The NFL’s uncapped year will begin tonight at midnight. The details and intricacies of this year’s offseason has been very difficult to understand. In a nut shell, players now need 6 years of league experience, instead of 4, in order to become UNRESTRICTED free agents. This severely diminishes the number of free agents available this offseason. While it may be an uncapped year, it comes with a lot of restrictions. For example, the final 8 teams (Colts, Ravens, Chargers, Jets, Vikings, Saints, Cardinals, Cowboys) may not sign unrestricted free agents. Also, if a player has less than 6 years of NFL experience, he essentially becomes a RESTRICTED free agent. That means a team can match any offer from another team, and if that player still signs with another team, his former team will receive a draft pick.
It’s unchartered waters for not only the Lions brass, but most NFL executives. There is plenty of caution around the league, worrying there will be a return to a cap in the near future, and not wanting to get caught with budgets over the limit. The Lions will most certainly be players in the free agent market, and probably pretty quickly. Considering there is so few players available compared to other years, Lions President Tom Lewand indicated he’d be on the phone tonight at 12:01 a.m.
Some of the biggest Lions’ desires are defensive lineman and running backs. There have been rumors of wooing Tennessee defensive end Kyle Vandenbosch, who played for Jim Schwartz. There’s also been mention of Jets running back Thomas Jones. If the Lions really want to make a splash, they should entertain the idea of pursuing either defensive end Julius Peppers or running back Brian Westbrook. Peppers may command $10-13 million a year, but is the closest thing you’ll find to a sure thing in this year’s free agent market.
Whatever the Lions do, we should see some indication of their intentions in the next few days.