for 2015 and 2016) to ensure he wasn’t going anywhere, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

That was done not only because Bush and Bell formed one of the top tandems in the NFL last season but because of how new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi will likely use them in the future. During his tenure in New Orleans, before Lombardi was calling plays, the Saints rotated multiple running backs through the system.

They often caught passes out of the backfield -- led by either Darren Sproles or Bush -- but carries were often split. No rusher had more than 200 carries in a season while Lombardi was with the Saints, and Bush had 223 last season during his first year with the Lions. Bell was second with 166 -- which would have been high in the New Orleans offense most seasons.

Of course, Lombardi said he would tweak the Saints' playbook to fit the Lions, and considering what Detroit has on its roster at the start of free agency, the offense could rely more on runs and short passes than what Lombardi used in New Orleans.

But by the time the draft is over, the Lions could have the pass-catchers necessary to approximate what the Saints did, pass-happy both short and sometimes vertically with Marques Colston, who will be played by Calvin Johnson.

Keeping Bell around for the next three seasons gives the Lions a player who can be a lead back behind Bush. This is important because Bush, who has played 16 games in a season only twice in his career, turns 30 next March. That age has often been the turning point for running backs to hit a decline.

Bush might be a different case than most because his body has only recently started to take on 200-plus-carry seasons over the past three years. Before that, his load was lighter. But still, having a fresher Bell -- who played only his second full season in the NFL in 2013 -- as a complement and potential replacement could be helpful.

Signing Bell also could give the Lions some more room to trade or release Mikel Leshoure, who barely played last season and has been in search of more playing time.

Maybe Leshoure receives that in Lombardi’s multiback offense in 2014. Or maybe the team lets him go and looks to Theo Riddick or other options to join the rotation.

With the long-term signing of Bell, the top of the Lions' depth chart is now set at running back for the not-too-distant future.

Free agency primer: Lions

March, 7, 2014
Mar 7
11:00
AM ET
» AFC Free-Agency Primer: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South

.Key free agents: QB Shaun Hill; RB Joique Bell (restricted); WR Nate Burleson; TE Brandon Pettigrew; DE Willie Young; CB Rashean Mathis; S Louis Delmas.

Where they stand: Of Detroit’s major free agents, Bell is almost certainly returning to the team and Burleson and Delmas almost certainly will not after being released as cap cuts last month. The rest are likely headed toward free agency when it opens Tuesday. Detroit already took care of some of its free agents, Dominic Raiola and Don Muhlbach, bringing them back with one-year deals. Pettigrew and Young are likely to test the market fairly heavily and should have multiple suitors. Mathis’ age is a question, but he will end up somewhere next season. Whether it is in Detroit is an unknown. Hill has to make a decision if he wants to go somewhere he can push for a starting gig or if he is content backing up Matthew Stafford. Detroit’s other free agents either won’t be back with the team or should come cheap if the Lions want them back.

What to expect: The Lions are going to make a run at wide receivers and potentially some secondary help in free agency. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Detroit try to bring back Pettigrew, and to do it sooner in free agency before he can talk to more teams as one of the top free agents at his position. Pay attention to sure-handed wide receivers, as that was a major issue with the Lions last season. Also, the team could go after a mid-level safety and possibly a mid-level cornerback if either is available at the right price. Other than that, Detroit might look at value plays to bolster the offensive line and front seven. Backup quarterback could be interesting -- Luke McCown could be a target -- but again, that has to be at the right price.
The Detroit Lions cleared more cap space Monday afternoon by releasing veteran guard Leroy Harris.

Hillis
Harris
This move was expected, as Harris was due $2,062,500 against the salary cap for 2014, which would have been the final year of his deal with Detroit. Harris has $112,500 of dead money on his contract according to overthecap.com, so the move will save the Lions $1.95 million in cap room for when free agency starts March 11.

Harris was brought in to compete for the right guard job eventually won by rookie Larry Warford, who then solidified the position as one of the best young guards in the league. He could have also been used as a backup center, but general manager Martin Mayhew said he planned to find one to groom for the future whenever Dominic Raiola is no longer with the club.

Meanwhile, Harris played in one game in 2013, the season finale against Minnesota.

It was the fewest amount of games Harris has played in a season. He was drafted in the fourth round by Tennessee in 2007 and signed with the Lions before the 2013 season.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To view the entire series to date, click this link.

Free agent to be: John Wendling

Position: Safety

Age: 30

Years in the league: 7

What he made last season: $938,334 (cap number); $715,000 (base salary), $15,000 (roster bonus)

What he did last season: Wendling wasn’t needed at all defensively in 2013, playing one snap the entire season with the defense. But his real role is on special teams, where he made 14 tackles and was one of the team’s most used and effective special teamers. That was part of why he was brought over from Buffalo after the 2009 season and why he made an impact with the Lions over the past four seasons.

