What Will Happen with These 6 Detroit Lions in Contract Years?
The Detroit Lions head into the 2012 season with almost 20 players who are in the last year (or only year) of their contracts.
There are five players who could cost the Lions a lot of money next year and one who may yet cost them before this season has even started. We'll start with him and move on from there.
There are a couple of ways this can go. First, Avril can cave, sign his tender, take his money, play the season and hope he isn't tagged again so he might find greener pastures.
I put this at 65 percent. Avril wants to get paid but isn't stupid. He knows the money from the tender is good. However, not being stupid also means he realizes that if he gets hurt before he gets paid he may not see much money.
We've seen it before—you could argue that's part of what Matt Forte is dealing with now—so while it's possible, Avril will try to avoid the risk.
The second option, of course, is the team can cave. It can pony up and pay Avril what he wants (or close), get him in camp and move on with the season.
I put this as about 70 percent. The fact is that the Lions don't have a ton of depth at defensive end after Avril and Kyle Vanden Bosch. With the Super Bowl on their minds, can they afford to let it go?
The downside is they have a lot of money that needs to be doled out in the next few years. Spend it now and they will have to sacrifice elsewhere.
The last possibility is Avril sitting out. On the one hand, this keeps him healthy and puts pressure on the team, especially if one of the guys replacing him can't step up. On the other hand, what if Lawrence Jackson or Ronnell Lewis do step up? Avril loses leverage and a year of playing to showcase his talents.
I think this scenario is the most unlikely—maybe 40 percent. Avril and the Lions want a deal—ultimately they'll find one. It won't be for as much as he wants, but it will be a long-term contract with a little more guaranteed money than the team wanted to play.
I foresee Avril having a very solid year if he gets into camp on time. In the end, both parties will end up happy.
Chris Houston—2012: $3 million
Houston is no Darrelle Revis or Charles Woodson, but he's a solid cornerback in a division that tests them. His five interceptions, while no fluke, would have inflated his worth had this been the year he was a free agent.
A player in a contract year with added incentive? Sounds like a good mix.
Houston will definitely be eager to play hard and continue to generate the turnovers he started collecting in 2011. Again, in a division with some gunslingers (and a youngster still learning his trade in Christian Ponder), he'll get plenty of chances.
Part of the key is how Aaron Berry (or whoever ends up at right cornerback) plays and if he can make it so quarterbacks can't afford to just avoid Houston.
Berry needs to step up if Houston is to get his payout.
DeAndre Levy— 2012: signed a one-year, $1.92 million contract; 2013: free agent
Levy signed his tender in April and got into camp on time and in shape. Coming off a career year, he'll have his work cut out for him to prove once and for all that he is worth the deal he'd like to get.
Last year saw Levy switch to weak-side linebacker and he seemed to flourish there, so it looks good for him coming into the season. He's also their best coverage linebacker, making him indispensable in guarding the middle.
If he can stay healthy and hold off guys like rookie Tahir Whitehead, Levy will pose quite a problem for the Lions as they will probably not be able to offer him what some other teams might.
Louis Delmas—2012: $973,250; 2013: free agent
Titus Young's bestie and favorite punching bag isn't making all that much money this year (relatively speaking), especially given that when he was hurt last season the secondary completely fell apart.
He'll once again prove his value this season as the rest of the safeties range from uninspiring or unproven to flat-out mediocre.
Delmas will be healthy this season and will see his numbers creep back up. The Lions might try to sign him early and get him at a bargain rate—it will be interesting to see how both sides find common ground over the course of the season—if they can at all.
Corey Williams—2011-2012: $4.9 million; 2013: free agent
Age seems to be catching up to Williams and his value to the team might hinge on what the guys around him do.
Most important to Williams' future as a Lion could be the play of Nick Fairley. I expect Fairley to have a tremendous season in 2012, but the biggest question is, how much of the season will he see?
We expect Fairley to be suspended for a stretch, but how much is up in the air. Also, the team will probably need to see some real off-field changes from Fairley if it's going to count on him long term over a guy like Williams.
Williams himself needs to stay healthy (normally not an issue) and find a way to pump his numbers back up. In his favor is his role as a team leader; perhaps if he can help guide guys like Fairley to make better decisions on and off the field, he will remain a Lion.
Gosder Cherilus—2012: $2.31 million; 2013: free agent
It looks a bit grim for Cherilus in the long term, although he could end up in any number of roles as a backup with the team.
First he needs to hold off rookie Riley Reiff. Reiff has the tools to be a left tackle in the league, but that just means Jeff Backus might take over at right. It could take Reiff some time, though, so Cherilus might remain at right tackle.
Cherilus is a solid lineman, but nothing really special. A great season will probably not yield a ton of big offers. His best bet is to parlay a great season into a team overpaying him. The more likely scenario is he plays well, gets supplanted anyway and ends up bench depth or at guard by next year.
There are worse fates to be had.
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