- Michael Rothstein, ESPN Staff Writer
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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 he’ll be back with the club in 2014.
To see the series so far, click this link.
Free agent to be: Willie Young
Position: Defensive end
Years in the league: 4
What he made last season: $1,500,000 (cap number); $1,200,000 (base salary); $300,000 (signing bonus)
What he did last season: The former seventh-round draft pick saw his first significant action of his career in 2013 – starting 15 games and playing 730 snaps. The snaps were more than his prior three seasons in Detroit combined. He became a good edge-rusher who used his length and speed effectively throughout the season. He had 47 tackles, three sacks and recovered two fumbles as part of a defensive front with Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah. He graded out as the team's fifth-best defender and the Lions' best defensive end, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF also credited him with 48 quarterback hurries, second on the Lions to Suh. The 48 credited hurries were third among 4-3 ends, just behind St. Louis’ Robert Quinn, according to PFF.
His potential market value: Decent to good. Young is a better-than-average player who still has room to grow as a pass-rusher and overall defensive end. While he’s been in the league for four years, he spent most of his time behind then-starter Cliff Avril, who is now with Seattle. For a 4-3 team, he could be a strong fit if it needs an edge-rusher.
Will he fit the Lions still: Kind of. From a skill-set perspective, Young would remain a good fit for the Lions. He now has familiarity with the rest of the defensive line and is able to play off them better in his potential second season as a starter. His length/speed combination could be tough to replicate and he was fairly productive. The essential questions with whether he fits with Detroit anymore fall to three things. First, if the team still believes heavily in Jason Jones, there might not be a spot for Young to start. And at this point in his career, he is good enough to be a starter in the league. Second, if the Lions think Devin Taylor progressed enough in his rookie season – he was good in shorter spurts, but didn’t keep up that production in games he played a starter’s level of snaps – then they could have him slated as a starter. Third will come down to money and whether the Lions can offer him the best deal.
What happens: This is one of the two most interesting free-agent decisions Detroit has left. Like Brandon Pettigrew, Young should command some sort of salary in the open market and is very likely to test his options there first – especially if it is an unknown whether he will definitely be a starter. At the end of the season, Young said he was going to let his agent handle all interest from teams, so there could be an idea of what could happen with Young following this week’s NFL combine. That was the indication both he was given and seemed to anticipate almost two months ago when the season ended. At this point, I think Young ends up somewhere else next season, but pay attention to if the Lions makes a move with Jones. That could be an indicator of what could happen with Young. If Young leaves, the team will probably need another defensive end, either through the draft or free agency.