It’s been just over a year and yet again, I’m writing another piece on how to fix the Lions. Unfortunately the Lions are more broken than we thought, and the only good news is that there are a lot of free agents that will be available. The bad news? The Lions were absolutely destroyed by the old CBA and they have a ton of money tied up in a few players; specifically Matt Stafford, Megatron and Ndamukong Suh. They will keep working to restructure their deals and to sign them for the long-term, but it has handcuffed them so far. They have almost half the team as free agents this year, so it will be an important and an extremely busy off-season.
This is the first part in a three part series previewing the Lions off-season needs. Specifically who to re-sign, who could be a free agent target and who to watch at the combine as a potential Lions pick.
Re-signings: Of course in a pivotal off-season, the Detroit Lions have a huge class of unresticted free agents; thank god that Calvin was signed long-term last year. DE Cliff Avril is likely gone, because they can’t seem to agree on a long-term contract, and if they franchise tag him, it would be for $12.6 Million, because they used the tag on him last year. Meaning there is a 0% chance of this happening; paying $12.6 Million for a guy with 9.5 sacks is not happening. DT Corey Williams is likely gone because he spent most of the year injured and ended the season on the IR, and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch is likely going to be released to save cap room.
The other important free agents that they need to re-sign though are CB Chris Houston, DE Lawrence Jackson, DT Sammie Lee Hill, OT Corey Hilliard, LB Justin Durant, LB DeAndre Levy, K Jason Hanson, Long Snapper Don Muhlbach and OT Gosder Cherilus.
I hate including Gosder as a player they have to re-sign, because he is absolutely terrible, but because of how little of cap room they have, I think they have to take advantage of the fact that he is cheap and likely won’t have other suitors. I would love to see him walk, and I would be happy if they did, but I don’t see it happening. Chris Houston is obviously the most important free agent that the Lions have. He had a great year, and he is clearly the best player in our terrible secondary. The rest of the players on that list are all guys that will get significant playing time, with the exception of Hilliard, who is a solid back up. Muhlbach meanwhile is a Pro Bowler, so he is an obvious player to re-sign.
If they let Avril walk and release KVB, Jackson will be a must-sign. He had a good year, and can do what KVB did for 1/3 the cost. Hill provides depth at DT and he would be the 3rd man in the rotation when Corey Williams walks this off-season. And even though Durant and Levy aren’t elite, they’re capable starters that need to be signed while the secondary gets fixed. Hanson meanwhile, is unsure of whether he wants to retire or not, so it’s more of him deciding what he wants to do, because he would never leave Detroit.
Some wildcards they may re-sign are Jacob Lacey, Drayton Florence and Louis Delmas. All three were injured a lot this year, particularly Florence and Delmas, and I think if each of them is willing to take a pay cut or come back for a similar salary that the Lions would keep them. I think that Delmas brings energy to the defense, but he is a bad tackler, and is injured a lot. I used to be a fan of him, but he simply hasn’t developed at all because he is never healthy. Florence and Lacey never got a real chance to show what they could do with injuries, but I was never thrilled or over-excited with either of them.
They have a lot of starters that need to be signed, and it will be important for them to not overspend on re-signing these guys. This is a pivotal off-season that could determine the future of GM Martin Mayhew and the coaching staff.