The Detroit Lions have many things to settle this offseason in relation to their roster, but maybe the most difficult decision of all is whether or not to resign Brandon Pettigrew. The former first round pick is a free agent, and while productive last season at points, the most remarkable thing that Pettigrew has shown throughout his career in Detroit is his proficient inconsistency. You truly never know what you’re going to get out of Pettigrew from game to game.
Pettigrew has the talent of a first round draft pick, or at least he did. If you take a quick look at his stats, his numbers have declined each of the last 3 seasons from 83 to 59 to 41 receptions last year. A more telling number might be his lack of touchdowns, only two last year(less than Joseph Fauria had in one game against Cleveland)and five being his highest season total(2011.) For a man of his size and position, draft slot and salary(averaging around 3 million a year), this number is far too low.
The Lions at the beginning of 2013 appeared deep at the tight end position. Following the Patriots model, Detroit had Pettigrew,Tony Scheffler, Michael Williams and the unknown Fauria and it was a position of wealth for the team. The combination of Pettigrew and Scheffler was a key part of their 2011 playoff appearance. A few concussions later, Scheffler is gone, Williams spent the year injured and Fauria became an effective redzone option, but was and is not ready to be a full time TE for the Lions.
The new offensive co-ordinator, Joe Lombardi, is coming over from the Saints, where TE was a huge part of the offensive scheme. Lombardi has expressed a desire for a more traditional, yet still versatile player at the position than he had with Jimmy Graham, who lined up just as often as a wide receiver as he did a tight end. Pettigrew lines up on the line and is an excellent blocker for the run game. The encouraging thing with Lombardi’s history with Graham, is that he may be able to find more ways and reasons to use the size and talents of Fauria. Pettigrew is the most diverse TE the Lions have, or at least the most diverse they had.
The numbers say Pettigrew is in a decline. His top level may never have been high enough to justify his salary or status even at that. He’s 28 years old. He’s a former top twenty draft pick. He’s not likely to take a pay cut on his probable last contract. He’s shown the abilities required to excel at the position, mixed evenly with the ability to flat out disappear or worse, fumble when they just can’t afford it. It usually wouldn’t make sense to let your best player at a position walk away when you are operating under the belief that you are bound for the playoffs. In this case, it truly does.
With the contracts the Lions have coming up in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley next year(Fairley has an option for 2015), the last thing they need is to be forced into a position to make a decision about one of them based on contracts to a player that the only thing they are sure of about is that they can’t be sure of him. It will be up to Lombardi to find a way to use Fauria, Williams and a free agent or mid round draft pick to fill the hole that Pettigrew will leave behind.