The NFL free agency period is finally drawing to a close. With most all free agents off the market, the attention of the league has shifted to the Draft, coming up this Thursday night. But before the Detroit Lions can dive in, it’s time to look back at free agency and hand out some grades.
Danny Amendola, WR, 1 year, $4.5 M
This got no one excited but I don’t have any problems with it. The Lions’ offense suffered big time after losing Golden Tate last season. Not having a warm body at slot receiver was a big problem, and signing Amendola gives Stafford a security blanket once again. He’s a sure-handed guy, a veteran leader, and even though he’s 33, he still had 575 yards and 59 catches last season in Miami. I think he’s probably got at least one good year left in him and that’s the length of his contract. I expect that the Lions will probably draft a slot receiver, perhaps in the 2nd-4th rounds and that Amendola can be a one year mentor to whoever that is.
Justin Coleman, CB, 4 years, $36 M
This was one of the more surprising moves, as Coleman was not a top name. Upon further review, I’m perfectly happy with this deal. Coleman was excellent in Seattle as a nickel corner, receiving one of the best Pro Football Focus coverage grades at that position in all of football, and he’s not shabby on the outside either. His overall grade of 69 was brought down by less than average run defense, but given how good the Lions are at run defending at many other positions, it can be tolerated as long as Coleman can cover, which he can. At 26 years old this season, Coleman will be a piece the Lions can install into their secondary for several years, alongside Tracy Walker, Quandre Diggs, and Darius Slay. Coleman is essentially replacing Nevin Lawson, who was cut over the weekend. Lawson’s slot coverage grade was 62.5 last season, while Coleman’s grade over the past two seasons has average 85.2, a massive upgrade. Point is, he’s a good player and I want good players on the team. Is the contract (which makes Coleman the highest paid nickel in the league) a bit pricey? Yes, but if you watched the Super Bowl, you should have learned the importance of a good slot corner and the Lions had nobody good there last season. Now they do. Not a home run, but a clear upgrade. Give it a B.
Trey Flowers, DE, 5 years, $90 M
It’s a pretty damn fun feeling when your team signs the best player on the market. Trey Flowers has been a guy on my radar for awhile because he was a clear match for the Lions based on his New England past and what he offers: sound play, positional versatility, and youth. Well the match was too perfect not to happen. Flowers is a guy whose traditional stats, 7.5 sacks, don’t jump off the charts. But coaches rave about him and the analytics back it up. He’s a dude. His 90+ PFF grade as an edge defender last season was top five in the league and he’s one of the few players who graded out as elite in both run defense and pass rush. He can play at any spot along the defensive line and like Coleman, is only 26 this upcoming season, meaning he can be an anchor of the Lion defense for years. His run defense prowess makes the already stout Lions Run D even better, while being a clear upgrade in pass rush. In early October, the man playing this position for Detroit was Kerry Hyder, who was a 50 grade player. Going from a 50 grade to a 90 grade is a win. Period. And it now gives the Lions one of the league’s best defensive fronts, featuring FOUR 85+ grade guys: Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson, Snacks Harrison, and Trey Flowers. Sign. Me. Up. Yes, it’s an expensive deal, but that’s the price of doing business. Za’Darius Smith and CJ Mosley both got $16.5 M a year and they are not nearly as good as Flowers. If he plays as well as he’s played in New England, he will be worth every penny. Absolute home run signing, in my opinion.
Jesse James, TE, 4 years, $25 M
I really like this move. One piece in the mysterious decline of the Lion offense in 2018 was the fact that they never had a competent tight end. While I get that the Jim Bob Cooter system didn’t lean heavily on tight ends, the position is not like your appendix. You do actually need one. And with Darrell Bevell coming in, it seems like the Lions really want to use a tight end, especially in run blocking for the explosive Kerryon Johnson, who will likely be the focal point of the offense this year. Jesse James was never the feature guy in Pittsburgh, but he’s improved every year and he’s only going to be 25 in June. He’s not a short term fix, but rather a potential long term solution. At 6’7”, he’s got a big body and his 75% catch rate is far better than what Eric Ebron ever posted in Detroit. Well rounded, he’s a plus blocking tight end who also caught 30 balls for 423 yards in 2018, with the potential to do more. James is a logical fit and reduces the need for a tight end in the draft. His contract will pay him $6.25 M a year, which is around 16th in the NFL for a Tight End and will likely slide out of the top 20 as more guys are signed, which is very reasonable, and the guaranteed money ($11 M) gives the Lions a probable out after 2020, if needed.
