Dec. 16, 2012; Glendale, AZ, USA: Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) talks to his team in the huddle against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Lions 38-10. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Quarterback: This position is set for next year. Stafford will again be the starter, and is the franchise quarterback despite a down season. Backup Shaun Hill is signed through next season. Kellen Moore will get another camp to show that he is worthy of keeping around. Moore will never beat out Stafford, but there is a chance he could be the backup down the line.
Running Back: LeShoure is the only back that is assured to be back. Fan favorite,
Joique Bell, is an exclusive rights player, meaning they will have him back if the Lions choose to do so. That will most likely be the case. Kevin Smith is a free agent. While he is a tireless worker, and a great person to have in the locker room, it’s tough to seem return in anything more than a third-down back role.
What would be nothing short of miraculous is if Jahvid Best was cleared to play in 2013. In the season-ending press conference, Schwartz did not close the book just yet on Best, but said it was out of his hands. Look for the Lions to find a speed-back like Best somewhere in the draft.
Wide Receiver: Other than Calvin, this position is up in the air. Broyles is part of the long-term future at this position, but whether or not he can remain healthy is the question. The fact that he knows what it takes to return from an ACL injury is promising, but two in two years is not a good sign.
Burleson should be back, as he provides an option in which Stafford trusts and a fantastic locker room presence. That being said, he is on the downside of his career, and has a high cap number. Because of his return abilities, Mike Thomas will return as well.
Then there is Titus Young. Schwartz was non-committal to Young in the press conference after the season ended, saying there is still a window for him to return. Safe to say, though, that the window is closing fast. Kris Durham and Patrick Edwards will get looks in camp. Edwards is someone to watch for next year as a return man.
Tight End: Will Heller is a free agent, but displayed how important he is to this team with Pettigrew out. He should be resigned. Pettigrew and Scheffler will both return, but need to prove more.
Offensive Line: This group has not changed much for quite some time, and that might change this offseason. Raiola and Peterman are under contract, but neither is very good. One or both could be a cap casualty with promising G/C Bill Nagy behind them on the depth chart. Rob Sims will return at the other guard spot.
At tackle, Cherilus is a FA and could be looking elsewhere because of the depth the team has at tackle. Fox and Hilliard provide great depth and could battle for the right tackle spot next season. At left tackle, Backus has been a mainstay, but Reiff is the future and showed why in 2012. Backus should be back, but if the Lions feel comfortable with Reiff already, they could save money by letting Backus go.
Defensive Line: This was by far the most disappointing group this season. With all the high draft picks and accolades this group received, they underachieved greatly. Outside of Avril, the defensive ends did next to nothing. Avril racked up 9.5 sacks, but disappeared far too often in games. If he continues to ask for more money than he deserves, Avril will be in another uniform next season.
On the other side, Vanden Bosch has another year on his contract. Although a great leader, he provides very little in terms of a pass rush. Problem is, it would cost more to release him than to bring him back next year. Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson are free agents, and fit this system well. Ronnell Lewis will be back as well.
Suh and Fairley are the cornerstones of this defense. The DE’s should be doing a much better job because of the attention they get. If Mayhew can get Corey Williams and Sammie Lee Hill back with reasonable contracts, this will be a dominant group inside.
Linebacker: Durant and Levy are free agents, and its likely one, if not both will be back because they fit this system well. The team should upgrade at one of the spots, but the Lions can’t address every hole because there are many. If the coaches feel Travis Lewis or Tahir Whitehead are ready for a bigger role that could alter who is brought back.
Tulloch and Palmer will be back to man the middle as both are signed through next year and beyond. Promising linebacker, Carmen Messina, signed a futures contract and will be back as well.
Cornerback: The biggest priority this offseason will be to retain Chris Houston. He is not a No. 1 cornerback, let’s just get that out of the way right now. But is a tremendous No. 2, and should be paid that way. It’s just a question if the Lions have the money to do so.
The Lions also have some promise at the position with the three draft picks from 2012. Bentley missed most of the season, and struggled when on the field, but has a knack for the big play. Jonte Green may have been the biggest surprise of all the draft picks, and showed he can play with the big boys. If Greenwood has as much talent as the coaches say, the Lions have their No. 3, 4, and 5 corners for years to come.
The biggest goal of the offseason will be to find that top corner that can lineup opposite Houston. The Lions have tried over-the-hill veterans to fill the spot, but it clearly has not worked. Jacob Lacey, Drayton Florence, and Pat Lee are unlikely to be back.
Safety: This is arguably the team’s biggest need in the offseason. Louis Delmas is an unrestricted free agent, and the team will most likely look to bring him back, whether on a new contract or via the franchise tag. The tag could be more likely because of Delmas’ inability to stay on the field.
Behind him, there is even more uncertainty. Speivey is a restricted free agent, but his 2013 season could be in doubt because of concussion symptoms. The Lions would be wise to bring in a starting caliber safety to play next to Delmas because safety was the glaring weak spot of the defense.
Special Teams: It’s unclear at this point if Hanson will be back, but after hearing some of his quotes, it sounds as if he will come back next year at possibly a veteran’s minimum. That would help the salary cap situation a bit. Mulbach is also a free agent and should be brought back as well.
One player that would serve the team well to bring back is Kassim Osgood who improved the coverage teams a great deal.