Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
Monday was the deadline for NFL teams to use the franchise tag on their potential free agents. True to his word, Lions GM Martin Mayhew opted not to place the tag on anyone this year after using it on Cliff Avril a year ago.
The only real potential designee was Louis Delmas, but the Lions ascertained that the oft-injured safety is not worth the $6.96M franchise tag value. I agree with that assessment, which is contrary to my opinion earlier this offseason. The reason my attitude evolved is that the safety market in both the draft and free agency is a lot deeper and economical than that value. Delmas will unfortunately find out this market economics lesson the hard way.
If healthy, Delmas is worth $7M a year. When his knee has been right, Delmas has proven to have the same sort of impact as Buffalo’s Jairus Byrd, who got hit with the tag by the Bills and will make the $6.96M in 2013 unless he negotiates a long-term deal. Byrd has not missed a game since 2009 and is a better ballhawk than Delmas but is not as good against the run. He would be wise to play out his tagged year and re-enter free agency next offseason. Another strong season and Byrd will be poised to make more than $7M per year when the demand outstrips the supply next Spring.
Those same market forces could allow Delmas to return to Detroit. Teams are going to be reluctant to give Delmas a long-term deal because of his health. He’s missed the equivalent of one full season of games in his first four years, and Delmas has been visibly hindered in at least another 10 games. He is an ideal candidate for a short, make-good deal, something along the lines of 2 years, $10M with most of the money up front so it’s essentially a one-year deal. That is an affordable deal for cap-strapped Detroit and should be quite appealing to Delmas, who hopefully understands where he ranks on the free agent safety pecking order.
Delmas ranks well behind Dashon Goldson, Glover Quin, and William Moore on the open market. Ed Reed is going to command more guaranteed cash even though he’s near the end and ha a recurring neck issue, simply because he’s future Hall of Famer Ed Reed. Patrick Chung will get more as well because he’s an ex-Patriot, and that status inherently commands more value whether it’s deserved or not. Chris Clemons from Miami has been better the last two years than Delmas. Kenny Phillips and LaRon Landry are in the same proverbial boat as Delmas, good talents with legit durability questions. Dallas cut Gerald Sensabaugh on Monday in a cap move, further adding to the market.
Then there is the draft. This is one of the best and deepest safety classes of the last twenty years. While none are worthy of consideration at #5 overall, there are at least 7 that will be drafted by the end of the third round. The Lions will miss out on Kenny Vaccaro and Johnathan Cyprien in the first, but guys like (in no order here) Matt Elam, Tony Jefferson, Shawn Williams, Eric Reid, Philip Thomas, Shamarko Thomas, DJ Swearinger and Baccari Rambo are all potential top 100 picks. In addition, the later rounds will feature better prospects than typically found in the fifth and sixth rounds with players like Duke Williams, Earl Wolff, JJ Wilcox, and Shrine Game Week stud Cooper Taylor.
All that means there is no reason to overpay to keep Delmas, but also that the laws of supply and demand should dictate that Detroit won’t have to overpay either. If some other team wants to give him 3 years and $20M, let them take on the risk. I don’t believe he is going to get that on the open market. Delmas is worth more to the Lions than other teams because he knows the system inside out and is a clear leader on a defense that is lacking in that quality. That is his only leverage, and he would be wise to parlay that into the sort of deal I laid out above before he learns the hard way that the market is not in his favor.