Targeting a top-tier pass rusher is a must, says Tim Twentyman

Posted Feb 7, 2013

Losing Kyle Vanden Bosch and potentially losing Cliff Avril and Lawrence Jackson to free agency, the Detroit Lions should be looking toward a pass-rusher at No. 5

The Detroit Lions parted ways with starting defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch on Tuesday in a move that saved the team $5 million in cap space for 2013. The move also left them one starter short on defense.

Things could get even dicier for the Lions at defensive end in March, when starter Cliff Avril and key reserve Lawrence Jackson both become unrestricted free agents.

Lawrence JacksonBoth Avril and Jackson have expressed interest in rejoining the Lions, but the team has to be ready for the real potential of losing their top three defensive ends heading into next season.

"I would love to be here but I know how this thing shakes out and how this works," Avril said after the season. "This is basically my third offseason going into this, so I just take it in stride and we’ll see how it goes in March."

The Lions slapped the franchise tag worth $10.6 million to keep Avril in Detroit last year, but aren’t expected to take that course of action again, which would cost them more than $12 million this year.

Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew told reporters shortly after the season that he doesn’t anticipate using the franchise tag on any player this year.

Avril gambled on himself when he turned down a reported three-year, $30 million contract offer last offseason in hopes of cashing in even bigger this year.

Avril’s 9.5 sacks were down from his 11 last year, but the Lions also didn’t play with a lot of leads and weren’t in a whole lot of situations conducive for Avril recording big numbers.

Edge rushers on the open market are expensive and Avril is considered one of the top free agents available. He’s likely to get at least $10 million per season, which might be too expensive for a Lions team with plenty of other needs to address.

Jackson told reporters following the team’s Week 17 loss to the Bears that he wanted to come back and thought his skill set fit the scheme. Jackson played 384 snaps this season, third-most at defensive end behind Avril (686) and Vanden Bosch (641).

He started to come on towards the end of the season, but finished with just 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble.

The only defensive end the Lions currently have signed for the 2013 season is Ronnell Lewis, who played only one snap on defense this past season. He needs to take a big step in his development this offseason, but at this point is still considered a rotational player in 2013.

Reserve Willie Young, who failed to record a single sack in 323 snaps this season, is a restricted free agent, which means the Lions can tender him a contract and receive compensation if he signs elsewhere.

There certainly isn’t the comfort level the team felt last offseason when they knew the franchise tag was an option for Avril and Vanden Bosch, Jackson and Young were all under contract.

Change isn’t always a bad thing, though, especially after 4-12. The Lions have seen their sack totals drop from 44 in 2010 to 41 in 2011 and down to 34 this year.

They need a top-tier pass rusher to help improve those number and the top of the draft is a relatively inexpensive way to get one, considering what they cost on the open market.

This year’s pass-rushing crop is littered with quality talent at the top and the Lions could come away with a top rusher with the No. 5 pick.

The Lions’ scheme is predicated on speed and Texas A&M’s Damontre Moore (6-4, 250), Florida State’s Bjoern Werner (6-4, 255), Georgia’s Jarvis Jones (6-2, 242), BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah (6-5, 274) and LSU’s Barkevious Mingo (6-5, 240) all fit the size profile and run the 40-yard dash in 4.7 seconds or less.

The Lions have already said goodbye to one starting defensive end and the next two could potentially be gone via free agency.

For a scheme that’s predicated on pressure and getting to the quarterback, a talented young pass rusher should be high on the wish list this offseason.