General manager Martin Mayhew
said the Detroit Lions will be players when free agency begins March 12. Things will begin to ratchet up considerably during the three-day period from March 9-11, when teams are allowed to enter into negotiations with player agents for unrestricted free agents from other teams.
How big of players the Lions will be in free agency still depends on how much more salary cap space they can free up with a potential extension of quarterback Matthew Stafford -- reducing his $20 million-plus cap number -- and a couple more restructures that could be in the works.
Mayhew told reporters down at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis that he’s targeted nine of their own 23 restricted free agents as players they will really be aggressive in trying to re-sign.
Here's the Lions' free agent situation:
Unrestricted free agents (23)
*Indicated Tim Twentyman's prediction on the nine free agents the Lions are targeting the most
Cliff Avril, DE: Avril has earned his chance at a big contract in free agency and he intends to go shopping. The Lions probably aren’t in a position to offer him a contract he wants, which could be as high as $12 to $15 million per season. The Lions met with Avril’s agent, Brian Mackler, down at the Combine, but it doesn’t seem his return to Detroit is likely unless the market dictates a much lower asking price.
Gosder Cherilus, OT: He’s a very solid player and had a very solid season in 2012. There are some concerns about his long-term health, and like Avril, might get more on the open market. The Lions have Jason Fox and Riley Reiff waiting in the wings. At some point you have to play your younger players.
*Louis Delmas, S: He should be one of the nine players Mayhew and the Lions want back. Mayhew said at the Combine the team was still looking over some of Delmas’ medical issues as part of the process of resigning the four-year vet. But if they feel comfortable about him medically, he’s one of those playmakers on defense -- when healthy -- that Mayhew wants more of.
*Justin Durant, LB: Durant was second on the team with 103 tackles last season. He’s fast and physical and his skillset fits the Lions’ scheme. He’s indicated publically that he’d like to return to Detroit, but he’s also been through this free agent process before and knows the game.
Drayton Florence, CB: Played well early in the season but never returned to the same form after breaking his forearm Week 2. He gave up a crucial long touchdown pass in a loss to the Colts and was inactive at the end of the season.
Andre Fluellen, DT: He was a late-season signing who knows the system as a former draft pick and filled in nicely because of injuries. He’s versatile in that he can play both defensive tackle and defensive end. He’s a depth player.
Dylan Gandy, G/C: Gandy has been the reserve guard/center for the Lions the last few seasons, but we’ve never seen him play because the Lions have stayed healthy along the interior of their offensive line the past few seasons. The Lions now have Bill Nagy aboard and Reiff is able to play guard, too.
Jason Hanson, K: The all-time leading scorer in Detroit Lions history had another solid season in 2012. The 42-year-old Hanson hasn’t decided if he’s coming back for a 22nd season or not. If he does want to play, he’ll probably have to do so on a reduced salary and some of the decision from the Lions' standpoint might depend on if they can find a punter who can also kickoff.
Nick Harris, P: Was brought in because of injuries and struggled for most of the year. The Lions will be looking to upgrade the position.
Jerome Harrison, RB: Its uncertain if Harrison will ever play football again after undergoing surgery for a brain tumor. He’s a terrific story of courage and his recovery thus far has been amazing.
Will Heller, TE: Riley Reiff filled some of the role Heller used to have as an extra H-back blocker. Heller is a better blocker than he is a receiver, but he's proven he can do both. He’s an asset as a backup.
*Sammie Hill, DT: Hill is more of a run stopper than a pass rusher and adds good depth to the defensive line. The Lions drafted him out of small Stillman College and have developed him. We still haven’t seen his best football yet.
*Corey Hilliard, OT: Hilliard joins Reiff and Fox in the conversation of young tackles who might be ready to contribute. He has starting experience and the Lions know exactly what they’re getting in Hilliard – a solid player who’s still ascending.
*Chris Houston, CB: Houston took a big step forward in his development this season when the Lions asked him to move around and cover the opponents best receiver. He did so with pretty good results. He’s the best cornerback the Lions currently have on the roster and he’s a solid NFL starter. He should be a priority for Mayhew and Co.
*Lawrence Jackson, DE: If he ever gets to a point where he just plays football and doesn’t try to outthink himself, who knows how good Jackson can be. He has the tools. He was a key backup in the rotation last year. With Kyle Vanden Bosch gone, Jackson’s return becomes more significant.
Jacob Lacey, CB: Started nine games for the Lions last season, but is probably a better player in the slot. He’s physical and doesn’t mind mixing it up. A good player to have on the roster for depth.
Pat Lee, CB: Was signed by the Lions midseason after his release from the Raiders. Played in seven games with the Lions but didn’t have a real big impact.
*DeAndre Levy, LB: Levy was drafted by the Lions in 2009 and has been a starter ever since his rookie year. He had 82 tackles in 14 games this past season. He’s a solid NFL outside linebacker. He's homegrown and probably comes at a discount.
Stefan Logan, KR: Logan had a good season for the Lions in 2010, when he was voted a Pro Bowl alternate. But too many mistakes and too few big plays cost him his job at the end of last season. The Lions will be looking for an upgrade.
Don Muhlbach, LS: A Pro Bowler for the Lions in 2012. Muhlbach is as steady as they come and will likely be back. The only issue that could potentially prevent that would be salary cap considerations.
*Kassim Osgood, WR: He was brought in to be a special team’s ace, and outside of the missed tackle on the punt return touchdown against the Vikings, was very solid. New special teams coach John Bonamego will need a few veteran leaders on special teams to lean on.
Kevin Smith, RB: Smith started the first two games of the season for the suspended Mikel Leshoure and had 161 total yards and two scores. He was more of an afterthought after Leshoure came back and Joique Bell emerged as a weapon, though. The Lions are looking to add a speed element to go along with Leshoure and Bell next season. That could leave Smith out of the mix.
*Corey Williams, DT: Before the knee injury, Williams was playing some of the best football of his career in 2012. Unfortunately, that injury lingered the rest of the season and cut into his effectiveness. Williams is a veteran leader and a good piece to have in your pocket behind Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The price will have to be right, but Williams isn’t done yet.
Restricted free agents (3)
Jason Fox, OT: The Lions should and are likely to tender a contract offer to their former fourth-round pick. Depending on what happens with Cherilus in free agency, and how coaches ultimately decide to use Reiff, Fox could wind up a starter in 2013.
Amari Spievey, S: This will be more of a medical decision than it will be a performance one. Spievey is getting more and more comfortable at safety and has proven he can be a playmaker at times. The two concussions in less than a year have to be a little worrisome, though.
Willie Young, DE: He didn’t have a breakout season in 2012 like many people within the organization were expecting. He’s still a young player, though, and the Lions need the help along the outside of their defensive line. He'll be tendered.