With the whirlwind of unrestricted free agency now calmed, it’s tempting to think the storm is over. But this year’s restricted free agent class is the most experienced, talented RFA class ever. While I’d thought the Lions would be loathe to surrender any of their picks in this draft, they’ve already dealt away some late round picks in order to bring in CB Chris Houston and DT Corey Williams.
With the RFA market mostly untouched, there are a few notable players who just might be worth surrendering a pick to get. The Lions have already entertained Saints DL Anthony Hargrove, a 272-pounder whose physique would be ideal for Schwartz’s system . . . except that according to Nick Cotsonika, Hargrove played inside last season, at nearly 300 pounds. Would Hargrove be asked to get back to his usual weight and play DE, or stay bulked up and compete for the pass-rushing DT job?
All Rams FS O.J. Atogwe has done is lead the NFC in interceptions in his second season, get hit with the franchise tag last season, and rack up 29 passes defensed and 19 INTs in his five-year career. However, Atogwe’s 2009 campaign ended 12 games in with a dislocated right shoulder, and the Rams tendered Atogwe at the lowest RFA level. The intent is to match any offer sheet, and/or sign Atogwe to long-term deal, but a trade of his rights is also a possibility.
Panthers CB Richard Marshall, coming off his first full season starting, has an impressive 34 passes defensed and 11 INTs in his mostly-off-the-bench 4-year career. Inexplicably, the Panthers tendered Marshall with just a 2nd-round offer. He’s skipping offseason workouts in protest of the lowball offer—and frankly, he’s what you’d hope a second-round corner would develop into. I don’t expect the Lions to give up a high 2 for him . . . but maybe they should.
Jets RB Leon Washington, also tendered at the second-round level, has the explosion and game-breaking ability that the Lions are looking for at tailback. However, he’s coming off a compound leg fracture, and the Jets signed future Hall-of-Famer LaDanian Tomlinson to complement breakout rookie tailback Shonn Greene. Washington seems to be the odd man out here; could his rights had in a trade for less than the second-round pick?
Obviously, the Lions are not one or two pieces away from championship contention; trading away draft picks for veterans only makes so much sense. But think about it the other way: these are draft picks that worked out. All of the development of these players is already done—and they’re all just entering their prime. It’s like getting a chance to re-do the 2005, 2006, and 2007 drafts so that they actually yielded excellent starters.
There's one thing in the way of all these potential acquisitions: the Lions were too bad last year. There’s a “regressive tax” effect happening here. If the Lions signed an RFA tendered at the first-round level—say, Vikings DE Ray Edwards—they’d lose the #2 overall pick. However, if the Eagles did the same, they’d lose the #24 overall pick. The Lions, by dint of picking early in every round, will have to part with much more value than other teams to sign the same RFAs.
So, will there be a second burst of activity before the draft? Will Martin Mayhew work his trading magic to secure some of these outstanding young talents at less-than-sticker price? I don’t know; maybe the storm really is over. On the other hand, I wouldn’t come out of the cellar just yet.