5 Players the Detroit Lions Will Miss the Most in 2013
In many ways, the Detroit Lions have already had a successful offseason. They've added a number of players in free agency who will make them a much-improved team in 2013. However, they've also lost a few players whose absence will have a big impact.
Losing talented and well-liked players is never easy—for the franchise or their fans—and the Lions are finding that out firsthand. Their salary cap situation prohibited them from keeping everybody, so difficult decisions had to be made.
There's no guarantee those players will be effectively replaced, either. The Lions will certainly try, but they have some pretty big shoes to fill.
Here are five players the Lions will miss the most in 2013.
5. Justin Durant
Durant is a student of the game.
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Although Durant was a well-liked player in Detroit, no one seems to be losing much sleep over his departure, but perhaps they should.
It's true, no one will ever confuse Justin Durant for a Pro Bowler, but his 171 tackles in two years for the Lions is nothing to scoff at.
He was rock solid and performed at a consistently high level during his time in Detroit.
Unfortunately, he didn't fit into the Lions' tight salary-cap situation. Believe me, if they could have retained him, they would have. Instead, they opted to keep DeAndre Levy, who's an original Mayhew draftee and one year younger.
The Lions are basically gambling that either Ashlee Palmer, Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead is ready to step into the starting lineup.
Last week, Jim Schwartz's comments to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press seemed to signal that Palmer might be the favorite.
With all due respect to Schwartz, Palmer's been a special teams stalwart for two years for a reason. He wasn't better than Levy or Durant, and he's still not.
The Lions' loss will be the Cowboys' gain.
4. Sammie Lee Hill
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Sammie Lee Hill wasn't a marquee name in Detroit—backup defensive tackles never are—but when he entered free agency. he didn't lack for potential suitors.
Financially, the Lions were wise to let him walk. Hill is worth every penny of the deal he got, but the Lions could never pay him that kind of money. If they did, they wouldn't have been able to sign Reggie Bush or Glover Quin.
Their decision makes sense, but that doesn't mean his absence won't be felt. The 6'4", 329-pound Hill was an absolute load in the middle of the field, plugging up running lanes and occasionally harassing the quarterback.
He was an integral part of the Lions' defensive tackle rotation, and without him, their once-deep defensive line looks dangerously thin.
Unless they think Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gong to play every snap, the Lions better find a suitable replacement for Hill.
Unfortunately for them, that will prove to be easier said than done.
3. Gosder Cherilus
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Say what you will about ex-Lion Gosder Cherilus, but he was a damn good player in 2012. In fact, Pro Football Focus ranked him the third-best offensive tackle available in this year's free-agent class.
Despite his propensity for drawing those pesky yellow flags, Cherilus saved his best for his contract year and was rewarded with a big contract by the Indianapolis Colts. The Lions certainly weren't going to pony up that kind of cash for "The Gos," so his departure was inevitable.
Now Detroit has to replace him. They certainly have the warm bodies to do it. Riley Reiff, Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard or a rookie-to-be-drafted-later are all possibilities, but none are proven.
None of them possess the intensity of Cherilus, either. For all of his faults, he had a mean streak and wasn't afraid to mix it up with anyone.
His attitude permeated the Lions' offensive line. Without him, they'll have to find that fire somewhere else.
We know Dominic Raiola has it, but who else?
2. Cliff Avril
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Fan reaction to Cliff Avril's unceremonious departure from Detroit has definitely been mixed.
In one camp, you have a group with a goodbye-and-good-riddance attitude. Those folks bemoan Avril's limitations against the run and his repeated failure to contain the edge.
The other side cites Avril's pass-rushing ability and his 29 sacks the past three years as good reasons the Lions will miss him.
As usual, there is truth to both sides of the argument. Avril was never a complete player in Detroit. He was a strong pass-rusher, but he had weaknesses and defenses were able to exploit him. That's why the Lions were never going to pay him the money he wanted.
Turns out no one else was going to pay him that kind of money, either. He ended up signing with the Seattle Seahawks for less than the Lions offered him last year.
So why didn't Detroit keep him? The damage was already done. Avril made his intentions clear and Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz had moved on. Avril was no longer in their plans, and that's why they didn't call him and wish him luck, as MLive.com reported.
It's like the old saying goes: "You're either with us or against us."
One thing is for sure, even with his limitations, the Lions defense won't be the same unless they can replace his pass rush.
They clearly haven't signed a top-tier DE in free agency. Jason Jones is a nice piece to the puzzle, but there's no indication he can replace Avril's eight to 11 sacks a season.
Some fans believe that Avril benefited from playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, whom opposing defenses double-teamed, which left Avril with only one man to beat. Maybe Jones will benefit similarly.
That's a big maybe, and unless you have a crystal ball or a sports almanac from the future, don't bet on it.
With the loss of Avril, Mayhew must enter the NFL draft looking to add multiple pass-rushers who can contribute immediately. If he succeeds, the Lions will likely improve upon last season.
If not, see you next year—same time, same place.
1. Jeff Backus
Backus fends off the Bears' Julius Peppers.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Since he was drafted in 2001 and anointed the Lions' starting left tackle, Jeff Backus has been one of the most hated Detroit sports figures in history.
Does he deserve it?
Not really. While he was never an All-Pro-caliber player, the Lions could've done far worse than his steady and consistently good style of play the past 12 years.
He made mistakes and he got beat from time to time, but what lineman doesn't? Backus was tough, rarely missed games and was pure class. The Lions will miss him, on and off the field.
Especially because it's unclear who his replacement will be.
As I already stated, the Lions have three tackles on their roster who might replace him—Reiff, Hilliard and Fox—but there's no guarantee any of them will be an upgrade.
The Lions might think Reiff is more suited to play guard or right tackle, Hilliard is unproven, and Fox played exactly zero snaps last year despite being completely healthy for the first time in his career.
One of those guys could take over at left tackle and play well. On the other hand, it's just as likely there will be some growing pains.
If that happens, it won't take long for Lions' fans to long for the days of the unspectacular but reliable Backus.