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There aren't many attractive names the Lions should entertain in free agency. One player who might be worth pursuing this offseason is defensive end Michael Johnson, the 6'7" Cincinnati Bengal who finished 2012 with 11.5 sacks. His price of departure could be too expensive for the Lions' pocketbook, however.
Even if there were impressive free agents on the market, the Lions won't succeed this offseason, overspending in bidding wars. Franchises progress through the draft, not free agency. Ask the Philadelphia Eagles "Dream Team" for proof.
That brings the free-agent listing back to Detroit where there are 27 players in search of a contract next season. The most significant names on that list are safety Louis Delmas, defensive end Cliff Avril, cornerback Chris Houston and starting linebackers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant.
Delmas and Houston are two of the best playmakers on Detroit's roster. However, Delmas' health is the ultimate factor in his option of returning to the Lions. Detroit plays at a higher motor and can take more gambles with Delmas in the lineup. Delmas is a prime candidate for the franchise tag, but the Lions have already stated they don't plan to use it.
Houston should get plenty of other offers around the league, but the Lions can't afford to let him go. He's not a shutdown cornerback, but Houston has picked off eight passes in three seasons with the Lions. In Atlanta, Houston only totaled three interceptions in three seasons as a Falcon.
With the low amount of depth at cornerback, the Lions need Houston back. Detroit can't afford to begin the season with Bill Bentley as their No. 1 cornerback.
Avril will still be in search of a long-term contract. However, I think now is a good time for the Lions and Avril to part ways. Detroit can upgrade at left defensive end, and Avril can chase his contract elsewhere with a different team.
Durant has expressed his interest to stay in Detroit, but he and/or Levy could be playing in different uniforms next season. Durant had a career-high 82 tackles this season, but wasn't much of a playmaker at linebacker. He and Levy always wound up making the right tackle after allowing the opposition to make a catch or advance upfield.
The Lions are better off saving money and allowing their young linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis to take over instead of bringing back Levy and Durant.