The Detroit Lions' season is in shambles. Their playoff hopes were all but dashed by the Green Bay Packers and their schedule is downright nasty the rest of the way. Perhaps now is a good time to look ahead to the offseason—a time when all their problems can be solved.
What do the Lions need to do to take the next step? After a successful 2011 campaign, many people thought they had already done it.
They made the playoffs and were returning basically the same team. Hopes were pinned on the continued dominance of their offense.
Despite gaudy passing numbers, that hasn't happened.
So, it's back to the drawing board for Lions' GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz. They won't blow the team up. There's too much talent for that. However, changes need to be made. They are clearly going in the wrong direction.
Here's the blueprint for offseason moves the Lions need to make to return to the playoffs in 2013.
The Lions will lock up Stafford this offseason.
After the final whistle of the final game of the season, the Lions should start writing up Matthew Stafford's new dea—lif they haven't started already.
That's because everything they need to do hinges on the financial freedom that a new deal will bring. He's due $20 million next year and that would cripple the Lions' ability to re-sign current players and add new ones.
That's a hefty price tag for sure.
Especially since Stafford's 2012 season hasn't lived up to the standards he set in 2011. Let's face it, he's been off all year.
However he is a franchise quarterback who's only 24 and who's best years are still head of him.
That's scary considering he already threw for over 5,000 yards.
The Lions clearly need to keep Stafford in the fold, but they need to be smart about it. They'll backload his deal so that the bulk of the money is deferred to later years—like they did with Calvin Johnson's contract (Spotrac).
That will reduce Stafford's salary cap hit and give the Lions the room they need retain and sign players in 2013.
At this point in the season, the Lions' punting game might seem like the least of their worries, but make no mistake that something needs to be done about it.
Nick Harris has been dismal. He's a shadow of his former self.
Never was that fact more evident than during the fourth quarter of the Packers game. Harris could've helped the Lions' cause, but he instead booted a 36-yarder. The Packers got the ball at the Lions' 44-yard line and had a great chance to score.
Mason Crosby missed the field goal, which let Harris off the hook, but that kind of effort from the Lions' veteran has been the norm this season.
He's dead last in the NFL in average yards per punt (41.1) and he only has nine punts inside the 20-yard line.
He will be waived at the end of the year and someone else will take his place. The Lions need to bring in some young legs to re-energize the punting game and give their defense a break.
Perhaps Ryan Donahue will get a second chance.
Ricardo Silva (39) needs help.
The secondary is the favorite whipping boy of many a Lions' fan. Last year that unit fell apart at the end of the year and their inadequacies were directly responsible for the Lions' final two losses of the season.
In the offseason, Martin Mayhew drafted three cornerbacks and added another via free agency. As a result, the outlook was good for 2012.
Then the injuries started and forced the Lions into plugging their secondary holes with no-names and cast-offs.
Funny thing is, the fill-ins have performed well.
The Green Bay game is the perfect example. They held Aaron Rodgers to 236 yards passing and picked him off once.
They've been having performances like that all year, but that doesn't mean Detroit shouldn't seek an upgrade—particularly at safety.
The Lions have solid, if not spectacular performers at cornerback. They also have rookies Bill Bentley and Chris Greenwood that have been injured all season and will get an opportunity next year.
It's the safety position that is a bigger priority. Louis Delmas might be the MVP of the defense, but he can't stay healthy. Neither can Amari Spievey, who has battled concussion issues all year.
Erik Coleman is just plain old.
Ricardo Silva is the most reliable but was on the Lions' practice squad a couple weeks ago.
Obviously the Lions have a need and there are two ways Mayhew can address it—through the draft or free agency. If it's the draft, he could target players like Shawn Williams from Georgia or Devonte Holloman from South Carolina.
If it's free agency, he'll likely sign an under-the-radar type—like he did with Jacob Lacey.
Either way, the safety position must be a priority in 2013 and the Lions will add one or two players to stabilize the position.
Linehan needs to stay.
The Lions' offense is underperforming and everyone wants to get themselves a piece of Scott Linehan. He's public enemy No. 1 and is the cause of all the Lions' problems.
He might also be responsible for Superstorm Sandy and pop group One Direction, two utter disasters that we've hopefully heard the last from.
Obviously Linehan is not the root of all evil, but he is the man calling the offensive plays for the Lions, and over the last two games—two they absolutely needed to win—the offense has looked awful.
It's understandable that he would take some heat for that.
What's not understandable is how Linehan's job could be in jeopardy. He isn't the problem. He's calling the same plays he did last year and he's not responsible for Matthew Stafford's inaccurate throws or his receivers' hands of stone.
As Kevin Siefert of ESPN's NFC North Blog reports:
"...we should note that he and his staff run one of the NFL's top quarterback programs. Every starter Linehan has coached had the best season of their careers under him. That list includes Daunte Culpeper (4,717 yards, 39 touchdowns in 2004), Gus Frerotte (2,996 yards, 18 touchdowns in 2005), Marc Bulger (4,301 yards, 24 touchdowns in 2006) and Stafford (5,038 yards, 41 touchdowns in 2011). Linehan would have job offers before leaving the Lions facility. It's a tough business, but there is as much respect for Linehan around the NFL as there is for anyone on the Lions' staff."
Firing Linehan is not the answer. In fact, bringing in a new offensive coordinator would probably set the Lions' offense back even further. Learning a new offense is a huge adjustment and it would take most of the year for everyone to get on the same page.
Besides, making a coordinator the sacrificial lamb is a move the "old" Lions would make. This team's problems rest on the soldiers of underperforming players and no one should give them a pass.
Not Stafford, not Johnson and certainly not Titus Young or Brandon Pettigrew.
Blaming Linehan simply gives players reason not to take responsibility. Haven't we seen enough of that on this team already?
Titus Young's days in Detroit could be numbered.
A year ago the title of this slide would have been considered blasphemy. However, that was when the Lions were winning games in miraculous fashion.
These days they're losing games and their pass-first offense is to blame.
Actually, the problems that plagued the Lions this year were also very much present last year. The only difference is that Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford haven't been on-field magicians quite as often.
That fact has revealed their offense for what it is: inconsistent and lacking of a true No. 2 scoring threat.
They'll try and find one this offseason, though.
Nate Burleson is likely done in Detroit. He's due $4.5 million next year and is 32 years old (rotoworld.com). The Lions will likely opt to save the cap space and roll with Titus Young and Ryan Broyles.
On second thought, maybe just Broyles. After this week's shenanigans, Young is teetering on the brink of extinction with the Lions (Mlive.com). He's fallen so far he's not even allowed back in Jim Schwartz's doghouse and it would surprise no one if they decide to cut him loose at the end of the season.
At times he's looked like a complimentary threat to Calvin Johnson, but more often he's either uninvolved in the offense or benched for his mistakes.
It's no surprise that Martin Mayhew has been stockpiling receivers. The Mike Thomas and Brian Robiskie signings earlier this month clearly indicate the Lions are preparing to go in a different direction.
They need some new blood in the receiving corp. They need someone who can consistently compliment Johnson, whether it's Broyles, Thomas, Robiskie or draftees like Cal's Keenan Allen or Marshall's Aaron Dobson.
Rest assured, their will be new faces for Stafford to throw to in 2013.