Pettigrew unfazed by criticism, chose to stay with Lions

Brandon Pettigrew's drops were down last year to 4.8 percent of the passes in which he was targeted.

Tim Fuller

No one could have blamed tight end Brandon Pettigrew if he used free agency as a way of getting a fresh start and not return to the Detroit Lions.

Pettigrew has been made the scapegoat on many occasions for the Lions’ struggles. Few things have infuriated fans and triggered more rage over the last few years than a dropped pass by Pettigrew.

He could have left it all behind by signing elsewhere. There were reports at the time that he was perhaps close to a deal with the New York Jets.

But in the end, Pettigrew chose to come back and sign a four-year contract worth $16 million, including $8 million guaranteed.

It’s not out of the question now that Pettigrew, entering his sixth season with the Lions, could play his entire career in Detroit.

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He seems unfazed by the negativity that is directed at him so often.

"You’re going to have that regardless," Pettigrew said Thursday following the final practice of a mandatory three-day mini-camp. "Even the greatest players have people nagging or whatever it is. You’ve just got to put that aside, get the positive out of it and keep it moving."

What’s often overlooked amidst the criticism is that he’s played an important role in the Lions’ offense because of his blocking, which is why they made him a priority to re-sign this offseason.

Nevertheless, each of his drops seemingly takes on a life of its own with the critics. Much of that goes back to the fact that he was a surprise first-round draft pick, 20th overall, and not a popular one back in 2009 coming out of Oklahoma State.

Who uses such a high draft pick on a tight end unless he’s an absolute elite playmaker? The spotlight was immediately on Pettigrew, for better or worse.

It didn’t take long for Pettigrew to develop a reputation for making bad drops at costly moments. His best year came in 2011, as the Lions were winning 10 games and making the playoffs, when he had 83 receptions for 777 yards and five touchdowns — all career highs — but he has averaged just 50 catches each of the last two years.

His drops and fumbles always seemed to happen at the absolutely worst time possible in 2012 while the Lions suffered through a 4-12 season.

It would have made sense for him to put all of that behind with a change of scenery when he became an unrestricted free agent.

Even the greatest players have people nagging or whatever it is.

Brandon Pettigrew

But here he is.

"This is what was best," Pettigrew said.

Asked for more details about how close he might have been to leaving, he just shook his head and pleaded, "Let’s talk camp. That stuff is over with. I’m here now. We’re in Detroit, baby."

Pettigrew’s drops actually were down last year — only three — to 4.8 percent of the passes in which he was targeted compared to 8.8 percent the previous season, according to sportingcharts.com.

If that type of ratio continues maybe he can change these perceptions and still win over the fans before he’s finished.

He signed up for four more years to try to give it a try.