INDIANAPOLIS – Let the game of Detroit Lions roster roulette begin.
General Manager Martin Mayhew sent the wheel spinning at the NFL Combine Friday morning in his annual breakfast meeting with beat writers.
The Lions have 23 players eligible to become free agents on March 12, and the guessing game has been underway as to which of the 23 the Lions are attempting to re-sign.
Mayhew didn't exactly pull back the curtain to reveal the Lions' personnel plans, but he shed light on who the front office is targeting to sign back.
"I'll put it like this, and maybe you guys can identify them," Mayhew said. "But there are about nine guys that we really are focused on."
But which nine are in the prime group the Lions want back? And who are the other 13 who won't be pursued as aggressively ... if at all?
Good questions, and with no specific answer from Mayhew. And it should be noted immediately that the Lions have pending negotiations with players on their roster besides the free agents.
Mayhew said Friday that he and other members of the front office are meeting here with agent Tom Condon on a contract extension for quarterback
Here are my nine candidates, in alphabetical order. Feel free to disagree.
Keep in mind, all nine might not want to remain in Detroit, or they might spurn the Lions for bigger contracts, even if their first choice is to return.
Avril's a solid, consistent football player. He shows up ready to play. There are no character worries.
But he's in the same spot as a lot of free agent defensive ends who will hit the market on March 12. And there's a solid group of pass rushers in the draft.
This is one year in free agency when the money squeeze will be more on the players than the teams.
Having said all that, on my list of nine, I'm the least confident in Avril returning.
DeAndre Levy: He fits the mold of how the Lions want to build the roster – a young player, on his second contract. He can play outside and the middle, if needed.
Corey Williams: He can't play every down at defensive tackle, but he's a force when he's in there. And he's the leader of the defensive line.
Those are my nine candidates, but it doesn't mean the other 13 won't be back.
Something can be worked out with kicker
If any of the nine aren't signed by the time the free agent bell rings on March 12, all bets are off.