The Detroit Lions still are working on a long-term deal for Brandon Pettigrew, but if they don’t have one in place by the time their exclusive negotiating window ends Saturday — and as of now, odds are they won’t — they’re comfortable letting their top tight end test free agency.

The Lions decided against using the franchise tag on Pettigrew or anyone else by Monday’s 4 p.m. deadline. Although general manager Martin Mayhew left open the possibility of using the tag at the NFL combine last month, it always seemed impractical given the Lions’ salary-cap problems and the caliber of their free agents.

Pettigrew was the only possible candidate to get tagged, but doing so would have cost the Lions $7.035 million.

The Lions have just over $11 million in cap space after releasing backup offensive lineman Leroy Harris in a cost-cutting move Monday, and holes to fill at receiver, safety and, depending on what happens with their own free agents, tight end, defensive end and cornerback.

Along with Pettigrew, defensive starters Willie Young and Rashean Mathis are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents March 11, and the Lions plan to tender restricted free-agent running back Joique Bell if they don’t reach agreement on a long-term deal by next week.

Bell is expected to receive a second-round tender worth just over $2 million.

“He’s going to be here,” Mayhew said at the combine. “We met with his agent (at the combine) and we had a good discussion. It’s a possibility we might work on a long-term deal with him, but either way he’s going to be with us.”

The Lions and Bell’s representatives plan to talk again this week, and the Lions have been in contact with the agents for Pettigrew, Young and Mathis recently.