Everyone knows the Lions' defense is predicated on the pass rush. So it's not surprising that they have so much invested in their front four. Two first-round picks and three highly-paid veterans make up the core.
In 2013 the Lions will have to decide how much more to invest in two of those players: Cliff Avril and Corey Williams.
It will be Round 2 for Avril and the Lions. Their contract negotiations drew a lot of attention last year, but they were never able to come to an agreement on the long-term deal Avril sought. He held out and the Lions franchised him for $10.6 million.
The Lions are a better team with Avril on the field, yet they've obviously set a limit on how much they're willing to pay him. He won't ask for less money, and the Lions likely won't offer more. So another stalemate is very possible in 2013.
If they opt to give him the franchise tag again they'll be on the hook to pay him 20 percent more than his current salary, which comes out to $12.7 million.
Detroit needs to also think about Kyle Vanden Bosch. He's older than Avril and he'll be a free agent in 2014. If re-signing KVB isn't a priority—and it shouldn't be—then the Lions would have a better chance of getting Avril's deal done with the cap space created by his departure.
Giving Avril the franchise tag, for the second year in a row, is the best way to get them to that point. They risk doing permanent damage to their relationship with him though. Another one-year deal is the last thing he wants.
Williams' value to Detroit is not as high. He's a very good defensive lineman, and particularly tough against the run, but when the Lions drafted Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley in consecutive first rounds, Williams had to know his days were numbered.
There's only so much money they can pour into the defensive line.
He'll be entering his tenth year in 2013 and with cap space limited, the Lions shouldn't throw more money at him.
There was speculation that Williams would be a cap casualty last offseason (per MLive) but the Lions figured out a way to keep him and re-sign all their key guys. Next year will be a different story. There are too many other priorities. Williams will want a new deal for more money and Detroit doesn't have the ability to pay.
They'll also need to consider Willie Young, Sammie Lee Hill and Lawrence Jackson. All are free agents in 2013 and all add valuable depth. The Lions should be able to retain them since their salaries represent very small cap hits and they won't require big paydays to stay.