NEWS

Tim Twentyman: Where the Detroit Lions roster stands heading into 2013

Posted Jan 1, 2013

Cliff Avril, Louis Delmas, Jason Hanson and Chris Houston among the Detroit Lions' 22 unrestricted free agents heading into next season.

Change is on the horizon for the Detroit Lions, and that's probably a good thing following one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.

The Lions sputtered their way to a 4-12 season, losing their last eight games along the way. That's coming off the heels of a 10-win season and a playoff berth in 2011.

"Something needs to change but I don't think there's any blowing the team up and starting over," kicker Jason Hanson said after Sunday's 26-24 loss to the Bears in the season finale. "We better fix what we have because we have the guys and that's maddening. There's no excuse to play like we did this year with the talent that we have."

Hanson is right; the Lions have a nice core with quarterback Matthew Stafford, all-world receiver Calvin Johnson and probably the best defensive tackle tandem in the league in Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

The No. 1 task for Lions general manager Martin Mayhew and Co. is to surround those players with better complimentary parts.

"I assume, not being an executive upstairs, that there's going to be some significant changes," Hanson said. "We have some core guys but everyone in the organization is going to be evaluated by whoever does that because it wasn't right and it wasn't good and it's not acceptable."

There will be a lot of evaluating going on. In fact, 22 players in all are unrestricted free agents. Three more are restricted. In all, that totals nine starters (eight on defense and one on offense).

"It's going to be a challenge, but it's no different than last year," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said. "Last year was challenge also. We had to let a couple guys go. We weren't able to get any free agents (because of the salary cap). We know what's ahead of us. We know that we're going to have to work very hard. We can do it."

It's safe to say that the Lions team that storms out of the tunnel to start the 2013 season is going to look a lot different than the dejected one that walked up that tunnel for the last time Sunday afternoon.

"Everyone better be nervous because it can't be like this," Hanson said.

ROSTER BREAKDOWN:

Quarterback:

Stafford is signed through 2014 with an option for 2015, but the big hurdle for the Lions next year will be dealing with his $21-plus million salary cap number. Could a long-term extension be in the cards this offseason to lower that number a bit? Stafford has already shown he's willing to restructure his deal (did so in 2011 and 2012) to give the team some relief.

Backup Shaun Hill is signed through next season and the Lions like the developmental path of Kellen Moore as their third quarterback.

Running back:

Kevin Smith is the only unrestricted free agent in the bunch. The Lions have exclusive negotiating rights with Joique Bell, so if they want him back - which is likely the case - he'll be back.

The offense was missing a speed element to their backfield to compliment Mikel Leshoure and Bell all season without Jahvid Best (concussion). Doctors have not yet closed the door on the 2013 season, according to Best, but the Lions will probably have to know his availability before free agency or the draft in order to address that glaring weakness if it's determined he can't play.

Receiver/tight end:

Get healthy.

It's really as simple as that for the Lions receiving corps. The team lost slot receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles to season-ending injuries and outside receiver Titus Young was lost to both a knee injury and disciplinary problems.

Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said there's still a window that Young could come back and play for the team, but that will be an offseason process. If Young does not return, the Lions will need to find themselves an outside threat to pair opposite Johnson in the draft or in free agency.

Burleson, Broyles and Mike Thomas are more naturally slot receivers. The Lions have exclusive negotiating rights with outside receiver Kris Durham, who caught his first NFL touchdown pass Sunday, but they'll probably be looking for a more explosive down-the-field threat to pair with Megatron.

Third tight end Will Heller is the only free agent among the tight ends.

Offensive line:

This is where it might get interesting this offseason.

It's not out of the realm of possibility the Lions could have four new starters along the offensive line next year.

Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is the only unrestricted free agent, but changes seem afoot.

The Lions will eventually have to make decisions on what to do with Riley Reiff, Jason Fox and Bill Nagy, who are all waiting in the wings. Reiff, who the team selected in the first round in the 2011 draft, will likely start somewhere next year - whether that's at left tackle, right tackle or right guard is yet to be determined.

One league talent evaluator told me he thinks Reiff has the perfect body-type to be a very good center, but the Lions have said publically that center is the one position he won't play along the line.

The Lions need to improve the interior of their offensive line and also find their center of the future.

Center Dominic Raiola, 34, and right guard Stephen Peterman, 30, are under contract next season.

Left tackle Jeff Backus, 35, has one year remaining on the two-year extension he signed before last season. He'll likely be back next season, but there are no guarantees.

