Free-Agency Focus

Chris Claiborne

The Detroit Lions showed rare foresight and guts when they laid it all on the line to land franchise head coach Steve Mariucci. Now, says Lions' insider Mike Fowler, the team needs to take that attitude into free-agency.

The Detroit Lions showed rare foresight and guts when they laid it all on the line to land franchise head coach Steve Mariucci.  The Lions knew they would be in a bidding war if they didn't act immediately to land their man once he became available so Detroit did something unusally characteristic of the franchise.  They acted decisively and boldly.

The result: Detroit won't need to hire a head coach again for the next ten years.

The Lions need that same focused, decisive action when the free agency period begins on Feb. 28.  They can't afford to be either wishy-washy or wrong.  If they make the right moves, Detroit can head upward in a weak NFC North division and climb the ladder to respectability.

Here are the top five free most important free agents for Detroit:

1. Chris Claiborne; Claiborne is one of the few players left from the drafts of the Bobby Ross regime.  A four-year starter, Claiborne is moving dangerously close to Pro Bowl status.  No wonder he's ranked the second-best free agent linebacker that will hit the market.  A lot of teams like Claiborne who has a huge upside and would look a lot better if there was any talent on either side of him.  While Detroit has said they will not use the transition tag (which would cost them about $4.85 million) who's going to fill the position at the same level of production (101 tackles in 2002) for the price?  Don't be foolish.  Tag him or get a long-term deal done.

2. Ray Brown;  Despite being over 40 years old, Brown showed that he can man the position.  He solidified the Lions front five and with Detroit so devoid of talent in so many other positions, if he could stay around for another season, it would really help the offense --now under the direction of Mariucci-- to continue improving.  A one-year deal with some incentives would likely entice Brown to stay on.

3. Kelvin Pritchett; You could make a case that Pritchett was Detroit's best defensive tackle (45 tackles) last year.  Shaun Rogers (48 tackles) had a solid season and Luther Elliss' production continued to decline. Pritchett, 33, still figures to have a little left in the tank.  Detroit needs to solidify the middle of their defense and Pritchett could be an effective player in a three-tackle rotation.

4. Kerlin Blaise;  Blaise nearly became a starter last season before getting hurt.  He showed his versatility by handling both the tackle and guard spots.  Blaise came to Detroit as an undrafted free agent from Miami, FL., and after making a name for himself on special teams became more valuable each year.  He provides much needed depth in the offensive line.  A keeper.

5. Brian Williams;  OK, Detroit doesn't really need this guy, they really ought to look for an upgrade at the position but since you made me list five, he's it.

While only Claiborne ranks as a "must-keep", Detroit needs to stem the flow of losses in the free agent ranks.  The Lions have made a number of mistakes in this area over the past two years and now Matt Millen says he's taking over as a de-facto director of player personnel.  For his sake, Mariucci better jump aboard this process pronto and have a huge amount of say in these decisions.

Millen got a "hall pass" for his acquisition of new head coach Steve Mariucci, but it only lasts until Feb. 28.

Unrestricted

Kerlin Blaise, OG

Ray Brown, OG

Chris Claiborne, LB

Eric Davis, CB

Jared DeVries, DT

Donovan Greer, CB

Richard Jordan, LB

Travis Kirschke, DT

Clint Kriewaldt, LB

Kelvin Pritchett, DT

Bracey Walker, S

Lamont Warren, RB

Brian Williams, LB

Restricted

Larry Foster, WR

James Hall, DE

Jimmy Wyrick, CB

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