Caldwell believes Stafford can be a winner
--Lions general manager Martin Mayhew sounded optimistic about the prospects of crafting a contract extension for All-Pro defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, even though negotiations have yet to begin because Suh hasn't picked an agent.
"I finally talked to him yesterday and he said he's getting close to picking an agent but he hasn't picked one yet," Mayhew said. "I declined to start the negotiations with him right there. We are going to wait for him to get an agent and we will get rolling."
It has been reported that Suh hired Jay Z's agency, Roc Nation Sports, to handle his business affairs. He still hasn't hired a sports agent that is certified by the NFL players association to negotiate his contract. Suh presently occupies $22.4 million of the team's salary cap. By working out an extension, the team could lower that number and clear more room to sign other free agents. But Mayhew made it clear, any delay in working Suh's deal, or the inability to work a deal, wouldn't be a setback for the team in free agency.
"If it doesn't get done we're fine with that," he said. "We can create some space and we can get some room right now. The cap went up (from $126 million to roughly $130 million). It won't be a setback or a cap crunch if we don't get something done with him in the near future. But I anticipate something getting done."
--Re-signing tight end Brandon Pettigrew, who will become an unrestricted free agent on March 11, remains a top priority for the Lions.
"Yeah, definitely," Mayhew said. "We had our free-agent meeting and the coaches liked him, liked what he can do. He's an all-around guy. He's a guy we'll be talking to and meeting with his agent at the combine."
Mayhew said re-signing Suh was not a factor in re-signing Pettigrew. Mayhew also kept open the option of using the franchise tag, which would keep him in Detroit for one guaranteed year at roughly $6.5 million.
"Never say never," he said. "You never know how these things are going to go. If we chose to do that we could create the room to make that happen."
--Mayhew said he has begun the process of working out a long-term deal with running back Joique Bell, who is a restricted free agent.
"We can just tender him," he said. "He's going to be here. We met with his agent a couple of nights ago and had a good discussion. There is a possibility we might work on a long-term deal with him, but either way, he's going to be with us."
--Five pending free agents from last year's team will not be back, according to Mayhew -- special teams captain John Wendling, defensive end Israel Idonije, kicker David Akers, offensive lineman Dylan Gandy and linebacker Rocky McIntosh. All other pending free agents, he said, have a chance to be signed back, including quarterback Shaun Hill.
The Lions recently signed restricted free-agent safety and special teams ace Isa Abdul-Quddus, who could conceivably replace Wendling on the coverage units.
--On the injury front, Mayhew confirmed that defensive end Ziggy Ansah had shoulder surgery in Los Angeles two weeks ago. "He's out there rehabbing," he said. "He'll be back."
--Receiver Calvin Johnson, who had surgery on his finger and knee, is on pace to be ready for OTAs.
"He's doing fine," Mayhew said. "The things he had done were very minor. He's got to rehab that finger and get the strength right on that. But he's in the process of doing that right now."
--Gunther Cunningham, most recently the Lions' defensive coordinator, is staying with the team as a senior coaching assistant.
When Jim Schwartz was fired after the 2013 season ended, Cunningham hoped he would be able to stay with the team.
"When things ended I wanted to stay here," he said. "I came here to do the job and it was going to be my last job one way or another. I want to go out as a winner. It's really important to me."
Cunningham could end up helping on both sides of the ball. Teryl Austin is the team's new defensive coordinator under head coach Jim Caldwell, while Joe Lombardi will coordinate the offense.
Concluded Cunningham, "I talked with T.A. about what he wanted and then when I talked to Jim the second or third time he asked me about the offense. He could see the smile on my face. One thing a defensive coach knows about is offense. That's what offensive coaches try to dissect and hopefully I can be of help to Joe in that area and Jim himself."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--The Lions released guard Leroy Harris and signed defensive tackle Corvey Irvin, the team announced Tuesday (March 4).
Harris appeared in one game for the Lions in 2013, seeing action in the season finale at Minnesota. He joined the Lions after playing the previous six seasons with the Tennessee Titans. A fourth-round selection by the Titans in the 2007 NFL Draft, Harris has played in 76 career games with 42 starts.
Since being drafted by Carolina in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft out of Georgia, Irvin has spent time with the Carolina Panthers (2010), Jacksonville Jaguars (2011), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2012) and the Dallas Cowboys last season. In 24 career games played, he has totaled 14 tackles. Irvin was waived by the Cowboys Feb. 28.
--The Lions released wide receiver Nate Burleson and safety Louis Delmas, saving about $11.5 million in salary-cap room.
Burleson, 32, caught 39 passes for 461 yards and one touchdown last season after being limited to nine games due to injuries. For his career, Burleson has caught 457 passes for 5,630 yards and 39 touchdowns. His release saves the team about $5.5 million in cap space.
"It's a hard decision for them to make, but I can't blame them for making it," Burleson told the Detroit Free Press.
The release of Delmas saves the Lions about $6 million in cap room.
Apparently Delmas, 26, does not fit into the scheme of new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. However, he started all 16 games for the Lions this past season, when he had three interceptions and two sacks.
Players expected to be unrestricted in March:
--PK David Akers
--S Don Carey
--TE Dorin Dickerson
--C-G Dylan Gandy
--DT Andre Fluellen
--OT Jason Fox
--OG Leroy Harris
--QB Shaun Hill
--DE Israel Idonije
--CB Rashean Mathis
--LB Rocky McIntosh
--LS Don Muhlbach
--WR Kevin Ogletree
--DB Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
--TE Brandon Pettigrew
--WR-KR Micheal Spurlock
--S John Wendling
--DE Willie Young
Players scheduled to be restricted in March
--RB Joique Bell
--WR Kris Durham
--CB Chris Greenwood
--LB Julian Stanford
Players scheduled to exclusive rights free agents
--WR-KR Jeremy Ross
--TE Matt Veldman.
WIDE RECEIVER: The Lions have tried to find a second outside receiver to complement Calvin Johnson for three years. On top of that, they also need to bolster the slot position.
SAFETY: Louis Delmas courageously gutted out 16 games but his chronic knee issues have robbed him of at least a step. It seems unlikely he will return for another season and he was released in mid-February.
KICKER: The Lions aren't showing much interest in re-signing David Akers. They will be seeking to upgrade here.
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