Reserve tackle Corey Hilliard and guard Dylan Gandy are unrestricted free agents along with Cherilus.

Defensive line:

The Lions are set with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley at tackle. They'll have to make a decision on veteran Corey Williams, who's a unrestricted free agent. Williams said Monday that he's likely to be back and the Lions should want him back for the right price. He was playing at a high level before knee troubles derailed his season and he's a great presence in the locker room.

The team should also try to work out a deal with unrestricted free agent backup Sammie Hill. Hill has developed into a nice role player from small Stillman College and has been one of Mayhew's better mid-round picks over the last four seasons.

At defensive end, the Lions have a number of key decisions to make. Cliff Avril is an unrestricted free agent and the Lions aren't likely to be buyers in the $10-plus million range that Avril will be seeking. We might have seen the last of Avril in a Lions uniform, though he told the media Monday he'd like to return.

The team also has to make a decision on veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has one year remaining on his contract, but at 35 is at the tail-end of his career.

The Lions will also have to decide on the futures of reserves Lawrence Jackson (unrestricted) and Willie Young (restricted).

The Lions need to upgrade the position, especially if they lose Avril, which makes that No. 5 pick a nice candidate to get a terrific young rusher.

Linebackers:

Both starting outside linebackers Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy are unrestricted free agents. The Lions would like to keep both if they can work it out and one team source said they'd like to work toward that goal.

Durant said Monday that he likes the defensive scheme and thinks it fits his game well. He led the team with 82 solo tackles.

He's been a free agent before and knows the realities of that designation and how every option has to remain on the table, though.

Levy was a third-round pick of the Lions back in 2009 and will only be 26 years old this offseason.

Linebackers Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis, whom the team drafted in the fifth and seventh rounds last year, respectively, did not see a lot of snaps on defense. It's unclear if the team feels one or both of those players are ready to step into a starting role next year.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch, who led the team with 112 total tackles, is signed through 2016.

Key reserve Ashlee Palmer, who's also one of the best special teams players the team has, is under contract for next season.

Secondary:

The two biggest free agents among this group are cornerback Chris Houston and safety Louis Delmas.

Houston established himself as the best cornerback in the group for the Lions and there will be a market for him. The Lions need to make a significant pitch to keep Houston with the uncertainty of rookie Bill Bentley, Chris Greenwood and Jonte Green moving forward.

Ron Bartell, who started Sunday at right corner, is signed through next season and will be in the mix, too.

Cornerbacks Drayton Florence, Pat Lee, and Jacob Lacey are all unrestricted free agents.

Delmas is a difference maker for the Lions when he's healthy, but that's been the main issue for the last year and a half. Delmas missed five games last year because of right knee troubles and missed eight games this season with a left knee injury. Delmas said that rest is the best medicine for his current ailment, but the Lions will have to make sure he checks out medically before extending any kind of long-term deal to their 2009 second-round pick.

Safety Amari Spievey missed the team's final 10 games because of a concussion – his second in less than a year – and has yet to be cleared to return. He's a restricted free agent, but his status for next season is very much in doubt.

Safety Don Carey, who made six starts for the Lions this year, is under contract for next season.

Specialists

Kicker Jason Hanson, at age 42, missed only four field goals all season. The guy is simply a machine. The unrestricted free agent says he'll decide his future after taking a break following the season, but doesn't want to play anywhere other than Detroit. The Lions could potentially ask that he play for on a one-year deal for the veteran minimum if they want him back (which they should), and he said this week he wouldn't be opposed to that at his age.

Long snapper Don Muhlbach, punter Nick Harris and returner Stefan Logan are all unrestricted free agents. Logan and Harris could be replaced. The team will have to decide on Muhlbach as they did last year.

Unrestricted free agents (22)

DE Cliff Avril

T Gosder Cherilus

S Louis Delmas

LB Justin Durant

CB Drayton Florence

DT Andre Fluellen

DE Dylan Gandy

K Jason Hanson

P Nick Harris

TE Will Heller

DT Sammie Hill

T Corey Hilliard

CB Chris Houston

DE Lawrence Jackson

CB Jacob Lacey

CB Pat Lee

LB DeAndre Levy

KR Stefan Logan

LS Don Muhlbach

WR Kassim Osgood

RB Kevin Smith

DT Corey Williams

Restricted free agents (3)

T Jason Fox

S Amari Spievey

DE Willie Young

Exclusive rights free agents (5)

RB Joique Bell

FB Shaun Chapas

WR Kris Durham

S Ricardo Silva

DT Jimmy Saddler-McQueen

Twentyman Articles