NFC North: Louis Delmas

Maybe the Detroit Lions should think about forgoing second-round picks for the immediate future.

Van Noy
This is not a serious statement, of course, but considering the lack of immediate success -- or any success at all -- the team’s second-round picks have had recently, it is at the very least a very odd, very random coincidence.

The team’s latest second-round pick, linebacker Kyle Van Noy, was tabbed during May’s draft as a player who could be an immediate starter for the team at SAM linebacker. Then he missed part of spring workouts due to injury. After coming back for the first part of the preseason, he injured his abdominal muscle, resulting in surgery Thursday and a chance he’ll be out for a while.

And now you can add him to the list of players who at the very least did not do much during their first years.

Here are the second-round picks under current general manager Martin Mayhew:
  • Last season’s second-round pick, cornerback Darius Slay, started the first two games of the season before being benched in favor of Rashean Mathis.
  • The team’s 2012 second-round pick, Ryan Broyles, was coming off an ACL injury his last year at Oklahoma. Then he tore an ACL his rookie year, returned and ruptured his Achilles midway through last season. He is playing Thursday night fighting for a roster spot.
  • Detroit’s two second-rounders in 2011 have both been disappointments. Receiver Titus Young had stability issues and was released by the Lions after two seasons. He is currently in jail awaiting his latest court case in California. Running back Mikel Leshoure is the team’s No. 4 running back and not guaranteed of being on the roster by the end of the weekend.
  • Perhaps the team’s best second-round pick of recent memory was Louis Delmas, who was released this offseason and now is with Miami. But he was at least productive.

That list is not an inspiring group, to be sure, but the team still has high hopes for Van Noy and it is way, way too early to judge anything about his career based off its start. But considering the team’s past, there should at least be some concern of how much -- if at all -- they’ll be able to use their linebacker prospect during his first season.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- It started in Houston, shortly after James Ihedigbo signed with the Detroit Lions during free agency. His new safety-mate, Glover Quin, also lived in town during the offseason. So the idea was hatched.

Quin and Ihedigbo decided as a way to learn about each other and to start to build the chemistry needed between safeties before they arrived in Michigan, they would work out together. So each day this offseason, Quin and Ihedigbo showed up at Nine Innovations, a gym in Houston, to train together.

[+] EnlargeJames Ihedigbo
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Lions say that safety James Ihedigbo has used his communication skills to help boost the secondary.
This lessened the getting-to-know-you period and also put both players in a habitat they were innately comfortable with: Where they actually live. Immediately, the players saw a significant bond. They both have children. They both have similar approaches to how they study the game.

And through that, the bond began to grow.

“It helps a lot because I get to see how he works, he gets to see how I work, we get to encourage each other, push each other,” Quin said. “We get to work together and you can build chemistry doing that just by learning how he works, him learning how I work. Learning what he likes to do, him learning what I like to do.

“Just little things like that. You can get a lot done just hanging out with each other every single day.”

Quin learned Ihedigbo likes to cook, although he said he hasn’t had one of Ihedigbo’s meals just yet. He also would ask the occasional football question, not about new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but about the scheme they were going to end up running.

Austin wasn’t calling the defensive schemes in Baltimore, but he was Ihedigbo’s position coach so he had more understanding of what Detroit might run than other players. And part of the reason Iheidgbo ended up with the Lions at all was the trust Austin has in him. Knowing him and how he would likely mesh with Quin was a big factor in Austin’s pursuit of Ihedigbo.

“You have two high-character veterans, so they know for us to play well, they have to play well,” Austin said. “They have to communicate and they have to be problem-solvers in the back. They’ve done that with the young guys and it helps.

“What that’ll do is cut down on big plays, cut down on breakout runs, all those different things.”

They are able to do that with the chemistry they’ve built -- and a similarity between them their teammates have seen. Last season, Quin and Louis Delmas were exceedingly different, both in personality and in style of play.

Delmas was the extremely aggressive playmaker who relied heavily on instinct and would be prone to sometimes pushing too hard. He was also loud and boisterous -- in many ways the emotional heart of the defense. Quin was the more studious player who offered a consistency and always appeared to be in the correct place at the correct time.

