Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Lions Free Agent Situation (Defense)

Today the Detroit Lions placed the non-exclusive franchise tag on Defensive End Cliff Avril. Avril still has the option to negotiate with other teams, but if another team decides to sign him they would have to give up two first round draft picks to Detroit.

Unless the Lions work out a long term deal with Avril this week to replace the franchise tag, this doesn't bode well for the rest of their free agents due to Detroit's limited cap space. However, it is entirely possible that Avril gets signed long term and they workout a contract extension with Calvin Johnson freeing up cap space making it possible for Detroit to be at least somewhat active in free agency.

Today we'll take a look at the defense position by position and see what possibilities are out there for the Lions:

DEFENSIVE END

Under Contract:

Kyle VandenBosch (5 mil)
Cliff Avril (Franchised, 10.6 mil)
Lawrence Jackson (915,000)
Willie Young (490,000)

Free Agents:

None

By retaining Avril Detroit is once again stacked at defensive end. The biggest concern of the group is Kyle Vandenbosch as he is 33, had a significant neck surgery last off-season, and saw a decrease in consistent productivity. As long as Lawrence Jackson is healthy he will continue to eat into KVB's snaps. I don't doubt the Lions will take another defensive end in the draft who will also be in the mix, especially if one of the top prospects fall to them at 23 overall.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Under Contract:

Ndamukong Suh (9.25 mil)
Corey Williams (5 mil)
Nick Fairley (824,500)

Free Agents:

Sammie Lee Hill (RFA)
Andre Fluellen (UFA)

Andre Fluellen will really have to show something in camp to grab a spot on the roster again next season. He is versatile because he can play tackle or end, but he wasn't effective at either spot in 2011.

The big question mark in this group is Corey Williams. Did he just have an off year or is he on the decline? His level of play is still high, but will it be worth 5 million dollars? There has been mention of Nick Fairley taking over the spot next to Suh, but I think if anyone takes that spot it will be Sammie Hill (who the Lions will definitely be bringing back, hopefully to a long term contract).

An interesting prospect here is Jason Jones, a free agent from from the Titans. He has the right mix of age, experience and talent to fit right in with Detroit's defensive line. If the Lions do release Corey Williams they may have the cap space to bring in Jones.

LINEBACKER

Under Contract:

Justin Durant (1.75 mil)
Doug Hogue (465,000)

Free Agents:

Stephon Tulloch (UFA)
Bobby Carpenter (UFA)
Isaiah Ekejiuba (UFA)
DeAndre Levy (RFA)
Ashlee Palmer (RFA, will not be tendered)

Hogue, Carpenter, Ekejiuba and Palmer are all depth with the exception of Carpenter being considered the "fourth starter". Hogue will obviously be back as he is under contract and I expect they'll try to bring Palmer back as he was solid on special teams. I don't expect Ekejiuba back at 30 years old and coming off of a season he spent mostly on IR.

The Lions are currently in contract talks with Levy. I expect they'll bring him back on a one or two year deal to see if he'll continue to develop. Levy was decent, but his biggest asset is his versatility to play inside or outside. He would be a great asset as depth but will likely command too much money for that to happen. Another possibility due to his stat line (109 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception) is that he becomes a trade chip for Detroit, especially if they feel like Hogue can step into the WLB spot.

And finally, Stephon Tulloch. Arguably the Lions' best defensive player last year, Tulloch is all set to hit the open market. Philadelphia and Tampa Bay are the most likely to go after Tulloch, but Dan Connor and David Howthorne are both viable free agent options, as well as Luke Keuchly and Dont'a Hightower in the draft. The Saints could be in on trying to sign Tulloch as well after Jonthan Vilma was found to be a big part of their "bounty" program under Gregg Williams, though they'll likely have too much cap tied up in Drew Brees's new contract. It may seem odd that the Lions haven't already locked up Tulloch, but he will hit a soft market once again this off-season which will help Detroit in their contract talks.

CORNERBACK

Under Contract:

Chris Houston (3 mil)
Alphonso Smith (695,000)
Don Carey (450,000)
Aaron Berry (415,000)

Free Agent:

Eric Wright (UFA)
Brandon McDonald (UFA)

The Lions are working on bringing back Wright and are trying to trade Alphonso Smith. This would give them a similar look as last season which was good for 10th in the league against the pass. Problems for the Lions came when they had to rely on their depth late in the season with Houston and Berry dealing with injuries. If they can bring back their free agents and pick up a corner in the draft they should be all set for their "bend but not break" game plan.

SAFETY

Under Contract:

Louis Delmas (973,250)
John Wendling (~920,000)
Amari Spievey (490,000)
Ricardo Silva (undisclosed)

Free Agent:

Erik Coleman (UFA)
Chris Harris (UFA)

It's make or break years for both Delmas and Spievey. Spievey needs to be more consistent and Delmas needs to stay on the field. Detroit will certainly bring in competition for Spievey as they usually do, which could possibly be Coleman again. There are some other interesting prospects on the market in Jim Leonhard, Tom Zbikowski and LaRon Landry. Detroit needs to make something happen here as their safety play last season was largely abysmal.

Bottom Line:

Tulloch needs to be re-signed or an adequate replacement needs to be brought it via free agency or the draft. Corey Williams's future with the team and if he is worth the 5 million dollars he is going to make this year needs to be seriously evaluated. The Lions need to re-sign Eric Wright or another starting caliber corner and bring in depth at the cornerback and safety positions.

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