The Complete Guide to Detroit Lions Free Agency
The Detroit Lions are about to answer a lot of questions that have been on the table for months.
Who will they draft? Who will they keep in free agency? Who will they bring in from other teams? How will they afford these guys?
Free agency begins March 12, and when it does, the Lions will finally start shaping their 2013 team, complete with whatever changes are necessary. It's going to happen fast and furious, and when it's over, the draft will look much, much different.
There has been much discussion about the different aspects of the Lions' offseason, but not all in one place. So here is your all-inclusive free-agency guide, complete with salary cap info, impending free agents and likely targets.
Since this will contain a diverse amount of information on a number of different topics, some of this will be skeletal in terms of details. As such, there will be links to articles with more details where appropriate.
So with that said, let's start by tracking the biggest issue for the Lions this offseason: money.
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That's on a salary cap announced at $123 million, which gives the Lions just over $9 million to work with. That's better than many expected and will go a long way toward giving the Lions some freedom to move in free agency.
Veterans Nate Burleson and Dominic Raiola took pay cuts to help the team, which has much to do with why the Lions have as much leeway as they do. If Matthew Stafford works out a contract extension similar to Calvin Johnson's from last season, it could roughly double the space the Lions have to work with.
For a (slightly outdated) position-by-position breakdown of Lions salary cap figures, check here.
UFAs and RFAs
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What sets the Lions apart from other teams with salary cap issues is the sheer volume of free agents the Lions have to deal with this year.
In addition to a bunch of unrestricted free agents, the Lions have a few restricted free agents and a few exclusive-right free agents. The difference between an ERFA and a RFA is that an ERFA has less than three years of NFL experience and can be retained with a minimum contract.
For an in-depth look at my predictions on each free agent, check here.
RB Kevin Smith
RB Stefan Logan
RB Jerome Harrison
WR Kassim Osgood
TE Will Heller
OT Gosder Cherilus
OT Corey Hilliard
OG Dylan Gandy
DE Cliff Avril
DE Lawrence Jackson
DT Corey Williams
DT Sammie Hill
DT Andre Fluellen
LB Justin Durant
LB DeAndre Levy
CB Chris Houston
CB Jacob Lacey
CB Drayton Florence
CB Pat Lee
S Louis Delmas
K Jason Hanson
P Nick Harris
LS Don Muhlbach
OT Jason Fox
DE Willie Young
S Amari Spievey
RB Joique Bell
FB Shaun Chapas
WR Kris Durham
S Ricardo Silva
Franchise Tag Situation
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The Detroit Lions were not expected to use the franchise tag this offseason, and they didn't.
There were a handful of players that the tag would have made some sense on, but the franchise tag for any player would have meant swallowing up most of the Lions' available cap space.
The Lions didn't think any of their current players was worth that much in a short-term situation, so they didn't use the franchise tag. It seems to indicate that the Lions are comfortable with accepting a certain amount of turnover this year, which is understandable considering their cap restrictions and their recent 4-12 season.
Players Already Signed/Re-Signed
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Palmer signed a two-year contract extension with the Lions back in January that will pay him $1 million in base salary for 2013.
It's an affordable deal for a player who has been incredibly useful on special teams and versatile enough to play in the defense when called upon.
Carey actually started a couple games as a safety in 2012, and given the lack of stability the Lions had in the defensive secondary last season, it seems reasonable that they would give him more opportunity to prove himself.
Carey wasn't a particularly effective defender last season, but he's young, stayed healthy and understands the Lions' scheme. Few other Lions defenders can say the same.
With the Lions' apparent faith in Jason Fox and Riley Reiff, I thought that Corey Hilliard would see his way out of town. Instead, the Lions signed him to a two-year contract extension.
Hilliard has the versatility to play every position on the line other than center, and clearly the Lions saw enough out of him to keep him around. Perhaps he is in the mix for the Lions' starting right guard position.
Johnson seems like exactly the type of player the Lions would take a cost-effective flyer on. He has played in only 17 games over his five-year career, but if the Lions see something worth paying attention to, they''ll keep him.
Chances are he gets cut around the end of August, but there's no harm in the Lions doing diligence here.
Tim Twentyman of detroitlions.com has reported that the Lions have agreed to a new multi-year deal with LB DeAndre Levy.
