With the lockout ending soon and the new timeline for the NFL to begin on Tuesday it is time to look at what the Lions have by position and see what they need to do in free agency and in trades.
QB: Signed: Matthew Stafford, Shaun Hill Free Agents: Drew Stanton
The Lions are set at the top of the depth chart with Stafford and Hill signed through next season. The only question is will Stanton return as the third quarterback or will the Lions search for a young quarterback via free agency. My guess is the Lions bring back Stanton for another year or two. He knows the Lions system and with the chaos that this free agent season it would be ideal to bring back someone who knows how the Lions offense operates.
RB/FB: Signed: Jahvid Best, Maurice Morris, Aaron Brown, Mikel Leshoure Free Agents: Kevin Smith, Jerome Felton
Leshoure isn’t technically signed but will be as soon as the Lions get around to signing draft picks, and Kevin Smith tweeted that he was not tendered a contract and will not be back with the team. Felton is the only fullback on the roster and I expect him to be back with team as he is an effective blocker and has good hands out of the backfield. The only real question is will the Lions keep four RB’s on the roster. If they decide to cut one of the backs, odds are it will be Brown. He is basically a poor man’s Jahvid Best, and since we have the actual Jahvid Best, it appears that Brown is the one on the chopping block.
WR/TE: Signed: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Derrick Williams, Bryant Johnson, Titus Young, Brandon Pettigrew, Tony Scheffler, Will Heller Free Agents: Stefan Logan
The Lions appear to have the top three receivers set with Johnson, Burleson, and rookie Titus Young. The fourth receiver position is to be a battle between Williams and Johnson with the loser likely to be released, and Stefan Logan is likely to return as the fifth receiver and return man. I expect Bryant Johnson to be the one released as the team owes him $3.2 million for next season. The tight end corps should be the same as last year with all three signed and no reason to make any changes.
OL: Signed: Jeff Backus (T), Gosder Cherilus (T), Jake Fox (T), Tony Ugoh (T), Johnny Culbreath (T), Steven Peterman (G), Rob Sims (G), Dominic Raiola (C) Free Agents: Manny Ramirez (G), Dylan Gandy (C)
The Lions offensive line should have a lot of familiar faces with the entire line signed for next season. The real issues are the tackle positions with Jeff Backus suffering a pectoral injury during the lockout and according to reports may not be ready for the start of training camp. Gosder Cherilus, the other starting tackle, is coming off of microfracture knee surgery and may not be ready at the start of the season either. That leaves second year Fox and rookie Culbreath as the starters and primary backups coming into training camp. The inside of the line should be healthy and talented with the return of the three starters, Sims, Peterman and Raiola, but thin in depth. The return of Ramirez and Gandy should be expected and the Lions may be in search of more depth at the tackle position as well.
DL: Signed: Kyle Vanden Boesch (E), Lawrence Jackson (E), Ndamukong Suh (T), Corey Williams (T), Sammie Lee Hill (T), Nick Fairley (T) Free Agents: Cliff Avril (E), Turk McBride (E), Andre Fluellen (T)
Cliff Avril was offered a one-year tender from the team before the lockout, but both Avril and the Lions are hoping to get a long-term deal signed on their most important free agent this offseason. The addition of first round pick Nick Fairley may make Fluellen expendable, but the Lions also do rotate the line players often so depth is always an issue. The “Silver Crush” should remain mostly in tact for the upcoming season and be the strength of the defense for years to come.
LB: Signed: Doug Houge (OLB), Zack Follett (OLB), DeAndre Levy (ILB), Jordan Dizon (ILB) Free Agents: Bobby Carpenter (OLB), Landon Johnson (ILB)
This group needs an overhaul, badly. As good as the defensive line is, this group is equally as bad and has a lot of holes that need to be filled. The only guarantee to start is DeAndre Levy, but where he ends up playing is up in the air. Zack Follett suffered a serious neck injury last season, but if healthy he could contribute on defense and special teams. Houge is a converted running back in college and should take a few years to develop, in to what is still to be seen. I see the Lions going after some of the bigger names in free agency at linebacker, either Stephen Tulloch of the Titans or Justin Durant of the Jaguars.
DB: Signed: Alphonso Smith (CB), Louis Delmas (FS), Randy Philips (FS), Eric Coleman (SS), Amari Spievey (SS) Free Agents: Chris Houston (CB), Nathan Vasher (CB)
Another position the Lions should be big players in free agency is the cornerback position, with their best cornerback from last seasons, Chris Houston, being a free agent. Along with trying to bring Houston back there is a lot of talent to be had in free agency with Nnamdi Asomugha, Jonathon Joseph, Ike Taylor and Antonio Cromartie all free agents. A dream scenario for me would be to bring back Houston and sign either Cromartie or Joseph to shut down one side of the field. Asomugha’s price tag will be way to high and Taylor is more of a product of the Steelers system I believe. The safety position should be solid with the early signing of Eric Coleman before the lockout started to play next to the best defensive back the Lions have in Louis Delmas.
Special Teams: Signed: Jason Hanson (K), Nick Harris (P) Free Agents: Dave Rayner (K)
One of the tougher decisions the Lions will be faced this offseason will be what to do with Jason Hanson. He had his second knee surgery in the past two years, and is owed $2.1 million for next season. If he is able to prove that he still has the power and the accuracy he should return, but if not the Lions should bring back the younger and cheaper alternative in Dave Rayner. Nick Harris is a suitable punter and hopefully won’t be very busy this season.
Vegas Vegas Vegas!
According to the sports books at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, the Lions odds are dropping quickly. They started off as a 75/1 to win the Super Bowl and now are at 18/1, while the odds to win the NFC started at 35/1 and are now at 6/1. The odds to win the NFC are the same as the Super Bowl Champion Packers and the Atlanta Falcons. According to one of the managers at MGM, they cannot stop people from throwing money at the Lions this season.