Ihedigbo, in many ways, is like Quin. Having two players who are similar could offer more flexibility -- something paramount at almost every position in Austin’s defense. Both Ihedigbo and Quin can play closer to the line of scrimmage if necessary, giving the Lions options both in disguising defensive backfield coverage, safety blitzes and run support.

“They work great because it’s a bond, more of a sense,” cornerback Darius Slay said. “They’ve been there just communicating before practice, working with each other. They are more likely to get a bond with each other outside of football.

“…You could tell when [Ihedigbo] came into meetings. He came in and said things like, you know, we’re young here and we’ve got to communicate [with] film study and everything.”

It’s an influence Austin and the safeties hope percolates throughout the defensive backfield. The Lions' secondary has been one of the bigger questions of the offseason and other than Ihedigbo, the Lions did not add much to bolster it.

So a lot should be expected of the safety pairing in both making plays and educating the rest of the secondary.

“We fit great,” Ihedigbo said. “We think alike. We can play off each other. Really have that good chemistry.”

Detroit is counting on it.
On the eve of free agency two weeks ago, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

Only three of the original 15 remain unsigned as free agency enters its third week. One of them, former Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, could remain that way for a while because of his neck injury.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released shortly after free agency opened. He signed with the Packers on March 15.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed in the last week:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Trying to come back from neck fusion surgery, Finley remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks during free-agency's first week. According a report in the Green Bay Press-Gazette over the weekend, the Seahawks failed Finley on his physical during the visit, leaving his status in doubt.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year, $4 million contract.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: After going unsigned during the first week of free agency, Jones signed a three-year, $10 million contract with the Oakland Raiders. The deal was similar to the three-year, $9.6 million deal he signed with the Packers three years ago.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Was weighing an offer from Seattle, where he has visited twice since the start of free agency. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys that could become a four-year deal if the team exercises an option after the first year.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Signed a three-year, $9 million with the Atlanta Falcons after the Bears decided not to pursue an extension with the kick return specialist.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.

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.
On the eve of free agency last week, our four NFC North reporters -- Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears) -- compiled a list of the top-15 free agents in the division.

A week has passed and nine of them already have come off the market, including six who re-signed with their old teams.

Perhaps the biggest-name free agent from the NFC North, former Bears defensive end Julius Peppers, did not make the original list because he was not a free agent until he was released last week. He signed with the Packers on Saturday.

You can follow all of the NFL free-agent moves in Bill Polian's free-agent tracker, but let's revisit the NFC North top 15 and see what has changed:

1. Sam Shields, Packers CB: Signed a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period on March 8. His $9.75 million per year average made him the fourth-highest paid cornerback in the league behind Darrelle Revis ($16 million), Brandon Carr ($10 million) and Aqib Talib ($9.8 million).

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: Re-signed with the Lions for four years and $16 million, including a $4 million signing bonus.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Remained unsigned after a visit to the Seattle Seahawks last week. It’s not known what the Seahawks' medical staff thought of Finley's C-3/C-4 neck vertebra fusion surgery that he had last November following his season-ending neck injury.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: Signed a one-year contract to return to Chicago last Friday after missing half of last season because of a torn triceps. The deal is worth about $3.5 million.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Less than a year after reportedly turning down a multi-year offer that averaged $8 million per season, he returned to the Packers for a one-year deal signed on Friday that was believed to be worth $4 million plus incentives.

6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year, $10.5 million deal with the Vikings on March 7, just before teams could start contacting his agent and will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Signed a three-year, $9 million contract with the Bears. Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time with the Lions in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency and has not had any known visits even after he ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million. Could the same thing happen again?

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: Remained unsigned after the first week of free agency but reportedly visited the Seattle Seahawks over the weekend. After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen's time in Minnesota is over.

10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: Signed a two-year, $10 million contract to rejoin his old coach, Lovie Smith, with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Coming off a torn ACL, Melton went unsigned during the first wave of free agency but has a visit scheduled with the Dallas Cowboys this week.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Remained unsigned more than a week after the Bears said they would not bring him back.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Remained unsigned after playing in 15 games and taking over as a starter early in the season last year.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: Cashed in on March 9th by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: Signed a one-year, $2.25 million contract with the Miami Dolphins after the Lions released him with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014.
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.

