Detroit Lions: Building a 2013 Free Agent Shopping List Around Projected Cap

Eric Vincent@@IAmEricVincentCorrespondent INovember 20, 2012

Detroit Lions: Building a 2013 Free Agent Shopping List Around Projected Cap

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    The Detroit Lions will find themselves in a tough spot once the offseason begins. Help is needed at many positions on the roster, especially with 20 free agents scheduled to hit free agency for the Lions in 2013. 

    The NFL salary cap is set at around $120 million, and the Lions are only 2.5 million under. Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford fill up around $50 million which puts Detroit in quite a hole financially. 

    Looking at the Lions free agents next season, most of them are on the defensive side of the ball, including injury prone safety Louis Delmas. After signing many defensive players to short-term deals, general manager Martin Mayhew will have difficult decisions to make with his pocketbook.

    Detroit will do the majority of their spending with their own free agents instead of others around the league. Here are the likely options with the Lions' 2013 free agency. 

1. Let Cliff Avril Walk

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    Another round of Cliff Avril vs. the Detroit Lions is set for this offseason. Avril held out until August in hopes of a long-term extension. He ended up signing the franchise tender, but will again be looking for big money. The Lions reportedly offered Avril a three-year deal, but both sides didn't agree on the deal.

    There is plenty of upside for Avril as a pass rusher, and he makes the Lions better. But at this rate, he's expendable and Detroit can move on without him.

    The Lions aren't in much of a position to overpay Avril. He's demanding too high of a price, and his stats have been commonly questioned as a product of his surroundings. Ndamukong Suh and the other defensive tackles take plenty of double teams which creates one-on-one opportunities for Avril.

    He's on pace for double-digit sacks again this year already racking up 5.5 this season. However, the Lions have hope in store for Willie Young and rookie Ronnell Lewis. Also with Kyle Vanden Bosch aging quickly, it's not out of the question to draft or sign an edge rusher to the team.

2. Extend Chris Houston

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    The revolving door known as the Lions secondary has been in heavy rotation all season. Whether it be poor play or injuries, Detroit has shuffled in a high number of cornerbacks.

    Even with the struggles and injuries, the Lions have had a consistent presence in Chris Houston. He's arguably playing at the peak of his career since being traded from the Atlanta Falcons. Houston has 37 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception this season.

    Houston stands out among a group of average cornerbacks. He has always been fast enough to run step-by-step with receivers. But after learning to locate the ball and studying film, he's become one of the NFL's most underrated cornerbacks, and is deserving of a new contract.

    The Lions should watch their pay scale with Houston, but should be smart enough to bring him back. The Lions have seen strides from Jonte Green, but he still struggles on occasion. Bill Bentley has been in and out of the lineup with concussions and shoulder injuries. And the Lions have still yet to see Chris Greenwood on the field after being placed on the PUP list for the rest of the season.

    Detroit more than likely won't get involved in a bidding war for the high-priced cornerbacks like Brent Grimes, so Houston could be affordable. If Detroit wants to stabilize their secondary long-term, Houston is a good piece to start with.

3. Franchise Tag Louis Delmas

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    Another vital defensive piece could possibly be on the move from Detroit. Safety Louis Delmas' absence has been the biggest loss for the Lions. Delmas' leadership, playmaking and energy make him the most valuable piece to this defense.

    After missing the first five weeks because of knee surgery, Delmas possibly played the best game of his career against the Philadelphia Eagles. Detroit showed their potential with Delmas recording seven key solo tackles and an interception.

    Delmas re-injured his knee against the Seattle Seahawks, currently leaving him on the sideline with no set date to return.

    Talent-wise, Delmas has elite capabilities and makes the Lions a much better team. However, being on the sideline injured hurts his hopes of a long-term deal, making the franchise tag a perfect scenario. Delmas would make around $6 million if he signs the tender. 

    The one-year trial run deal is a perfect way for Delmas to show what Detroit would be getting into for the future. Delmas has shown when he's healthy, he's effective. If he can stay healthy for a full year, he'll help take the Lions defense to the next step.

    To make life easier for Delmas and the Lions secondary, Detroit should look at another safety this offseason. LSU safety Eric Reid and USC's T.J. McDonald are some of the big name players expected to come out of the draft in 2013. They would relieve pressure and heavy responsibilities from Delmas and create a formidable tandem. 

4. Linebackers Could Leave

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    Since joining together last season, the Lions linebacker core of Stephen Tulloch, DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant have formed a solid trio. Tulloch signed a long-term extension this offseason, and now Levy and Durant are playing hungry for their own contracts.

    Durant is leading the Lions in tackles with 72, and Levy has taken big strides after moving to weak-side linebacker last year. Detroit would be wise to keep this core together. But based on Levy and Durant's performance this season, teams could spend big for either. 

    It's possible the Lions could hang on to one player and lose the other. Durant more than likely would be the one out the door being two years older than Levy. 

    Detroit also has lots of hope in rookies Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead. Both rookies are signed through 2015 and drew high praise during the offseason. To save money and see if their investments pay off, the Lions could let the veterans walk and let the young backers take over.