Prior to the NFL's free agency period kicking off in March, the Detroit Lions will have a few important decisions to make of their own, starting with tight end Brandon Pettigrew and center Dominic Raiola.
Both players are set to become free agents this year, and with the Lions pushing closer to the salary cap, both could become victims of a purge and a team desire to get younger. Fortunately, it seems that the Lions won't be jumping the gun to get deals done with either. Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that the team isn't ready to make premature moves re-signing either player.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is the Lions' most prominent pending free agent, and Mayhew said he's "not sure yet" whether the franchise tag will be an option to keep the soon-to-be 29-year-old off the market…Cornerback Rashean Mathis, defensive end Willie Young and center Dominic Raiola also are pending free agents, and the Lions need to address holes at receiver, in the secondary and along the defensive line."
Considering the solid returns of last season's rookie class, the Lions aren't in a position to need either Pettigrew or Raiola badly enough to rush to a signing. Given Raiola is 35, in April, Detroit could draft a new center, plug him in and hope he is as steady as rookie guard Larry Warford was in 2013. Though he played an excellent season and is on a vital spot along the offensive line, the Lions have to know the time is coming soon for a replacement.
Offensively, Pettigrew hasn't done enough to justify a massive franchise tag around $6.7 million a season, as Birkett suggested the tight end market might command this year. Detroit found Joseph Fauria on the undrafted free agent market last season, and he produced major returns. While this year's tight end class doesn't look quite as deep, the Lions could always look there for a replacement, or sign a different free agent at a lower cost. Pettigrew has had problems with drops and consistency, and considering Jim Caldwell's offenses have relied on stable, sure-handed tight ends like Dallas Clark and Dennis Pitta in the past, the price tag might not match the production.
Detroit doesn't need to guarantee anything quickly to two of their veteran players considering all of their other holes. Arguments can be made that the Lions need two receivers and multiple upgrades in the defensive backfield. As breakdowns most of 2013 proved, those spots are neediest this offseason, and should be the major focus for upgrades.
Unless both Pettigrew and Raiola are willing to take major pay cuts quick, there's no sense in rushing to bring them back early in 2014 or deploying the franchise tag, which may end up being costly. There are other areas of concern and more cost-effective ways to fix both the center and tight end spot.
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