To say the 2012 season was a complete disaster for the Lions might be overstating the case, but it sure as heck wasn't very good.
Dropping from a 10-win season to a 12-loss season is quite the precipitous drop and a clear sign something went wrong.
The Lions may not have been as good as they were in 2011, but they are not as bad as they appeared this past season either.
However, there is clearly a lot of work to do—and the Lions face some huge problems in turning the ship around in 2013.
Let's take a look at what they face.
This is, without a doubt, the biggest need I see for the Lions to fill. Chris Houston is an Unrestricted Free Agent as is Louis Delmas, and Bill Bentley had injury problems—this position is a giant question mark going into 2013.
Even if they manage to bring both Delmas and Houston back, and Bentley stays healthy, it's not enough. This division (and conference) throws the ball too much for a defense to only have pieces of a secondary.
If they lose Houston, they need to look at corners first. If they lose Delmas and keep Houston, the opposite will be true—though Delmas in general needs replacing.
Either way, the Lions have to do something with the secondary. It was far too great a problem this past season.
While the Lions will have Mikel Leshoure and (in all likelihood) Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) Joique Bell, they could use a true home-run back to help the offense.
While it's true that Bell did pretty well in his role in the shared backfield, his upside is somewhat limited; and while Leshoure broke off a few big runs, he's not a big play waiting to happen.
The Lions could use a dynamic playmaker out of the backfield—someone who is a threat both running the ball as well as catching it out of the backfield.
Given the cap situation we'll talk about down below, more than likely they will need to target someone in the upcoming draft.
They've got the interior of the defensive line pretty well locked down with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. Now, it's time to take advantage of that interior pressure with some better outside players.
Kyle Vanden Bosch has been pretty effective, but is getting old. Cliff Avril will probably want too much money to be brought back, and Ronnell Lewis is a bit too raw to depend upon just yet.
Willie Young will probably be back (he's a Restricted Free Agent) but aside from that chance, there isn't a lot left at the end spot.
It's time for the Lions to build up the exterior line and get themselves some good defensive ends to pressure the quarterback.
Against all sanity, here we are again. We hope Ryan Broyles can stay healthy in 2013 and that Nate Burleson can come back 100 percent as well. However, Titus Young is all but out the door and after those three players, who is there?
Calvin Johnson cannot do it all himself. Well, clearly he can, but it doesn't win ball games. He needs help, as does Matt Stafford.
There is far too much uncertainty at the position for a team whose offense is largely predicated on throwing the ball. They need to find stable, hardworking receivers who can step in quickly and help move the chains and take advantage of all the attention Johnson gets.
How early they should look at receivers is up for debate. However, they're going to have to look earlier than perhaps they'd like if they want to make sure they have the weapons they need.
This free agency list is so massive, I split it into several charts.
Detroit has 31 free agents of varying stripes. Four (Joique Bell, Shaun Chapas, Kris Durham and Ricardo Silva) are ERFA which means that the Lions are the only team who can sign them, and they can get offered the league minimum by the team, and either take it or not play in 2013.
Of them, I'd say only Bell is a real priority to bring back, especially since he is cheap.
The Lions also have three Restricted Free Agents (RFA) who they can match or get compensation for. Willie Young is the guy I would most target there given how hard it might be to bring Avril back. I could see Spievey returning if the price was right—which it could be given his injury issues this season.
Let's also figure that given he was on Injured Reserve for concussion issues, that the Lions might be a bit gun-shy about him after the way things went with Jahvid Best.
There are a ton of Unrestricted Free Agents though, and that is where some awfully hard choices will have to be made.
As I mentioned above, Houston is probably one of the bigger targets for the team to keep; Delmas is perhaps not far behind. Jerome Harrison is gone (he's still trying to recover from a brain tumor), and I would imagine Stefan Logan played his way out of Detroit this past season.
It gets murkier after that. Do they try to retain Cliff Avril? My guess is no, but never say never. Gosder Cherilus, while not a phenomenal tackle, has been very good and is coming off a great season (Pro Football Focus has him rated as the seventh-best tackle, tied with the New York Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson—subscriber link).
There are a ton of teams in need of tackles—Cherilus could see more money than the Lions can match.
Do they try to bring Lawrence Jackson back at a price? What about DeAndre Levy? Is it worth hanging onto Corey Williams?
They've got a lot of questions when it comes to their own free agent.
And not much room for mistakes.
Assuming Professor John "Slayer" Clayton is correct on his cap numbers, as it stands, the outlook for the Lions is really grim.
As it stands, the Lions are $1.1 million over the cap. Of course, that changes once the free agents "release" in a few days, but even all those players won't amount to a staggering amount of space.
Part of a solution could come from (it seems right now) the inevitable release of Titus Young. His cap hit for 2013 is just over $1 million which would just about bring the team even.
That's only about half the battle though as getting even with the cap won't help you sign players. The team has already talked about reworking Matt Stafford's contract (his cap hit is $21 million), and I would imagine they might talk to Johnson as well (cap hit of $12.2 million) though as he just signed the thing, he might not be open to it.
Vanden Bosch could be a cap casualty or see his contract restructured as well as he costs about $10 million against the cap—a huge hit which doesn't match up with his age or production.
GM Marty Mayhew has his work cut out for him and has likely stocked up on some red-ink pens and liquid paper.
There's a lot of work to do to get this team back into shape and some hard decisions in just about every facet of the franchise.
It all starts with figuring out a difficult cap situation.
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