The Detroit Lions plan to meet with the agents of tight end Brandon Pettigrew sometime during combine week in Indianapolis, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. Pettigrew is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career at the start of the new league year.
At this point, both sides likely want to get a long-term deal in place. Unfortunately, there's hangups for both sides. Pettigrew will want to get paid on his potential, as he's shown flashes of brilliance here and there, but the Lions will want to give him just a modest raise to see if he's going to pan out.
That said, Pettigrew would certainly draw interest from several other teams on the open market. He's got enough potential for a team with more cap than Detroit can spare to sign him to a bigger contract. At this point, Detroit looks to be around $3 million under the salary cap for 2014-15, which is a fairly insignificant amount to account for all of free agency and the NFL Draft.
Detroit has already made moves to increase their cap for next season, releasing Nate Burleson and Louis Delmas recently. But there are more moves that can be made to help this particular transaction along, as well. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is due an otherworldly dollar amount next season, as it's the final year of a rookie contract put in place before the rookie wage scale. If the team can extend Suh they can reduce his cap hit next year and have plenty of room to sign Pettigrew.
There's also the option to use the franchise tag. Detroit has, as Birkett notes, just three starters hitting unrestricted free agency and Pettigrew is really the only one that would make sense for the tag. That's because the tag number for tight ends is significantly lower than other positions (though that may not be the case for too much longer given how the position has evolved in recent years).
At the end of the day, Pettigrew is a complete tight end who can block and catch, and fits well into the Detroit offense. He likely has more value to the Lions than he does to other teams but again, that won't stop said teams from giving him a bigger contract than Detroit can swing at this point. Detroit wants to win football games and choosing to roll without a proven tight end would be a big mistake.
Pettigrew has his flaws. He's not a burner and isn't going to stretch the field, and doesn't have the most sure hands out there. In five seasons, he's never had 800 receiving yards, and has only scored five touchdowns in the past two seasons. But everything he's shown on the field suggests that he's worth keeping around and he seems like Detroit's best option at this point. It wouldn't be surprising to see the team get a deal done before he hits the open market.