General manager Martin Mayhew and his staff have identified nine players from their pool of 22 as players they’re aggressively pursuing to return in 2013. Free agency is a way to fill in some of the remaining gaps and add depth and talent to a roster aiming for a turnaround from a disappointing 4-12 campaign in 2012.
Over the next week, Detroitlions.com will take a look at positions of need for the Lions and who is available in free agency that might offer some help.
Lions under contract:
Lions free agents: Cliff Avril, Lawrence Jackson,
Who’s out there: Michael Bennett, Paul Kruger, Conner Barwin, William Hayes, Dwight Freeney, Osi Umenyiora, Matt Shaughnessy, Isreal Idonije, John Abraham
Analysis: No one loved to hear the news of Michael Johnson and Anthony Spencer being given the franchise tag by their respective teams on Monday than Avril, who likely saw his free-agent stock rise a little more, with two of the top pass rushers now off the market.
Avril is a very good player who fit the Lions scheme, but the team can’t afford to keep him at the price he’s likely to get on the open market.
Instead, the team will focus on re-signing Jackson, and are likely to offer a restricted free agent tender to Young. They will also add talent via this year's free-agent class, or in one of their first few draft picks.
Bennett will be attractive to teams because he’s young (27) and just now reaching his prime. In his first full season as a starter in 2012, he registered 41 tackles, nine sacks and three forced fumbles. He’s not a straight speed rusher at 6-foot-4, 274 pounds, but would be a bit of an upgrade in run defense for the Lions.
Kruger only started six games for the Ravens this past year, but posted career highs with 42 tackles, six passes defended, and a team-high nine sacks. He had 4.5 sacks in the playoffs during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run. He’s athletic and strong and would fit nicely into the Wide 9 slot. The question with Kruger is going to be how big he’s wanting to cash in?
Barwin is only one year removed from a 11.5-sack season, but his three sacks in 2012 have to make teams wonder what happened?
Hayes is an under-the-radar name to keep an eye on. He played under Jeff Fisher with the Rams last season. Though he did not start a single game in 2012, he still registered 35 tackles and seven sacks as the Rams third defensive end. Hayes also has ties to Lions head coach Jim Schwartz from his days in Tennessee when the Titans drafted him in 2008.
Players like Freeney, 33, and Umenyiora, 31, can still be effective situational pass rushers. Umenyiora registered six sacks and two forced fumbles in 2012 and Freeney had five sacks and one forced fumble.