NFC North: Lions free agency

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If you’re the Detroit Lions, tempting the world of fate must not really bother you because, well, you know your history. So sure, look at all of the quarterbacks left in the NFL, all of the quarterbacks available in the draft and there’s only one guy out there where if you brought him back to Detroit, you’d wonder what the heck the Lions were doing.

Dan Orlovsky.

Why wouldn’t the Lions want to bring back one of the few players left in the NFL who can conjure memories of the team’s 0-16 season in 2008 -- when he was the team’s starting quarterback for seven games. Why wouldn’t their new head coach, Jim Caldwell, want to bring in a guy who helped quarterback Indianapolis to a 2-14 record in 2011 -- the season that cost Caldwell his job.

And why not bring in a guy whose last job was in Tampa Bay -- a franchise that spent the first half of last season unable to get out of its own way.

Sure, Orlovsky was only the backup in Tampa and he didn’t have much to do with it, but if you’re the Lions and you’re talking about winning and winning now and how important this is, do you really mess with the karma -- even if you think it is hogwash.

Other than in 2009, when Houston went 9-7, Orlovsky has never been part of a winning team. But he has been a part of some historically bad ones. This is what Detroit will get in its backup quarterback.

Yes, the thought is he’ll never play at all, that Matthew Stafford has been healthy for the past three seasons and that perhaps Kellen Moore ends up beating Orlovsky out for the job anyway. And Orlovsky isn’t a terrible quarterback -- he has completed 58.5 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in his career -- but it’s not about that with Detroit.

It’s about karma and fate, and why if you’re Detroit would you even want to go tempting any of that? Seriously, man? Seriously. This is a guy who during his last stint in Detroit managed to be chased out of the end zone by Jared Allen for a safety -- and he didn’t even realize it.

Orlovsky likely came as a cheap option, and the team wasn’t going to find a veteran with the experience or skill of the departed Shaun Hill, but there were other options out there. Matt Flynn is still available, although likely nowhere as cheap as Orlovsky will end up being. So is Brady Quinn, if any sort of experience is what you’re looking for.

But to bring in Orlovsky shows an immense amount of confidence in three things for Detroit: In Stafford’s health. In Orlovsky’s ability. And in the ability of the new staff to make history and bad memories a thing of the past.
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 -- Throughout the first week of free agency, the Detroit Lions continued to focus on offense, the part of the game the team is most known for and the part of the game that has produced the more gaudy numbers for the team in recent years.

The offensive power is strong. The offensive power added receiver Golden Tate, retained tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued to stockpile players attempting to score.

Ihedigbo
But what about defense? The other side, the side that helped Seattle win a Super Bowl last season. The side of the ball where Detroit has noticeably struggled in recent seasons despite the drafting of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah in the first round of three of the past four drafts.

A lot of focus is on the Lions’ sub-par pass defense -- the cornerbacks struggled yet again in 2013 -- but Lions president Tom Lewand looks at pass defense as encompassing everyone on the defense.

“When you’re talking about pass defense, you’re not just talking about defensive backs,” Lewand said Monday at the MGM Grand. “I think you have to talk about everybody on the defense, because they all defend the pass.

“We built our team up front, and I won’t change a thing about that. Giving the quarterback a very short time to throw the ball, create a lot of pressure.”

Yet the Lions have not made any real impact moves defensively during free agency. They signed two defensive linemen for depth -- Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp -- and let a productive defensive end, Willie Young, leave for Chicago.

In the secondary, the Lions have only visited with one free agent, safety James Ihedigbo, and he left without signing a contract. That might happen, but until it does, that leaves Detroit without any impact changes in the defensive backfield. The most noticeable move they have made was bringing in Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a potential first-round pick, for a visit Monday.

But the Lions say they are trying to, and have in the past, made attempts to improve their defense.

“Are we looking at ways to strengthen our team and our defense, absolutely,” Lewand said. “I think we have to do that. We lost Louis Delmas to the Miami Dolphins, and we’ve been looking at ways to add to our secondary.

“I think we’ve done that the last few years, whether it’s drafting a number of defensive backs in the middle rounds, in the second round last year with Darius Slay, and we see a lot of those young corners developing.”

It is possible Detroit could add to that, too. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said at his introductory news conference that he could never have enough cornerbacks. He has a lot of young ones, but few proven ones other than Chris Houston, who had an inconsistent 2013.

So it is still an area the team could draft, both at corner and safety, in May as the Lions search for whatever way possible to improve their team.
DETROIT -- It started with a profile, because pretty much everything with the Detroit Lions these days begins with a conversation to put together the vision in their heads.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonGolden Tate, a four-year NFL veteran, will be expected to fill out the Lions' receiver set.
It is how Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew brainstormed the criteria they would like in their next head coach after they fired Jim Schwartz in December. And not surprisingly, it is what they did again when they hit free agency last week.