Top free-agent roundup: NFC North

March, 10, 2014
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A few deals have been signed around the NFC North in the days leading up to free agency, but plenty of valuable players are about to hit the open market.

Here is a ranking of top NFC North free agents, with information provided by ESPN.com reporters Rob Demovsky (Green Bay Packers), Ben Goessling (Minnesota Vikings), Michael Rothstein (Detroit Lions) and Michael C. Wright (Chicago Bears).

We will update this periodically throughout the next several weeks.

1.Sam Shields, Packers CB: Emerged as the Packers' top cover cornerback last season while playing for the restricted free-agent tender of $2.023 million and was re-signed to a four-year, $39 million contract just a few hours into the open negotiating period Saturday. His 2014 total pay of $15 million makes him the NFL's second-highest-paid cornerback for next season.

2. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions TE: The No. 20 pick in the 2009 draft out of Oklahoma State, Pettigrew spent the past five seasons as one of Detroit's primary tight ends, specifically known for the ability to both block and run routes effectively.

3. Jermichael Finley, Packers TE: Had surgery to fuse the C3 and C4 vertebra in his neck but expects to be cleared by his doctor. Gambled two years ago in free agency, signing just a two-year, $14 million deal in the hope that he would blossom into a star and command an even bigger contract the next time around.

4. Charles Tillman, Bears CB: The NFL's Walter Payton Man of the Year, Tillman started eight games last season before finishing on the injured reserve with a torn triceps. The Bears hope to bring back Tillman but might not be able to come up with a suitable offer.

5. B.J. Raji, Packers DT: Reportedly turned down an $8 million per year offer from the Packers last season, which might have been a sign that he preferred to play in a system that gave defensive linemen more freedom. After a disappointing season, his value has gone down, and as of last week, he was close to signing a one-year deal to return.

Cassel
Cassel
6. Matt Cassel, Vikings QB: Opted out of his 2014 contract after the Super Bowl but signed a new two-year deal with the Vikings on Friday, just before teams could start contacting his agent. He will likely head into training camp with the inside track on the starting job.

7. Willie Young, Lions DL: Former seventh-round pick received his first extensive playing time in 2013, becoming a full-time starter after Jason Jones was injured for the season in Week 3. Young turned into one of the more disruptive players up front, making 47 tackles, recovering two fumbles and recording three sacks.

8. James Jones, Packers WR: Ranked second on the Packers last season in receptions (59) and yards (817), the latter of which was a career high despite missing nearly three full games because of a knee injury. Three years ago, coming off the NFL lockout, Jones did not draw strong interest on the free-agent market and re-signed with the Packers for three years and $9.6 million.

9. Jared Allen, Vikings DE: After three All-Pro selections in six years, Allen’s time in Minnesota is likely over. He could come back as a situational pass-rusher on a reduced salary, but after making $14 million last season, Allen might head elsewhere for a bigger role and bigger paycheck.

McCown
10. Josh McCown, Bears QB: He proved he is capable of filling in for Jay Cutler in a pinch and is instrumental behind the scenes for nearly every skill player on the offense. It's not a slam dunk he will be back, and talks with the Bears haven't been especially productive.

11. Henry Melton, Bears DL: Melton's representatives fully expect him to test the market in free agency because the Bears haven’t shown a ton of interest. Coming off a torn ACL, Melton probably won't command top dollar in the first wave of free agency.

12. Devin Hester, Bears KR: Became strictly a return specialist for the Bears last season and is still one of the league's best at his position. Probably expects a payday similar to what he's gotten in the past.

13. Rashean Mathis, Lions CB: Mathis signed with Detroit during the 2013 preseason and became one of the team's starting cornerbacks by the third week of the season. He played in 15 games, making 47 tackles and often drawing the opponent's top wide receiver.

14. Everson Griffen, Vikings DE: The 26-year-old cashed in on Sunday by signing a five-year, $42.5 million deal that included $20 million guaranteed to return to Minnesota. He should flourish in new coach Mike Zimmer's defensive scheme.

