It was no surprise that the Detroit Lions were not one of the teams firing out of the gate when free agency officially opened Tuesday.
First, the organization is grieving the death of long-time owner William Clay Ford and sorting out the succession of power, with Martha Ford taking over control of the franchise.
Second, they aren't drowning in excessive salary cap space -- unless they were able to work out an 11th-hour extension with All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. Even with the cap increasing to $133 million, the Lions are projected to have less than $11 million and that doesn't include an expected deal with restricted free agent running back Joique Bell.
That is not to say the team will be inactive. They had less cap space at the start of free agency last year and managed to sign three starters -- Reggie Bush, Glover Quin and Jason Jones -- for about $8 million in cap space.
"We can be active in free agency," general manager Martin Mayhew said at the combine last month. "We can add good players to our team whether we get something done with Ndamukong or not."
President Tom Lewand was more emphatic.
In an interview on the Lions website, he said, "The fact we won't have an extension done with Ndamukong before free agency begins doesn't affect that plan one bit. It doesn't affect our valuation of the free agents, it doesn't affect what our projection of our cap situation is going forward, and it doesn't affect how we project eventually working an extension with Ndamukong out at some point in time."
That said, the Lions aren't expected to bid on any of the top tier free agents, even at positions they are targeting -- receiver and defensive back.
As badly as they need a starting safety to replace Louis Delmas, it doesn't seem feasible at this point to spend the bulk of their space on players like Jairus Byrd or T.J. Ward, and they both went off the market quickly.
The prudent move would be to wait and see if the prices come down, or go after a potentially more affordable player like Chris Clemons.
The receiver position is different. There are very few, if any, elite receivers available. The most sought-after was Eric Decker and he signed with the Jets. With the absence of true, No. 1 receivers available and with an incoming draft class that is loaded with talented receivers, the Lions added Seattle's Golden Tate.
Mayhew said last month that re-signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, as well as defensive end Willie Young and cornerback Rashean Mathis were priorities. If they can get two of those three, plus resign Bell, that could exhaust their initial pass through free agency. Pettigrew re-signed and Young was lost to the division-rival Bears, leaving Mathis still unsigned.
--The Lions re-signed tight end Brandon Pettigrew to a four-year, $16 million contract Friday with half of the money guaranteed.
Pettigrew had an off year in 2013, making 41 catches for 416 yards with two touchdowns, his lowest numbers in each category since his rookie season in 2009.
Pettigrew said he wanted to stay with the Lions because he is in "a groove" with his teammates, including quarterback Matthew Stafford.
"We got drafted together," he said. "We've already got that going, and I think that's important. I love the city. I'm grateful for being able to be here. The city is going through change, as is the organization. It's just an honor to be a part of that."
"Of course, the pursuits were real because that's just part of the business," he said.
--The Lions will remain in custody of the Ford Family. William Clay Ford, Sr., who owned the team for 50 years, passed control to his wife, 88-year-old Martha Ford. Bill Ford, Jr., will remain the team's vice chairman and face of ownership. He has been in that position since 1995 and in the last few years has essentially been overseeing the entire operation. Last year he was appointed to the NFL's influential broadcasting committee. The day-to-day operations of the team will continue to be run by president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew.
--Retired kicker Jason Hanson spent 21 years as an employee of William Clay Ford, Sr., who passed away Sunday at age 88. As he both grieved his death and celebrated his life, Hanson said fans didn't understand how passionate Ford was about his football team and how compassionate he was toward his players.
"We weren't a product to him," Hanson said. "We were people." Hanson said Ford would typically address the team just once each year, usually during training camp. "I always enjoyed what he said, but I always expected him, especially toward the end of my career, to come out and say something like, 'Come on, guys, you are making me look bad,'" Hanson said with a chuckle. "I mean, how much of what we were doing was falling upon his name. Yet he never once did that because it wasn't about him. He loved the guys who played football for him and he made it about them."
Hanson said players knew how badly Ford wanted to win a championship and it remains a source of major disappointment that he wasn't part of a team that made that happen.
"I've heard guys say this, everyone who has played for the Lions for a significant amount of time and had some investment with the team has some guilt," Hanson said. "And I share that because we were not able to be part of a team that brought him a championship. I think every player feels that and it's genuine. It's not, 'I feel bad for me or my teammates,' it's 'I feel bad for Mr. Ford and the Ford Family,' for not getting them something they deserve. I never once thought Mr. Ford let us down. I think many of us felt we were letting him and the family down."
--The Lions won one playoff game in Ford's 50 years of ownership and had losing seasons in 32 of those 50 years. But Hall of Fame tight end Charlie Sanders has a message for those who would judge Ford's legacy based on the failures of his beloved football team.