They all met together -- scouts, coaches and front office staff -- and put together exactly what they would be looking for in each need position in free agency. That included wide receiver, where the Lions have made their biggest move thus far.

“We put together a position profile that says this is the kind of skill set we need to have," Lewand said Monday evening at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “Then you have a profile and these are the guys who are available. Who are the guys that are available in free agency that match that profile and Golden Tate was a guy who matched that profile in that complementary receiver to Calvin (Johnson).

“A guy that brings certain skills."

What were those skills?

Lewand didn't get into specifics when discussing his team's newest receiver acquisition, but by parsing together various statements throughout the past three months from Lewand and new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions appeared to focus on three factors.

First was hands, and considering Detroit's issues with merely catching the ball a season ago, this became obvious. The Lions dropped 46 passes last season -- 7.5 percent of Matthew Stafford's throws. Tate, meanwhile, has dropped seven passes in his four seasons and has a 2.7 percent drop rate.

So that's an obvious improvement.

“It's very important and that's why we're receivers is because we can catch the ball, although sometimes it might not seem that way," Tate said. “One thing that I did notice from watching (Matthew) Stafford throw the ball (last week) when I was meeting with coach (Joe) Lombardi is that sometimes Stafford will throw a covered guy open.

“What I mean by that is he might throw a back shoulder or throw it high and to the right and I feel like that's one thing I excel at is catching low balls and balls that are outside my frame."

Second was the ability to make contested catches. Tate has no issue doing that, often being able to leap up between cornerbacks and safeties to come down with the ball despite his 5-foot-10 frame. He can fight on the shorter and intermediate routes along with battling cornerbacks on deeper patterns. Going along with that toughness is his ability to block. He is a more than willing blocker and is actually good at it for his size.

Third was not verbalized, but Caldwell spoke at Tate's introductory news conference that they were looking for someone with leadership and character. Tate grew in these areas during his first four years in the NFL, culminating in winning a Super Bowl last season.

Additionally, he is used to playing alongside another top receiver, as he did that at Notre Dame opposite Michael Floyd, now with Arizona.

So when Detroit brought Tate in last week, it knew what it wanted to accomplish -- and was assisted by the snow.

“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm," Lewand said. "He came in the night before, came in late Tuesday night, and we knew the snow was going to come and it was going to be hard for him to get out to his next destination."

The team woke him up at 6 a.m. -- 3 a.m. on Tate's body clock time -- for his physical and by noon, instead of visiting the stadium, all he wanted was the nap he spoke about at his news conference later last Tuesday.

By then, Detroit knew it received its complementary pass catcher to Calvin Johnson and now any concern shifted from whether he fit the profile the Lions set to how he will fit once the team actually begins practice next month.

So goes the risk with any free agent. Until a team sees how he blends in during practice and what his role ends up being and that he can remain healthy, bringing in new players becomes educated guesswork.

“You want that vision to come to fruition, but there are a lot of different factors," Lewand said. “You don't make or break your team in free agency. You can add strategically."

With the signing of Tate, that's what Detroit believes it did.

Free-agency review: Lions

March, 18, 2014
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A week in, here's a quick review of the free-agency period for the Detroit Lions:

Tate
Tate
Most significant signing: Considering that Detroit has mostly signed depth or re-signed its own free agents, the obvious choice is receiver Golden Tate. The former Seattle Seahawk will complement Calvin Johnson and should take pressure and attention off of the Lions' top receiver. He can also spread the field, has elite hands and can block extremely well for a 5-foot-10 receiver. He plays taller than he is and should be a good addition to Detroit.

Most significant loss: Defensive end Willie Young was a productive player who often became overlooked because of the star power in the middle (Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley) and the emergence of Ziggy Ansah at the other end. But Young is a long, rangy end who was good against the run and showed improvement. That he went to one of Detroit's top rivals, Chicago, adds to the significance because the Lions will see him at least twice a year.

Biggest surprise: That the Lions didn't make a bigger play earlier in the safety market. Like receiver on offense, safety is Detroit's biggest need on defense after the release of Louis Delmas. The team looked like it was interested in Chris Clemons and had reportedly expressed interest in T.J. Ward, but so far the only safety the team has brought in is James Ihedigbo. While Ihedigbo could fill a need if he signs, Detroit could have tried to make a bigger play here considering the market and the need. Unless the Lions draft one.

What's next: Solving the backup quarterback issue. The Lions need to have a veteran behind Matthew Stafford, and Kellen Moore just is not going to be a viable option there right now. Detroit, be it through re-signing Shaun Hill or signing someone like Luke McCown or Ryan Fitzpatrick, has to have a player with some experience ready to come in if Stafford were to get hurt. Detroit has too many other pieces to let that be an actual issue.
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.
DETROIT – Ndamukong Suh doesn't have a contract extension from the Detroit Lions yet, but team president Tom Lewand doesn't appear bothered by this.

