The offseason is just beginning, but the Lions have already been one of the most active teams in the league releasing Titus Young (for obvious reasons), as well as Kyle Vanden Bosch and Stephen Peterman for lack of production and most importantly cap relief. There are plenty of more moves to be made to help clear some cap space, most importantly restructuring Matthew Stafford‘s contract, but the Lions are clearly looking to revamp the roster after a disappointing 4-12 season.
Below is the direction I think the Lions go from here:
1. Restructure Matthew Stafford’s contract
This should be the next move by the Lions. We could see the Lions release a few more players between now and March 12, the start of free agency, but I’d restructure Stafford’s contract and see where the Lions sit financially before making any more decisions to release players that could possibly help them in 2013. To this point, the Lions have freed up over $8 million in the cap which gives them around a $5 million cushion towards the allotted amount. How much more could they free up by restructuring Stafford’s contract? The answer might be “enough.”
2. Re-sign the Players you feel you can’t play 2013 without
I touched on this a bit earlier last week. The Lions have 23 players set to hit free agency this offseason. Last season the Lions returned 22 of 23 starters from their 2011 playoff team that went 10-6. Obviously the team underachieved last season, whether that be because 2011 was a fluke, or because the players are a year older a 4-12 record is inexcusable. Personally, I’d make a reasonable take it or leave it offer for Cliff Avril and make it a priority to re-sign Louis Delmas, Chris Houston and either Justin Durant or DeAndre Levy. Avril is a solid player that would be hard for the Lions to replace, but given the Lions options in the draft this offseason and their tight budget, I don’t think he’s worth overpaying. As for Justin Durant and DeAndre Levy, it would be nice to re-sign both, but I think their production could be replaced in free agency or the second and third rounds of the draft. This is especially true of DeAndre Levy.
3. Sign Reggie Bush and a veteran defensive back
Rarely do you see a player as dynamic as Jahvid Best in the NFL. What’s even more rare is when you can find a player that could not only replace Best’s dynamic play, but upgrade it. It seems the Lions finally caught a break when news broke that Reggie Bush would not be re-signed, because he fits exactly what the Lions are looking for and he fits in the Lions’ budget. If the Lions miss on acquiring Bush I’m going to be very upset, because I haven’t seen a player in the draft that could fit the Lions need for a third down change of pace back like Bush could. We’ve all seen what the Lions’ offense looks like without Best – very one dimensional. If the Lions don’t acquire Bush, we may be seeing the same thing in September.
Signing a proven defensive back in free agency would be a huge help ahead of the draft, particularly at the cornerback position. There is a lot of youth on the Lions roster at cornerback and perhaps one of them could turn out to be a starter next season, but I wouldn’t take any chances on that. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie would be a good fit here, but if the Lions wanted to sure up the safety position Dashon Goldson would be a great pick up if he is not re-sign by the 49ers.
4. Draft Smart
I know what you guys are saying, DUH! Let me explain a little further. The Lions are in great position for the draft this year with a top five first round pick and high end draft picks throughout the rest of the draft other than the fourth round. That said, I would not take a defensive end with the Lions first round pick, unless free agency is brutal at that position. If the Lions can re-sign Cliff Avril or Lawrence Jackson this off-season great. If they can’t and don’t find a solid replacement with some experience, then I’d start to take a serious look at defensive end. I’ve said it all offseason, I think the best player for the Lions is safety Kenny Vaccaro out of Texas. He’s got the prototypical size, he fits the Lions’ most pressing need, and he has immense potential. Nothing he does wrong isn’t correctable and I hate to put this label on him, because he hasn’t proven anything yet, but I see a lot of Ed Reed in him. With the impact Ed Reed has had on the Ravens, I think a top five pick on Vaccaro isn’t out of the question.
As for rounds 2-7, the Lions should look to draft a deep threat receiver, a linebacker, and depth along the offensive and defensive lines. If they can find two or three starters in those rounds, then they will have had a perfect draft.
[RELATED: SideLion Report's 2013 NFL Draft Coverage]
5. Stay out of trouble
We shouldn’t even have to talk about this, but after the tumultuous offseason the Lions had last season I feel it’s necessary to bring this up. The Lions absolutely can’t have the offeason they had last season. If they do, we could be seeing a repeat mediocre performance in 2013 as well as a coaching change. I don’t think this will be an issue – the Lions have eliminated most of the problems with the release of Aaron Berry prior to the 2012 season and Titus Young just one day ago. With that said, I’m still making sure Nick Fairley and Mikel Leshoure don’t hang out by themselves this offseason after multiple marijuana charges between the two.
That’s my blueprint for a successful Lions’ offseason. It will be interesting to see how things shape up for the team with so many directions to go with 23 free agents.