The Lions and linebacker DeAndre Levy have agreed to terms on a new multi-year contract, according to league sources.
— Tim Twentyman (@ttwentyman) March 6, 2013
It's interesting that the Lions and Levy agreed on a deal basically on the eve of free agency. Either Levy really wanted to stay with the Lions, or they were just really close on his estimated value.
The fact that it's a multi-year deal means the Lions thought of Levy as a high-priority target, and Levy liked the terms of the deal. That will mean a whole lot more when the terms of the deal are disclosed.
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It's actually easier to talk about what isn't a need for the Lions, rather than what is.
The Lions don't need a quarterback, No. 1 wide receiver or starting defensive tackles.
Everything else? Either it's a pressing need, or it's an area where the Lions need depth. The areas in the most need of new blood are probably defensive end, secondary and interior offensive line, but the Lions won't look away from an upgrade in nearly any area.
It's hard to say which positions the Lions will look to upgrade in free agency, and which they'll wait to upgrade in the draft. But it's probably reasonable to expect that the Lions will do as much as they can in free agency, and what they do there will help dictate what they look for in the draft (to some extent).
Since the salary cap is such a huge concern, the Lions will shy away from overpaying for players, even ones that they really want. Their concern is going to be not necessarily the best player, but the best bargain.
In addition, the Lions will be on the lookout for high character guys. With Kyle Vanden Bosch off the team, leadership will be a huge concern for the team moving forward. At the very least, the Lions will need to shy away from potential "me first" free agents.
Offensive FA Targets
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The targets everyone wants to talk about are RB Reggie Bush and OG Andy Levitre.
The Lions should certainly be interested in these players, but so should a bunch of other teams. Bush has been a situational type of player through most of his career. He has posted some solid years in Miami, but it's telling that Miami doesn't care to retain him.
Levitre is one of the most talented free agents in this class, but he plays at one of the least impactful positions. He would fit marvelously into the open starting spot vacated by Stephen Peterman, but it's highly unlikely that the Lions have the resources to sink into arguably the most talented offensive lineman available.
The Lions shouldn't be too interested in retaining their own offensive players this offseason. Gosder Cherilus is the highest-profile UFA, and the Lions have no less than three replacements on the team ready to step in for him.
They may also look to bolster their wide receiver corps with a replacement for Titus Young (this would keep them from needing to spend another draft pick on the position). But considering the cash investment they have in Calvin Johnson or the draft pick investment they have in Ryan Broyles, it's not likely to be a high-profile receiver.
Defensive FA Targets
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Because the Lions have a large number of defensive starters slated for free agency, many of the Lions' targets on defense will likely be returning players.
Louis Delmas, Chris Houston, Cliff Avril, Sammie Hill, Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy all played major roles in the Lions' defense in 2012, but none have been re-signed as of yet. This isn't for a lack of interest from the Lions, but it's a good sign that these players' contract expectations are higher than what the Lions are interested in paying.
Most likely, the Lions will unleash their horde of free agents on the open market and hope that they don't find the deals they're seeking. It's one thing if the Lions won't pay the asking price. It's another thing entirely if nobody else will pay it, either.
Problem is, some teams will pay the asking prices of these free agents, which is why the Lions need to be prepared to lose some targets this year. Avril is one player who will likely find his fortune elsewhere, as well as either Durant or Levy.
Should that happen, one thing the Lions will target in free agency is affordable replacements for the starters they've lost.
The Lions have young players on the roster in linebacker that could step into larger roles in the defense. They don't have many of those in the secondary or at defensive end, so those are the positions they would appear most likely to seek players for in free agency.
Special Teams FA Targets
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The Lions have two very easy decisions to make this offseason: re-sign living legend Jason Hanson and Pro Bowl long-snapper Don Muhlbach.
When it comes to punting, however, things get a little more complicated. Nick Harris was not good last season, and the Lions should be more than ready to move on from him (they already did once).
The question is, will the Lions look for a free agent or a draft pick to fill the gap?
There is no question about Muhlbach and Hanson. Muhlbach just had his best season, and Hanson will be a Lion until the day he decides to quit playing.
Harris might have a difficult time finding work next season, not just with the Lions, but with any team. There's no doubt the Lions need a replacement, but with guys like Shane Lechler and Brian Moorman headlining the market, the Lions may not mind waiting to take a flier on the biggest college leg they can find.