His potential market value: Could be decent, although not as a priority free agent by any means. He will be a player who will eventually be brought into a camp by a team that struggled on special teams coverage last season. The Washington Redskins, for example, was one of the worst teams in the league on both punt and kick coverage.

Will he fit the Lions still: No. It initially looked like Wendling could be a candidate to return to Detroit through free agency because of his role on special teams and familiarity with John Bonamego’s coverage systems. However, once the Lions claimed Isa Abdul-Quddus off waivers earlier this year and then kept him off the restricted free agent market by giving him a one-year deal that counts $695,000 against the cap, that likely took Wendling’s potential special teams spot. Bonamego was the person general manager Martin Mayhew said went into his office to campaign for Abdul-Quddus. At the NFL combine, Mayhew said Wendling would not be back with Detroit in 2014.

What happens: As mentioned above, Wendling will likely find a spot in a training camp because of his special teams prowess, not any potential he has as a safety. At 30 years old, Wendling is likely on his last few years in the NFL as player who specializes in special teams play, but he should still be productive enough for a team to take a look at him and give him a shot to make a roster.
In the past two days, the Detroit Lions have been given an idea of what the team might see when free agency starts March 11.

And they have had to make no moves of their own to do so.

By Philadelphia re-signing wide receiver Riley Cooper and Baltimore hanging on to tight end Dennis Pitta, two of the positions the Lions will potentially look to the most in free agency, Detroit now has a base of what could be expected.

Cooper signed a five-year, $25 million contract after a breakout season where he caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. In a deep crop of free agents at his position, Cooper was part of a tier of player that the Lions are likely going to look at to potentially fill a need, so this gives them a market value to work off of.

Pettigrew
Pettigrew
Pitta’s signing, as first reported by the Baltimore Sun, does more to shape Detroit’s free agency than Cooper’s will. Pitta’s contract will be five years for $32 million, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, and it could give an idea of what the Lions’ own comparable tight end in the free agent market, Brandon Pettigrew, might want.

It would be logical to think that Pettigrew would at least seek out a deal similar in value to Pitta and depending how Detroit feels about that situation, could give an early indication whether the team might feel that is worth it to pursue.

Pettigrew actually put together better statistics than Pitta during the overlapping parts of their careers -- Pettigrew has one more year of service than Pitta -- but they are capable of doing similar things. Both are tight ends who are considered dual-purpose, meaning they can block and catch, so that helps set the market even further.

The final piece of this, and perhaps the reason why Pettigrew might end up leaving Detroit, is he might now be the top free-agent tight end. With New Orleans using the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and the signing of Pitta, Pettigrew and Buffalo's Scott Chandler are now the top free-agent tight ends likely to hit the market in less than two weeks.

That could drive the value for Pettigrew higher than it might have been had Pitta not re-upped with the Ravens.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL combine a week ago that Pettigrew is a priority free agent for the Lions, but like with every move the team makes, everything will be interconnected both with comparative value through the rest of the league and also how it fits with other free agents the Lions are going to try and acquire.
Every day we’ll take a look at one of the Detroit Lions heading for free agency, what he has meant to the team before and a prognosis on whether or not he’ll be back with the club in 2014.

To see the series to date, click this link.

Free agent to be: Chris Greenwood (Exclusive rights)

Position: Cornerback

Age: 24

Years in the league: 2

What he made last season: $112,941 (cap number); $480,000 (cash value and base salary)

What he did last season: Greenwood started the season on Detroit’s practice squad and was signed away by Dallas during the first month of the season. He didn’t appear in any games for the Cowboys and was eventually released. At that point, Detroit brought him back and eventually put him on the active roster. He dressed for the final three games of the season and played cornerback in the last two, making six tackles in 63 snaps.

His potential market value: None, but that is because he is probably headed right back to Detroit. The Lions have a core of young corners in their cornerback corps and he played well enough over the last two games that they’ll want to give him another look this offseason.

Will he fit the Lions still: Yes. Detroit needs cornerback help and has to let the cornerbacks they have picked up over the past couple of seasons, including Bill Bentley, Darius Slay, Jonte Green and Greenwood play more to see if they can develop into viable cornerbacks or are not worth keeping around. Greenwood is on that list and the Lions have always appeared to like him, so he’ll get a good shot at being on the roster in the fall.

What happens: Greenwood comes back and actually pushes Bentley and Green for their spots. Whether he beats either one of them out is a tough thing to predict at this time because there is so much that can happen at a position the Lions clearly need to upgrade, but he will make a strong push. The somewhat-on-a-limb prediction here is that Greenwood ends up on the 53-man roster in September.

SPONSORED HEADLINES