There are five difficult personnel decisions the Detroit Lions must face before the 2012 season begins.
The brain trust troika of Martin Mayhew, Tom Lewand and Jim Schwartz will pour over game tape, crunch the fiscal numbers and negotiate with the Jerry Maguires of the NFL to try and improve on the results from this season.
What these three men have been able to accomplish in a relatively short period of time is, in a word, impressive.
From the historically worst season the NFL had ever seen, amassing a perfect sixteen losses in sixteen attempts, this franchise now can be a bit more selective with who and where their financial assets lay.
Let’s take a look at five current players that the Lions will have to decide if they are sponge worthy, or at least deserving of a new contract.
Welcome aboard Gunther!
I had thought for a while that Eric Wright was the best corner on this team; apparently now so does Cunningham. Wright’s matchup against Steve Smith on Sunday shows the confidence Gunther has in the 26-year-old Runnin’ Rebel.
Wright and Smith were exclusive like a fraternal pinning of a sorority sweetheart. Wright held his own against Smith allowing only five catches for 41 yards and a score.
Wright had turned down bigger money to come to Detroit and it could show the maturing of a once highly coveted cover corner. The Lions should not have to overpay for Wright’s services but he obviously doesn’t want to be disrespected with a pedestrian contract; he'll help himself tremendously with good showings against the Packers and Saints.
The man calling the defensive signals has played well this year behind a dominate front-four. He’s second on the team in tackles with 65 and his free agent one-year deal of $3.25 million will be a drop in the bucket compared to the long-term deal the 26-year-old is looking for.
The Lions want him back in the fold but at what cost? This will probably be toughest signing for the Lions.
The big fella’s family has no worries about gifts under the tree this year. He’ll make $5.45 million this year plus a $1 million roster bonus, but what about next year?
Yes, Jeff will be a free agent and dependent upon what the Lions do in the draft, we could see No.76 back in the team program next season.
Two weeks ago the Lions placed Jason Fox on the IR with another knee injury that will need surgery. Now he’ll have two bum knees and he’s supposed to slide into the most important spot on the line?
Not likely, if the Lions cannot grab a blue chip left tackle in the draft, look for Backus to sign a one or two-year deal and continue to take abuse from Detroit fans.
Behind only Lions quarterback and Red Wings goalie, there probably is not a tougher position to play in the D than left tackle and Backus has done it without missing a game for 11 seasons, pretty impressive.
The most beloved position in Detroit is held by Shaun Hill, but his contract ends at the end of this season.
He has been the ultimate security blanket for this team; filling in admirably as Stafford dealt with knee and shoulder injuries the past two seasons. Now that Stafford has shown he can play through the everyday NFL pain, Shaun has to ask himself, “Should I stay or should I go?”
The clash of perspectives for Hill is if he stays, he’s part of an up and coming organization that may get a look at some Super Bowl jewelry sooner rather than later.
On the other hand, Hill may want to be a starter, or at least get a shot at starting, with a rebuilding team. Tough call, but he has cult love in Detroit and his body is healthy.
Gary Kubiak enjoyed life behind Elway, we’ll have to see if Shaun feels the same.
The once sparse tailback position looks to be crowded heading into the 2012 campaign.
Jahvid Best should be back, along with Mikel Leshoure and Maurice Morris is the cockroach of the bunch that always seems to make it through final cuts.
What does that mean for Smith? Well, if he keeps running like he did on Sunday, he’ll have no worries, but that was the second worst defense against the run and best team to grab some running back fantasy points against.
Kevin looks fresh and his work ethic and dedication will make him a tough cut if he stays healthy. The last six games will go a long way in determining Kevin Smith’s status for next year.
We'll have to wait and see who gets shown the money, but these five should be tough decisions for the Lions.