Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Wednesday shaped up as one of the most dramatic in Detroit Lions history. Martin Mayhew & Co. signed four players to just over $65M worth of total contracts, something that seemed unlikely at best and downright impossible less than a week ago because of salary cap issues.
If Wednesday doesn’t turn the opinion of the anti-Mayhew crowd, which remains way too Huge-ly irrational, those people are just hating on pure ignorant principle at this point. Mayhew has been an absolute magician in contract work, no doubt with help from President Tom Lewand and new assistant Brian Xanders.
The first deal of the day is a perfect illustration of why Mayhew is getting lauded by the national media and, more importantly, his peers within the league. Jason Jones signed with the Lions for three years at $9.5M, with a $2.5M signing bonus. The man Jones is directly replacing in the lineup, Sammie Lee Hill, signed in Tennessee for three years and $11.4M. Over the last three years Jones has 75 tackles, 10 sacks, 4 forced fumbles, and 12 PDs; Hill has 70 tackles, 4.5 sacks, one forced fumble and 3 PDs. To be fair, Hill is a better run defender, but sacks = dollars in the world of the NFL and the Lions signed the better sacker to a cheaper deal. Jones offers the added flexibility of being able to play end or tackle, and will do so in Gunther Cunningham’s (hopefully) altered defense. The Titans are overpaying left and right for players, but honestly the deal they paid for Hill seems reasonable. He is an ascending talent who can blossom with more playing time and good health. For the Lions to get a more proven performer in Jones, who instantly clicked with Jim Schwartz in Tennessee as a rookie, for less than Hill is a real coup.
Reggie Bush signed for 4 years and $16M, which is less than his projected price of $5M a year that was widely bantered about on ESPN and NFL Network. The breakdown of the Bush deal really demonstrates the excellent work from Lewand and Mayhew. Strapped for immediate cap room, they finagled the deal so that Bush will earn just $1M in salary in 2013 and count just $2M against the cap. The base salary escalates to $3.5M in 2014 and contains some roster bonuses in the final two years that push up the cap number, but by that point the major pain from the Johnson mega-deal will be past. Between the successful recruiting pitch and the contractual maneuvering, the Lions scored a major coup with Bush.
Chris Houston also chose to stay in Detroit for less than expected. Five years and $25M is nothing to sneeze at, but some projections had Houston making at least $5M more than that with a new deal somewhere. Like Bush, Houston will earn just $1M in salary in 2013, a strong concession by Houston and his agent to accommodate the Lions’ cap woes. That is a very strong indication of the trust and respect Mayhew, Lewand, and the Lions have earned for being stand-up men. It also strongly indicates that the players truly believe the Lions can be successful. NFL veterans don’t take less money or make contractual concessions to stick with what they perceive to be a losing situation.
The chance to be a difference maker for a winning team helped lure Glover Quin to Detroit. The Houston sports world is downright stunned that Quin left for the money he took from Detroit, which is reportedly the same 5 yr/$25M deal that Houston got, though no official details have been revealed yet. Quin was the Lions top target after Bush for free agents from other teams, but he was also the top target for others as well. The Lions did a fantastic selling job to wrap him up before he left for scheduled visits with the Rams and 49ers, as well as back in Houston.
Quin is an absolute perfect fit schematically for Detroit. He was merely adequate as a corner but blossomed upon moving to safety, which took advantage of his best corner assets (size, tackling, ball awareness, zone range) and mitigated his biggest deficiencies (long speed, handling double moves, breaking from his backpedal). Quin is an ideal “heavy nickel” back, able to cover flexed out tight ends and bigger slot receivers. In a division with Jermichael Finley, Kyle Rudolph, and new Bears signee Martellus Bennett (an excellent move by Chicago), adding someone with Quin’s skills was a necessity. He is a significant upgrade over Louis Delmas in coverage skills and is his equal in run support. Delmas will be missed in the locker room, but Quin is also proven much more durable. As much as I personally loved Delmas in Detroit, the Lions got a lot better by letting him walk and inserting Quin into the lineup.
That’s not to say Delmas won’t be back. He has visited the Rams and 49ers but has yet to sign. Early indications are that he is not getting the free market money he expected, which could push him back to the Lions if the money is equal. Delmas and Quin together as safeties turn a chronic weakness into a major strength…if Delmas can stay healthy. The only way Delmas returns is if he acknowledges that his relative fragility will force him to take a bargain basement, make-good contract for a year or two. Mayhew and Lewand played this situation perfectly and might still keep their man.
It’s important to temper enthusiasm to some extent. Scoring wins in free agency doesn’t always translate to wins in November when they count; ask Raiders and Redskins fans about that. But this really does have a different, genuinely optimistic feel to it. The Lions were the big winners of the first 36 hours of free agency. Here’s hoping that means something in the 2013 season and beyond!
As for the strange DeAngelo Hall situation, here’s what I know:
Hall’s agent has indeed talked to the Lions, but as of Tuesday night it had not progressed beyond a discussion of very basic parameters and gauging of interest. I spoke directly with someone in Hall’s camp who confirmed this. Knowing Hall a little (I interviewed him in 2009 for more than 20 minutes and also knew him when he was in high school in Chesapeake VA), I can tell you that if any deal was imminent, you would have heard it directly from the horse’s mouth. I can’t tell you anything beyond that from late Tuesday, but any reports of a contractual agreement were pure conjecture at that point.