Oday Aboushi, G, 1 year, $2 M
I don’t think Aboushi will be a starter, but he certainly can be if needed. Aboushi is a bit of a journeyman in the NFL and will turn 28 in the summer, but he’s not a bad pickup and if this signing results in the release of Kenny Wiggins, which I think it could, that would be an upgrade. Aboushi’s pass blocking grade was actually very good last season for Arizona, at 77.8, while he struggled in run blocking, at 54.2. Still, those are both higher than Wiggins’ posted, with his numbers being 63.8 and 48.6, respectively. At only $2 M, he presents a good depth upgrade and still gives the team cap flexibility. This isn’t a move that is going to be franchise altering, but NFL teams need depth, and this is a good depth move.
Rashaan Melvin, CB, 1 year, $3.5 M
Melvin was an undrafted free agent out of college who bounced around as mostly a special teams player, getting the occasional work at corner, including a stint with, surprise, the New England Patriots. It wasn’t until 2016 that he finally broke through and he posted two very good seasons. His PFF grade in the 2016 with Indianapolis was 74.2, and he started again in 2017, posting an even better grade of 77.9, which coronated him as one of the top 25 corners in the NFL. This good performance allowed Melvin to sign a hefty $5.5 M contract with the Raiders last offseason, but he had a very disappointing 2018, with his grade declining to just over 60. The Lions scooped him up at a far reduced price of $3.5 M on a one year deal to essentially replace Nevin Lawson. I’m a fan of this deal, since it’s very low risk, high reward. Melvin’s grade last season wasn’t all that different from Lawson, so if he bottoms out again, it’s not like he’s going to be worse than what you already had. However, unlike Lawson, his 2016-17 campaigns indicate he has the capacity to be an above average NFL corner if things pan out. At age 29, he’s not a long-term fix, but ideally he’s a good veteran to keep the seat warm for a year until the Lions can get another corner ready to go, hopefully someone from the draft. The best case is vintage Rashean Mathis, the worst case is Nevin Lawson 2.0. For a cheap deal, I’m fine with that.
Andrew Adams, S, 1 year, $920K
Adams was another undrafted free agent and he’s had an even stranger career arc. In 2016, as a rookie UDFA, he came out of nowhere to seize the starting job on the vaunted Giants defense. He started 13 games for a unit that was one of the best in the NFL and he posted a 79.4 grade from PFF. For a split second, Adams was a rising star in the league. But he lost the starting job in training camp 2017, only starting 4 games that year and he was cut before the 2018 season. The Bucs signed him mid-last year and he appeared in 9 games for Tampa, posting a lackluster 59.4 grade, allowing the Lions to nab him at the cheap cost of $920K. This is a move that will have no one excited but is not a bad pick up. Like Melvin, he has a high ceiling, as we saw only a couple of years ago, and with the cost of the deal, there’s essentially no risk. Adams can compete against Tavon Wilson in training camp for the right to be the third safety if the Lions go into 3 safety looks and if not, he of course can still be a special teams player. At 26, Adams is still pretty young, and the Lions feel like there is more to unearth. Regardless, it’s a solid depth signing.
CJ Anderson, RB, 1 year, $3 M
The Lions needed to get a backup running back and CJ Anderson is definitely a solid get. At 28 years old, he should have a bit more left in the tank than LeGarrette Blount did, which is to say, he has something in the tank at all. Anderson has averaged 4.5 YPA for his career and while he was excellent in Los Angeles, I wouldn’t expect the same level of play with the Lions. Still, as a much beefier running back than Kerryon Johnson, he should prove to be an effective contrast and coming at a very cheap price, this was a very solid move for Detroit.
Overall Thoughts about Free Agency
I’m very satisfied with the free agency period this season. At the end of the day, the question should always be: did the team get better? Last season, it was not terribly clear, as the Lions didn’t add anyone that moved the needle. This year? It’s an obvious yes. They signed four clear starters and upgraded at all four positions, and added four more guys who will see the field who aren’t awful. I will do more writing about the defense later in the offseason, but they added substantial firepower to what was already a vastly improving defense and have now constructed what may well be an elite defensive front and also a not-too-shabby secondary. There are still holes to fill in the draft (guard, DE, TE, CB) but the team did what they needed to do in order to improve. I’m simply glad that they decided to shell out for real players rather than try to be cheap. That philosophy didn’t work last season and it’s the sort of strategy that leaves you with a starting line of Kerry Hyder, Ricky Jean Francois, Sylvester Williams, and Eli Harold. I’d much rather overpay for good players than be cheap and sign not NFL caliber guys. And that’s what they did. So I’m content. Onto the draft.
Image Credit: https://s3media.247sports.com/Uploads/Assets/435/832/7832435.png