Instead, he said the Lions never planned on having a Suh extension as a pillar of what they needed to have done by the start of free agency.

"It's not been frustrating," Lewand said following an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "We said it months ago. We didn't have a deal with Matthew Stafford done until later in the summer. The timing of the Suh deal was never the factor when it came to planning for free agency.

"We were saying it months ago. We're saying it again now."

The Lions did not sign Stafford to an extension until July of 2013, well after the start of free agency. Lewand would not go into specifics of where the sides are in the negotiating process now or if negotiations have, in fact, begun between the Lions and Suh -- headlined by his agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Lewand also insisted that the Lions wouldn't have had that much more cap room this season had a deal been done to knock down Suh's $22.4 million cap number prior to free agency. His reasoning was that the way he views the cap is in multi-year terms as the team tries to make sure everyone fits in a certain year.

Suh is entering the final year of his original rookie deal -- one of the last top picks to have a deal under the previous collective bargaining agreement, which allowed for higher rookie salaries than the current CBA does. Due to that, Lewand believes many of the teams that have taken advantage of rookie contracts under the new CBA -- Seattle and San Francisco among them -- will soon have cap situations similar to the Lions.

"If you only look at a guy's cap number and you say that all of a sudden that creates a lot more room to sign free agents, it really doesn't because then you're signing new players and you have to fit all those guys into 15 and 16 as well," Lewand said. "So you have maybe a lower cap number for a particular player in one year but it means, almost by definition that it's going to be a higher number in future years so you have to be able to fit all of those dollars in a certain time frame.

"That's why it's not that linear."

The Lions have between $2 million and $3 million in cap space after signing Golden Tate to a five-year deal and re-signing Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year deal last week.

The other issue with Suh and the lack of an extension was Suh's decision not to hire Sexton until March 7, less than a week before free agency began. Combine that with the death of William Clay Ford Sr. and there was little-to-no time to even begin substantive negotiations with the defensive tackle entering his fifth season in the league.

He reiterated what both he and general manager Martin Mayhew have said since the end of the season -- that they believe a deal will get done with Suh.

"Ndamukong has said he wants to stay and we want him to stay," Lewand said. "Generally when that happens, you can get a deal in place."
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.
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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. -- James Ihedigbo left the Detroit Lions facility Thursday without a contract, but told reporters he would like to sign with the team soon.

Ihedigbo
"That's the plan in hand," Ihedigbo told the Detroit News as he was leaving the building Thursday.

The Detroit Free Press is reporting part of the issue for Ihedigbo is his representation.

Ihedigbo, who would come into Detroit as a strong candidate to start at safety opposite Glover Quin, had 99 tackles and three interceptions last season. He is the first safety the Lions have targeted for a visit in free agency, although they have expressed interest in former Miami safety Chris Clemons and were reportedly interested in T.J. Ward, who signed with Denver.

Ihedigbo played the past two seasons in Baltimore under new Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin.

The Lions are searching for a replacement for Louis Delmas, whom the team released in February. Delmas then signed with Miami earlier this week.
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.

Golden Tate to visit Lions

March, 11, 2014
Mar 11
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Though the Detroit Lions didn't make many moves in the opening flurry of free-agency festivities, they seem to be plotting to make some moves soon.

Tate
Tate
Per ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, wide receiver Golden Tate is headed to Detroit on Tuesday night for a visit and the team has expressed interest in safety Chris Clemons.

For now, these appear to be the two top-line targets for Detroit in the first days of free agency.

Tate is a versatile receiver who can play both outside and in the slot. Although he's shorter than the typical Jim Caldwell wide receiver, he has the speed, explosiveness and return skills that could make him a valuable asset to the Lions if he were to sign. Tate has improved each year in Seattle, going from 21 catches and 227 yards as a rookie to 64 catches for 898 yards and five touchdowns last season.

At 25 years old, the 5-foot-10 product of Notre Dame is hitting the prime of his career and could fill the role left by Nate Burleson both as a receiver and a voice in the locker room.

As for Clemons, he appears to be the safety the Lions are going to focus on since Jairus Byrd -- who is likely too pricey for Detroit -- is on a plane to New Orleans and T.J. Ward signed with Denver. Clemons, who went to Clemson, had 190 tackles and three interceptions over the past two years.

Clemons graded out at a plus-7.2 in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus last season and would fit what the Lions want as far as a coverage safety to pair with Glover Quin.

The Lions did sign receiver Kevin Ogletree in the first moments of free agency and The Baltimore Sun is reporting that deal is worth $795,000, including $100,000 guaranteed and a $65,000 bonus.
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.

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