"If that's the legacy they want to remember him by then you know what," said Sanders, who as a player, coach and front office administrator been with the team for more than 40 years, "they can turn in their tickets. That's just unfair. I understand the fans' side of it. They want a championship. But so did he. I know that personally. It's what he wanted more than anything in the world. But I am not going to let that be the one thing I remember this man by because there is so much, much more that he brought to the world."
--Bill Ford, Jr., on the death of his father: "My father was a great business leader and humanitarian who dedicated his life to the company and the community. He also was a wonderful family man, a loving husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him, yet he will continue to inspire us all."
--President Tom Lewand: "No owner loved his team more than Mr. Ford loved the Lions. Those of us who had the opportunity to work for Mr. Ford knew of his unyielding passion for his family, the Lions and the city of Detroit. His leadership, integrity, kindness, humility and good humor were matched only by his desire to bring a Super Bowl championship to the Lions and to our community. Each of us in the organization will continue to relentlessly pursue that goal in his honor."
--NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. "For five decades, Mr. Ford's passion for the Lions, Detroit, and the NFL was the foundation of one of the NFL's historic franchises. As an NFL owner, Mr. Ford helped bring the NFL through enormous periods of change and growth, always guided by his commitment to what was best for the NFL and his beloved Lions. All of us in the NFL extend our heartfelt sympathy to Mr. Ford's wife Martha, Bill Ford Jr. and the entire Ford family."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Free-agent wide receiver Golden Tate is leaving the Seattle Seahawks for the Lions, agreeing to a five-year contract.
For the first time in his seven-year career, Calvin Johnson has a game-breaking sidekick at wide receiver.
ESPN.com reports the deal is for $31.25 million with $13.25 million in guarantees.
Tate (5-foot-10, 202 pounds) was among the top available receivers in free agency and the Lions' top target after catching 64 passes for 898 yards and five touchdowns as the Super Bowl champion Seahawks' top receiver for most of the season.
--RECEIVER: The Lions are rebuilding this position around Calvin Johnson. Nate Burleson was released. Slot receiver Ryan Broyles is coming off his third straight surgery. They will be looking for receivers in the draft and free agency. The process started with the signing of Golden Tate.
--SAFETY: The team needs to replace Louis Delmas who has signed with Miami. They presumably will be looking for more of a cover safety to complement Glover Quin.
--TIGHT END: Starter Brandon Pettigrew was an unrestricted free agent and drew interest from several teams. He re-signed, but they will need a veteran blocking tight end to supplement Joseph Fauria.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers)
--TE Dorin Dickerson (not tendered as RFA) could be brought back depending on what the team gets done in free agency and the draft.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--K David Akers was told he would not be offered a contract.
--DT Andre Fluellen has been a reliable depth player for several seasons. The Lions, though they won't immediately re-sign him, have his agent's number on speed dial. He could be back.
--OT Jason Fox could be re-signed at a later date but the team is looking for a more proven veteran to add depth at tackle.
--C-G Dylan Gandy was told he would not be offered a contract.
--QB Shaun Hill is going to test the market. The Lions want him back, but he is expected to get a better offer from teams with more cap space.
--DE Israel Idonije has been told he won't be re-signed.
--CB Rashean Mathis is expected to re-sign but it may not happen until later in the spring, presumably after the Lions work out an extension with DT Ndamukong Suh.
--LB Rocky McIntosh was told he would not be offered a contract.
--WR-KR Micheal Spurlock is not expected to be re-signed.
--S John Wendling, a valuable special teams player, was informed he would not be asked back.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS
--CB Chris Greenwood (tendered at $570,000).
--KR Jeremy Ross (tendered at $570,000).
--RB Joique Bell: Potential RFA; $9.187M/3 yrs, $4.3M guaranteed.
--WR Kris Durham: Potential ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--WR Kevin Ogletree: UFA; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--TE Brandon Pettigrew: UFA; $16M/4 yrs, $4M SB/$8M guaranteed.
--C Dominic Raiola: Potential UFA; $1.75M/1 yr, $250,000 SB.
--LB Julian Stanford: ERFA; $570,000/1 yr.
--TE Matt Veldman: ERFA; $420,000/1 yr.
--S Isa Abdul-Quddus (waivers Saints).
--DT Corvey Irvin: FA Cowboys; terms unknown.
--DT Vaughn Martin: FA; terms unknown.
--DE Darryl Tapp: UFA Redskins; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--WR Golden Tate: UFA Seahawks; $31.25M/5 yrs, $13.25M guaranteed.
--DE Chris Clemons (released).
--S Louis Delmas (released).
--WR Nate Burleson (released).
--G Leroy Harris (released).
--DE Willie Young: UFA Bears; $9M/3 yrs, $2M SB/$3.95M guaranteed.
- Sports & Recreation
- American Football
- William Clay Ford
- Ndamukong Suh
- Jason Hanson
- Brandon Pettigrew