15. Louis Delmas, Lions S: The 26-year-old was released by Detroit with one year remaining on his contract in February, in part because of a cap number of $6.5 million in 2014. Has played in 65 games for Detroit over five seasons, with 328 tackles, six interceptions and two forced fumbles. He also had five sacks and four fumble recoveries.

Free agency primer: Lions

March, 7, 2014
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» 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.
Here is the latest edition of the Steelers' mailbag. I couldn't get to all of the questions this week and, as always, have the ones I didn't answer at the top of the list for next week's mailbag. Keep the questions coming by sending them to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go ...

INDIANAPOLIS -- When the Detroit Lions released receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas last week, it seemed like there was at least a chance Delmas could return to the team at some point.

Burleson
Burleson
Delmas
After Detroit head coach Jim Caldwell spoke on Thursday afternoon at the NFL combine, that possibility might be a bit slimmer.

“I think in this business you never say never,” Caldwell said. “But we’ll see what happens.”

Detroit released Delmas, 26, in part because of the $6.5 million salary-cap number he was scheduled to make in 2014. His ailing knees, which limited him to one practice a week throughout the season, also likely played a factor in the decision to release him.

Caldwell sounded like he had multiple conversations with people about both players before the team chose to cut them.

“Well, obviously they are two good men when you look at those two guys with leadership and those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “I could tell the preparation to play them and also just talking to the guys on the team and understanding the great contribution that they made to the team overall. But we have to take a look at everything, and evaluate everything obviously, just in terms of our personnel office and coaching, etc. and see where things fit, and we have to make some adjustments along the way.

“Not all of them are going to be pretty, and so obviously that’s where we are today.”
Our colleagues over at Football Outsiders and ESPN Insider spent part of Tuesday breaking down varying needs for the teams in the NFC North this offseason.

When it came to the Detroit Lions, they focused on two areas: Safety and running back.

With the recent release of Louis Delmas and the general issues the secondary had last season against big plays -- particularly against the pass -- both cornerback and safety are going to be areas of need for the Lions heading into free agency and then May's NFL draft. The area is so important that Detroit might end up making a move for a cornerback (Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard) or safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor) in the first round.

One of the suggestions the post makes is that the Lions should look at Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark, and that could be an intriguing option because he is a leader-type player who could also fill that void left by the release of Delmas. Clark is an older player at age 34 but could be a one-or-two year stopgap as the team grooms a future starter behind him.

The area that doesn't make as much sense is running back. If anything, the Lions running backs might be the strongest position on the roster. The combination of Joique Bell and Reggie Bush were among the top tandem in the NFL and both should fit in well with new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's New Orleans-influenced offense where running backs often split carries and catch passes out of the backfield.

Bell is a restricted free agent but is expected to return to Detroit and has made it known he would like a long-term deal with the club. And the point my colleagues make in the post is that the Lions will not be a factor until they add a running game.

"On offense, Detroit's biggest issue is that it all must flow through Matthew Stafford, who is maddeningly inconsistent to the tune of a 59.1 completion percentage (worse than Tampa Bay's Mike Glennon) and an extremely underwhelming Total QBR of 52.5, sitting right above Carson Palmer at 20th in the league," Mike Kurtz from Football Outsiders writes. "The Lions' offense is one-dimensional and will not find consistent success unless it establishes some semblance of a running game. Detroit has a fairly talented offensive line, sporting a solidly above-average 3.95 ALY and genuinely impressive 76 percent success rate in power (short-yardage) situations. Despite this, former undrafted free agent Joique Bell managed barely above-average production on a per-play basis at 2.0 percent DVOA.

"The committee's greater half, Reggie Bush, produced at essentially replacement level as a running back. Both players were excellent as receivers, but that's partly a product of Stafford and the Detroit scheme. Over the last five years, nine of the 11 Detroit running backs with at least 25 targets in a season put up a positive receiving DVOA."

Kurtz makes good points about Detroit's offense and the consistent need for more balance, I disagree with him on the running back spot being one of the most significant needs for the Lions. While there are areas Bush and Bell can improve -- catching passes was a struggle at times -- there are bigger issues for Detroit as a whole. Other than secondary, Detroit needs to find players who can catch passes.

