Detroit Lions Beat Writer Dave Birkett Talks Lions Draft, Free Agency, Spartans and More!

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With NFL free-agency opening up on March 13 and the league’s draft being held just about a month later, Spartan Nation caught up with Lions’ beat writer Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press to get his thoughts on what personnel moves the Lions might make this offseason.

           When asked his thoughts on the team’s first-round pick, he says it is way too early to say who they will likely choose.

“I wouldn’t pigeon hole them into a certain position or player right now,” he says. “There’s obviously a need at the secondary and the cornerback position, and a lot of people like Dre Kirkpatrick or Janoris Jenkins. I think those guys definitely could be on the board for the Lions, but I don’t think they’re just gonna go cornerback if doing so risks letting another great player pass by. They’ll be doing plenty of homework over the next few months and looking at both those guys I just mentioned, as well as maybe like a Cordy Glenn from Georgia at OL, maybe a Mark Barron, the best safety in the draft, or maybe even a defensive end. If Nick Perry is there, for example, I think they have to consider him knowing what their pass rush situation looks like for a couple years from now and also knowing how much they value that position.”

As far as free agency goes, Birkett says the Lions’ are working on re-signing all their guys now. He says newly franchised player Cliff Avril was the most important of their free agents but that starters Jeff Backus, Eric Wright and Stephen Tulloch are priorities to get back.

“A lot of what they wanna do could depend on whether they can get a long-term deal done with Calvin Johnson or not, though,” he says. “An extension that would make him the highest paid receiver in the game but lower his cap number for this year to free up some space to sign a man like Stephen Tulloch, who right now looks like he might test free agency and look at some other teams.

“The Lions want (Tulloch) back and are going to do whatever they can to bring him back,” he says. “It’ll be harder now than if they had given him a long-term deal last summer, but he wasn’t going to give a discount for multi-years. He wanted to come in and make some money and set himself up for a big contract this year, and he’s done that. And I think the fact that he’s probably one of the top inside linebackers who will be in the market will cause other teams to look at him if he does test free agency. The Lions might when it’s all said and done need to outbid some other teams.”

As far as Johnson goes, Birkett says he sees it being difficult “because Calvin holds all the power”.

“But there is a will on both sides to get it done,” he assures, “and even though Calvin has all that bargaining power, they know that they need to get this done if they want cap space, so I think there is a little bit of urgency. They’re going to want this to get done before that March 13 deadline. It remains to be seen whether it will, but I’m expecting something to happen here soon.”

Birkett also commented on his what he saw at this year’s NFL combine, saying he was extremely impressed with former MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins.

“He carries himself like a pro and performed well on the field,” he says. “Pretty solid, I’d guess third round. Someone is going to look at him and not want to let him pass by, because he may be a guy who has a chance to be a starter in the league. He really helped himself with his performance in the combine.”

On the other side, he named Arizona State linebacker Vontaze Berfict as one player who did not help his draft stock.

“There’s a lot of mixed opinion on him,” he admits. “He sat down at the (interview) table and just did not answer questions the way you’d want a prospect to answer them. He was defensive and passed the buck on a lot of the issues he’s had. As a coach or fan, you’d want him to take responsibility for his issues, and he didn’t do that. He also didn’t have a good workout on the field, and his 17 personal fouls in 35 games is a major red flag.”

While he had to leave before former MSU defensive lineman Jerel Worthy went in for his interviews, he told us what he has been hearing about him as a prospect.

“I think he’s looking like a first rounder at this point,” he predicts, “but his work ethic and consistency are going to be the big questions right now. I think he’s quick and a guy who can impact the game, but you just need to make sure he’s going to do it every time and not take plays off.”

He named Steven Gilmore from South Carolina as a solid cornerback prospect who has gotten a little lost in the mix.

“He had his stock down a little bit, but at 6 foot, he runs well and is big cornerback.  I think he’ll be a guy who will have a long career in the NFL and that he could be on the Lions radar when all is said and done. He doesn’t come with a lot of baggage, and I think when we look back four or five years from now, we’ll say that some team was fortunate to get him late first or early second round.”