There isn't much difference between a 6-10 and 10-6 team.
Injuries and the salary cap even the playing field so teams with a smart front office and an adaptable coaching staff can rebound quickly. Yes, even the Detroit Lions.
The roster has a great foundation, and with only three moves, the Lions could engineer a quick turnaround from a lost season.
Clear Out More Cap Space
By this point, you've probably figured out that the three moves are more like three directions that require multiple steps to complete. I apologize and am sorry for hurting you, but you need to let it go. There's work to do.
Detroit boasts $20.5 million in cap space, per Spotrac. There's little fat to the number, as the team is carrying only $360,294 in dead money, although that number needs to be raised slightly.
Linebacker Stephen Tulloch's $7.3 million cap hit doesn't work. His talents against the run game remain, but his coverage skills have deteriorated to the point where other teams target him with delight instead of trying to move the ball on the ground.
His contract only has $1.3 million in dead money left, making this an easy decision to clear up $6 million quickly.
Offensive tackle Riley Reiff offers even more relief. His $8 million cap hit comes with no dead money. Both of these moves would instantly raise the Lions' workable capital to $34.5 million. And that is enough to swallow up wideout Calvin Johnson's $24 million cap hit if the Lions cannot strike a more appealing deal with him.
Sign Veteran Offensive Line Help
While the Lions should target both lines in this year's draft, the offensive line needs an immediate upgrade. That's why clearing the above $14 million is so crucial.
Russell Okung will be a hot name because of the Seattle Seahawks' sustained offensive success. He struggled early in the season along with the rest of his offensive line, but he's bounced back to only allow 10 quarterback hurries in his last seven games.
He hasn't put together a season of consistency anywhere near that of the Buffalo Bills' Cordy Glenn, however, whose agent will be busy this offseason. The left tackle has only allowed 23 pressures on the season to pair with his solid run-blocking ability. The San Diego Chargers' Joe Barksdale would also be a better option than Okung.
Plus, the Lions could try to bring back Reiff on a smaller contract. He's an average offensive tackle who can compete for a starting job and provide solid depth at a position that was hit hard the past two years.
Replace the Middle of the Defense
With the offense ready to roll, the new general manager must turn his attention to the other side of the ball.
His first order of business will be securing a couple of defensive tackles. Haloti Ngata and Tyrunn Walker are both options, but the latter might not be interested in returning if the scheme doesn't fit him anymore. The former can be an asset in any defense, and he's been on his game for the last two months now.
The Lions can count on Tahir Whitehead to hold down the middle on the second level. He's set to be a free agent, however, and should draw interest from the smarter teams. The draft also has enticing options, with Alabama's Reggie Ragland and Notre Dame's Jaylon Smith leading the way.
Lastly, James Ihedigbo's expiring contract means his time in Detroit is done. His play hasn't been able to reach the highs he enjoyed during most of the 2014 season, and the benchings have come too often. Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus will prove to be an intriguing option in a weak market. If the Lions opt against re-signing Abdul-Quddus, perhaps Jayron Kearse from Clemson will be there in the second round.
Detroit will assuredly have to make other moves, like finding a defensive end or two and better coverage linebackers. Yet the road back to the playoffs isn't a particularly long one, and these few turns can get the Lions moving in the right direction.