The Detroit Lions have very big decisions coming in both free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. The fact that the Lions are winning has put them in a nice position to grab potential free agents wanting to come to play for a team on the rise. Realistically they are not in a financial position to sign free agents other than their own. The Detroit Lions have multiple unrestricted free agents in very important positions and they have a money problem.
The Detroit Lions can't afford to tie up a lot of money in this free agent class as they have Calvin Johnson becoming a free agent in 2013 and he will break the bank. They have to spend wisely and make shrewd personnel decisions in free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft. There are going to be players that can't be brought back or re-signed simply because the money is not there.
While they are in rough financial shape the overall picture is very positive. There is excitement and expectation but there is no room for the Lions to slide backwards like some teams do after taking an nice step forward. They are an exciting team and with 23 year old Matt Stafford at the helm the future looks very promising.
General Manager Martin Mayhew has publicly stated that it was his first priority to re-sign their own free agents in this off season. It would be hard to see the Lions making much of a splash aside from signing their own in this year's free agency period.
Let's look at what's in store for the Detroit Lions in free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft from a realistic perspective taking into account the potential financial problems and a reasonable look at who they might add in free agency and the 2012 NFL Draft.
Cliff Avril had a great 2011-12 season with the Detroit Lions. From a statistical point of view he had the best season of any of the players on the defensive line as he totalled 11 sacks with 6 forced fumbles. This seems to be a strength of his as he is always around the ball and as a defensive end who gets after the quarterback he got home a lot last season.
Cliff Avril is going to get paid and he deserves to get paid but the Lions have to decide whether it's the Lions paying him or another team. This might be the toughest question the Lions face this entire off-season.
Is Avril a critical enough piece of the defense that the Lions can't let him go? Does he do things that other defensive ends simply cannot? Would the Lions be unable to replace his production in the lineup. Does his loss derail the defense at this critical point?
Is it possible that Avril is the beneficiary of the dominant interior defensive line that the Lions have put together? Is Avril one of the players that opposing offenses forget about in trying to contain Ndamukong Suh and company? Does any other defensive end produce quality numbers simply by playing with that defensive front?
The answer is that Mayhew and Lions Head Coach Jim Schwartz know and have proven that they do. Rebuilding the team to be competitive as quickly as they have after taking over the franchise from previous GM Matt Millen is quite an accomplishment. They see enough in practice and in film study to understand what the Lions would be missing if they were to let Avril go. We trust that they know what they are doing.
Avril had 5.5 sacks in 2009 without Suh and Corey Williams. In 2010 with both dominant DT's he had 8.5 sacks and last year he had 11 sacks. Cliff Avril is a very good football player but it would be interesting to see what Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson could do in Avril's role.
Stephen Tulloch came the the Detroit Lions at the end of the bizarre free agency period after the lockout ended. He was known as a tackling machine coming to Detroit and as a MIKE linebacker. As a MIKE linebacker Tulloch has gap responsibility and is mainly a run stopper. He had a nice season with the team but the Lions got torched all season by big runs. They need to stabilize their linebacker group and re-signing Tulloch is a good start but there will be a cost to sign him.
In what will be a difficult off season from a financial perspective the Lions have a decision to make regarding Tulloch. They can't afford to pay Tulloch premier middle linebacker money and if that is what Tulloch is looking for he is probably going to be elsewhere in 2012. Tulloch could be one if the players that might be a victim of the Lions' efforts to resign Calvin Johnson and it ultimately will depend on what kind of market there is for Tulloch.
Jeff Backus has been a steady, solid performer at left tackle for the Detroit Lions. He has started 176 straight games at left tackle for the Lions which is incredible. Backus had surgery for a torn biceps tendon but he is expected to be fully ready for the 2012-13 NFL season.
It is an understatement to say that keeping Matt Stafford upright and healthy is the key for the Detroit Lions offense. It is for that reason that re-signing Backus might be the easiest decision for the Lions during this off season.
Eric Wright came to the Lions via a one year deal in the free agency period after the lockout and was expected to team up with Chris Houston to shore up the cornerback position for the Lions. Wright had a good season but was not great and did not necessarily live up to his billing as a shut down corner. He is a polarizing figure in Detroit and the defense as a whole did not help themselves with the way they played at the end of the 2011-12 season.
It is easy to see that the Lions secondary needs more talent and Wright is talented. If Eric Wright can be re-signed at a price that doesn't hamper the Lions financially then it would be wise to re-sign him. The talent is thin at the corner position as evidenced by the Lions failures at the end of the season last year. They were a totally different defense without a healthy Houston and Wright.
Mike Adams is gigantic and fits the bill as a franchise left tackle. At 6'7" and 323 pounds he has prototype size at the position and with his frame he has the ability to get a little bigger. He showed good footwork and large, powerful hands at the 2012 Senior Bowl.
The Lions own the 23rd pick in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft and drafting Mike Adams would be wise as the Lions need to prepare to move on from Backus as he gets older.
Zach Brown is an incredibly athletic linebacker who projects to play the weak side at the NFL level. A weak side linebacker is mainly a run stopper but has to drop into coverage quickly. At the 2012 Senior Bowl Brown showed that he was capable of running with the running backs and tight ends. This ability is becoming more and more important in the NFL.
There are some huge mismatches in the NFL today at the tight end position and getting a guy in who can mitigate those mismatches and run well in space would be a solid move for the Detroit Lions. The Lions need to add team speed and Brown's game is all about speed and the ability to run in space.
With the 23rd pick in Round 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft, the selection of Zach Brown would immediately add athleticism and speed to a position of need.
Stephon Gilmore is a cornerback who would immediately add talent and skill to a position of weakness for the Detroit Lions. If improving their secondary is a first round idea then Gilmore will be the guy.
Gilmore has some things going for him outside of being a corner. Gilmore has great size for a corner at 6"1" and 193 lbs. and he doesn't have a problem stepping up to defend the run. Gilmore also has the ability to return punts and kickoffs.
With the 23rd pick in Round 1 of the 2012 NFL Draft, the selection of Stephon Gilmore would immediately add athleticism and talent to a position desperate for any help it can get.