This article was written by Zac Snyder of SideLion Report.
A year ago, the Detroit Lions strategy in free agency was to retain the core of their team that had just gone 10-6 and reached the playoffs for the first time in over a decade. They used the franchise tag on Cliff Avril, extended Calvin Johnson with a cap-clearing deal and re-signed Stephen Tulloch, Jeff Backus and Kevin Smith.
Martin Mayhew has admitted that they may have overestimated their returning players and it is hard to argue with that assessment on the heels of a disappointing 4-12 season. with a heavy portion of their roster reaching free agency, the Lions will take a different approach – in part because they don’t have a lot of cap space to work with, and part because they need to stir the pot. One thing that has already been revealed is that the Lions don’t plan on using the franchise tag this year.
That’s not to say the Lions won’t look to retain some of their own. In particular, cornerback Chris Houston should be a high priority. With the others, it is more a matter of cost. Cliff Avril was on a pretty nice career trajectory when he received the franchise tag last offseason. But that didn’t continue in 2012 as Avril took a step back. With a second franchise tag cost prohibitive, Avril will be able to test the market. Don’t be surprised if the Lions stick with the three-year, $30 million offer they had on the table last year and allow Avril to walk if he finds a better deal.
Right tackle Gosder Cherilus is coming off his best season as a pro but has battled knee issues and can likely find more money elsewhere. The Lions re-signed Corey Hilliard for depth at tackle to go along with Riley Reiff and Jason Fox already under contract, a further indication that Cherilus is likely done in Detroit. The Lions don’t have similar options at safety where Louis Delmas has an expiring contract. He brings an attitude to the defense but his play has been inconsistent and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy through his first four years in the league. Once thought to be a candidate for the franchise tag, If Delmas is to stay in Detroit, it will have to be with a deal that reflects his inconsistencies.
Despite limited cap room, the Lions expect to be players in free agency, at least selectively. The offense severely misses the extra dimension Jahvid Best brought to the field so it is no surprise to already hear rumors that Reggie Bush may be the team’s top target in free agency. Filling a specific role like that is a perfect example of the selective aggressiveness the Lions will bring to this free agency period.
The Lions have already released Stephen Peterman so they could get involved with guard Andy Levitre. Pressure up the middle was a big criticism of the Lions’ offensive line last year and swapping Peterman for Levitre represents a massive improvement in that regard.
Whatever the Lions end up doing, it is likely to be secondary to their plans in the draft. They see the draft as the real opportunity to build for the long haul and view roster improvement as a continual process with no specific finish line. Free agency is just one part of the process.
Tags: Detroit Lions NFL Free Agency