The Lions led the NFL in drops and with the release of Nate Burleson now need to find potentially two to three receivers between free agency and the draft to go along with Calvin Johnson, Ryan Broyles and the likely returns of Jeremy Ross and Kris Durham. The good news for the Lions is there are a plethora of options at receiver in both a deep draft class and free-agent pool. The Lions also could have a major hole at tight end if the team doesn't sign Brandon Pettigrew.

The team would be very young at the position with a combined one year of experience between Joseph Fauria and Michael Williams. Even if the team goes young there -- Eric Ebron and Austin Seferian-Jenkins are two intriguing early prospects in the draft and C.J. Fiedorowicz could be a value mid-round pickup, they could add more talent at a necessary position in the future.

Unless something changes with Bell, expect Detroit to stick with focusing on those four positions -- and possibly linebacker with an outside shot at defensive end -- over the first two days of the draft.
His knees were always going to be a problem.

At age 26, with a cap number of $6.5 million on a team that desperately needed to recover some room to get under the 2014 salary cap, safety Louis Delmas was going to be a target for either a major pay cut or what happened Thursday, which was a full release from the Detroit Lions.

Unlike Nate Burleson, who was also released Thursday as a cap cut, Delmas was done in by his injury history. While Delmas, who like Burleson was a loud presence in the huddle and in pregame, played all 16 games this season, he could barely practice during the week.

[+] EnlargeLouis Delmas
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsLouis Delmas leaves big shoes to fill in Detroit's defense as far as leadership is concerned.
And there were little guarantee his knees would be able to hold up in the long term, even as he took care of them well during the 2013 season. Considering Detroit’s struggles in the secondary throughout last season and Delmas’ sometimes erratic and wild play, it wasn’t worth it to the team to keep him on the payroll at the price he was going to cost Detroit.

He is an exciting player who can make big hits, but those hits had cost the Lions at times this season, both in terms of personal foul penalties and, in one instance, injuries when he had a head-to-head collision with cornerback Bill Bentley that gave him a concussion.

Delmas was often praised as being more consistent this season than he had been in prior years. His chemistry with Glover Quin, who was brought in as a free agent last season, was a big part of that. And even his new coaches, Jim Caldwell and Teryl Austin, had positive things to say about Delmas.

But it wasn't enough to retain his services for 2014 at the salary he was going to make. If the team doesn’t target a safety early in free agency and Delmas is still around, the team could reach out to him to return, but one would have to surmise the team will at least investigate other options first.

How the team handles the safety position could be intriguing. This could be a sign the team has more confidence in Don Carey, who played a lot of nickel last season and signed a three-year extension before the season ended, to become a full-time starter opposite Quin.

It also could signal the team wanting to sign another free agent at safety. Among the potential options are Bernard Pollard and Jairus Byrd.

There is also the NFL draft, and while it would still be surprising to see the Lions take a safety early in the draft, if Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is around at No. 10, he could be worth taking a hard look at. Calvin Pryor from Louisville and Deone Bucannon from Washington could both fit as second-day selections if they are there.

Much like Burleson on the offensive side, Detroit will lose fire from the defensive huddle without Delmas. The Lions will also lose two of their bigger characters in the locker room, both of whom knew how to keep the mood light for teammates no matter what was going on.

That can’t be understated -- and it will be one area where Detroit will have to find new leadership, for sure, in 2014.
Good Morning and RRROAAAAARRRR!!!!

One month. Likely at least $6 million.

That's what the Detroit Lions are looking at right now. Free agency and the start of a new league year kicks in at 4 p.m. ET on March 11 -- one month from now. Normally, this could be a reason for excitement for the Lions and other teams around the league, as it gives them a chance to start to craft their franchises for a run at the playoffs.

But right now for Detroit, the Lions are a little more than $6 million over the projected 2014 salary cap of $126 million -- and that's before the terms surrounding center Dominic Raiola's new contract are known. So the Lions have some maneuvering to do to knock down their cap number before they have to be below it at 4 p.m. ET on March 11.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Lions cap is now at $132,769,422 -- so there is some major money that needs to be cut. Some of that can happen through restructuring contracts of veterans or making decisions on the futures of others, such as safety Louis Delmas or guard Leroy Harris.

