2011 NFL Offseason: How Martin Mayhew Can Take The Detroit Lions To the Playoffs
For the first time in a long time, the Detroit Lions head into the offseason feeling pretty good about their future. After finishing out the season on a four game winning streak, players are genuinely excited about the improvement the team has made since firing Matt Millen. Just two years removed from the historically terrible 0-16 season, the Lions are back to a respectable 6-10 (actually 7-9 if you count week 1 in Chicago).
After a decade of embarrassment, the Lions finally look like an actual NFL team. Not only did they triple their win total from last season, they were competitive in all of their games this year. And unlike the 2008 7-9 season, this Lions team has the talent to back it up.
Lions fans are already giddy about the possibilities of 2011, and with good reason. The Detroit Lions have a young core group of talented players in Suh, Levy, Best, Stafford, Johnson, Delmas, and Pettigrew, among others. The Lions will look to build around these guys, and with the right additions they can be a legitimate contender for a long time.
Now, before we start, I want to say that there is no guarantee the Lions will continue to improve next season. After all, we have season the incredible ways this team can self-destruct. However, I do think this regime understands what it takes to be successful in the NFL and is heading in the right direction.
Here is my plan for the 2011 NFL offseason:
Re-Sign Key Players With Expiring Contracts
- Cliff Avril - Avril had a breakout year in 2010, along with the rest of the defensive line. Although he was overshadowed a bit by DT Ndamukong Suh, Cliff was nothing to sneeze at, putting up 8.5 sacks and 43 tackles. Avril is a young player that will be a fixture in this defense, and luckily for the Lions, he has publicly stated he would like to return next year.
- Chris Houston - While not a flashy player, Houston was a solid corner in a position that has traditionally been a weakness in Detroit. Unlike Avril, however, Houston has said that he is interested to see what free agency has to offer. The Lions need to make a push to sign the free agent cornerback in my opinion, as it would be one less hole to fill on the defense.
- Stefan Logan - Number 11 is another young player who had a breakout season this year. Not only was he fourth in the league in both kickoff and punt returns, Logan brought a surge of energy to the offense. Logan seems actually excited to be playing for the Lions, and I think they should not have to much trouble re-signing him.
Luckily for the Lions, most of their talent is still locked up for a couple of years. The organization will have a big contract to work on with Calvin Johnson in two years, but they will cross that bridge when they get to it. There are a few players that they need to make sure they bring back though:
Other players to re-sign: Corey Hilliard (OT), Bobby Carpenter (LB), Turk McBride (DE), Drew Stanton (QB)
Cuts: Julian Peterson (LB), Bryant Johnson (WR), Aaron Brown (RB), Derrick Williams (WR)
Give Levy Some Help at Linebacker
Last year, the Detroit Lions made a big splash in free agency. Head coach Jim Schwartz sat in DE Kyle Vanden Bosch's driveway until free agency officially started at midnight, and I expect him to be in the driveway of Tennessee linebacker Stephen Tulloch come the start of free agency in 2011. Schwartz has connections to Tulloch from his time in Tennessee and already knows that he would be a good fit in the Lions defense. Tulloch has already said that he is ready to leave the Titans, so he has a good chance of becoming a Lion.
A couple of other linebackers the Lions will look at are David Harris (NYJ), Chad Greenway (MIN), and Paul Posluszny (BUF). All three linebackers are very good players and could come in and make a positive impact on this defense. However, these guys will all command big money and will be highly sought after.
Depending on what happens in free agency, the Lions will likely also look to the draft to address the linebacker position. Detroit will likely use their first or second round draft pick to give Levy some help. Expect the Lions to target guys like Akeem Ayers and Von Miller in the first round or Bruce Carter and Greg Jones in the second.
Fix the Defensive Backfield
Well, I'd love to be able to sit here and tell you the Lions would have a chance to draft CB Patrick Peterson out of LSU. About a month ago, it seemed destined to happen. However, the Lions recent winning streak likely put them out of the running for both Peterson and Nebraska corner Prince Amakumara. I would be thrilled if they could put a deal together to move down in the draft to get one of them, but it seems pretty unlikely at the moment.
In any case, the Lions will likely use either their first or second round pick on a cornerback. Brandon Harris from Miami seems like a solid choice at #13 overall, as does Janoris Jenkins from Florida. Should they choose to go after a corner in the second round, keep your eye on Jimmy Smith from Colorado or Aaron Williams from Texas. In the later rounds they may choose to pick up another corner or safety for depth.
Like I said earlier, the Lions need to push hard to re-sign Chris Houston. If they do lose him though, Richard Marshall from Carolina and Jonathon Joseph from Cincinnati are possible replacements. Either way, the Lions seem committed to fixing this defense and I think they will make cornerback a priority.
Solidify the Offensive Line
For years, Lions fans have been begging the front office to focus on building the offensive line. Towards the end of the season, the line seemed to come together. The team put up over 100 yards rushing 3 times in the past 5 games, and despite the abnormally high number of quarterback injuries, they did a good job in the passing game as well. Despite their recent success, Jeff Backus (OT), Stephen Peterman (OG), and Dominic Raiola (C) are not part of the long-term future of this team.
Logan Mankins (OG) from New England and Tyson Clabo (OT) from Atlanta lead the free agent class among O--lineman in 2011. Unfortunately, high-end offensive lineman are going to attract a lot of attention in free agency and will require a large financial investment, which is why teams generally try to build the line in the draft instead.
I don't believe that Lions would use a first or second round pick on an offensive lineman unless a clear choice emerges between now and April. The Lions will be in a good position to pick a guy like John Moffitt (OG) out of Wisconsin with their third round pick. Moffitt could compete with Peterman for the starting right guard spot, and at the very least would provide solid depth on the line. In the fourth a player like Jake Kirkpatrick (C) would provide competition for Raiola in 2011. Joseph Barksdale (OT) is a player with nice potential to look at in the fourth or fifth as well.
Bring In a Few Complimentary Skill Players
This is one of the areas the Lions are not terribly worried about. Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson are very good receivers. Jahvid Best is explosive out of the backfield and Brandon Pettigrew is one of the best tight ends in the league. And Matthew Stafford, despite the injuries, has the tools necessary to become an impressive NFL quarterback if he can stay on the field.
All of that being said, the addition of a few role players could go a long way for this team. One such player would be a big, powerful running back to compliment Best. Free agents Michael Bush from Oakland and Le'Ron McClain out of Baltimore would be guys I would look to bring in for that role.
Another addition needed is a number 3 receiver behind Johnson and Burleson. Jacoby Jones from Houston would be a solid pickup, as would a player like Titus Young out of Boise State with the fourth round pick.
My Offseason Plan
If I were Martin Mayhew, this is what my offseason would look like. I'm trying to stay realistic, so not everything is perfect and I would even like them to exceed my expectations if possible.
- Cliff Avril - DE
- Chris Houston - CB
- Stephan Logan - PR/KR/WR/RB
- Stephen Tulloch - LB
- Michael Bush - RB
1.) Brandon Harris - CB (Miami)
2.) Greg Jones - LB (MSU)
3.) John Moffitt - OG (Wisconsin)
4.) Titus Young - WR (Boise St.)
5.) Joseph Barksdale - OT (LSU)
6.) Eric Hagg - SS (Nebraska)
By adding two starting linebackers, a starting corners, and two or three role players the Lions will be in good shape for the 2011 season and a playoff run. Hopefully Mayhew and co. can keep this team on the right track.