The Lions are going to want to cut more than the $6 million-plus, though, since they will eventually need room to sign their rookies and perhaps make a run at a free agent or two. This will be the next big area to pay attention to as the team moves along with the personnel and evaluation process of veterans, rookies and free agents.

And now, a look at Lions news from around the Interwebs:

The Lions applaud Michael Sam for his courage and a look at whether or not he could fit in Detroit's plans. Detroit has a decision to make on tight end Brandon Pettigrew and the latest in the Meet the Free Agents series on receiver/returner Jeremy Ross.

Charles Tillman doesn't think it would be awkward to join the Detroit Lions, writes Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.

Teryl Austin is going to try and solve the Nick Fairley conundrum, writes Kyle Meinke of MLive.

Detroit Lions season wrap-up

January, 2, 2014
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Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 21
Preseason Power Ranking: 24

Biggest surprise: The offensive line was supposed to be one of the biggest question marks for the Lions this season with three new starters and a center who was supposed to be on the tail end of his career. Instead, the group ended up being one of the top units in the NFL. Larry Warford, a third-round pick in the 2013 draft, looks to be an anchor at right guard for the next decade. Center Dominic Raiola had arguably his best season and the Lions discovered another rookie, undrafted free agent LaAdrian Waddle, as a consistent starter at right tackle. Four of the five -- all but Raiola -- are under contract for next season. Raiola has expressed a desire to return if possible.

Biggest disappointment: At one point, Detroit was 6-3 and looked to be in control of the NFC North and a playoff berth. Then everything unraveled. The Lions lost five of their next six to fall out of playoff contention. In each of those losses, Detroit had three or more turnovers. Matthew Stafford, who appeared in the first half of the season to be moving closer to becoming an elite quarterback, regressed. Reggie Bush, brought in as a high-profile free agent in the offseason, had issues with fumbles. Calvin Johnson had the most drops in a season in his career. Almost everything imploded on the Lions, who will watch the playoffs from home again this year.

Biggest need: In the draft, the Lions need to look at a speedy wide receiver on the outside to complement Johnson along with finding a young, shutdown cornerback early on to play alongside Darius Slay, last season’s second-round draft pick. Depending on whether tight end Brandon Pettigrew and Raiola return, those are two other positions to look at, and the Lions could also use depth at linebacker. Perhaps the biggest need of all is a guru to work with Stafford to help fix his mechanical issues and decision making. Whether that person is brought on staff as a dedicated quarterback coach or an outside influence like Steve Clarkson or George Whitfield Jr., Stafford could use some specialized refresher courses at least.

Team MVP: Johnson was the team's best player, and he showed his value when he was out, as the Detroit offense couldn’t move the ball well in games he missed. But the most valuable Lions player this season was linebacker DeAndre Levy. He had career highs in tackles, solo tackles and interceptions this season. But to me, the image of him hobbling out of the locker room after the Lions’ 23-20 loss to the Giants in Week 16, after he legitimately gave every piece of himself to his team only to lose, showed his value. Levy doesn’t say much, but he was the top player on the Lions' defense and consistently made plays for Detroit all season long.

All-NFC North: Detroit Lions

January, 2, 2014
1/02/14
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NFC Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Despite their collapse in the second half of the season, the Lions were well-represented on the ESPN.com All-NFC North team, placing four players on the offense and six on its defense.

This, though, might speak to the overall rough nature of the NFC North, where injuries took a lot of stars on other teams away. Every player I felt that should have made it for the Lions did, other than maybe punter Sam Martin.

But even for some of those who did make it from the Lions, it was more a case of limited pickings in the division than anything else. That has to be why Matthew Stafford was named as the division’s quarterback -- due to injuries to Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, along with the dysfunction at quarterback in Minnesota.

The other surprise to make it was Louis Delmas, but there was a lack of safeties in the division and Delmas was the only player other than Glover Quin to receive a vote, so he made the team.

Otherwise, status quo for the Lions, who expectedly had Calvin Johnson, Dominic Raiola and Larry Warford join Stafford on the offense. And they had Ndamukong Suh, DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch and Willie Young join Quin and Delmas on the defense.

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