The Detroit Lions had a disappointing 4-12 season, but with a good offseason the chances of a bounce back seem strong, and a playoff appearance isn't out of the question. However, there is a potential issue that could hinder that potential comeback. There is a real possibility that the Lions will have a very different roster next season.
For starters, they've already released Titus Young, and that was followed by the release of Stephen Peterman and Kyle Vanden Bosch. However, that might just be the beginning of the roster changes. Detroit has quite a few free agents they will have to contemplate whether or not to re-sign. This includes many key pieces of the defense. Here's a look at some of Detroit's free agents that the Lions' front office will have to make a decision on.
At the very least a few of them are restricted free agents, including Amari Spievey and Willie Young. Both guys will be back, and probably relatively cheap. The Lions also currently have no special teams specialists on their roster. Jason Hanson may be back, but even if he isn't it's not that big of a deal. Kickers and punters are easy to replace. You can pick them up off the scrap heap. They won't even need to burn a draft pick, nor should they.
On the offensive line, Gosder Cherilus is a free agent. Also, it's possible Jeff Backus' days are numbered. I have not been a big fan of Cherilus, and Riley Reiff was drafted last season. However, at this point they may need to keep Cherilus. If nothing else, they can move him to guard to replace Peterman. I think it is more likely Backus gets moved to guard, actually, with Reiff becoming the new left tackle, but the Lions have so many needs on defense that re-signing a decent right tackle to a reasonable deal is acceptable.
The defense is where there are so many questions to be answered. First off, Cliff Avril is a free agent. Last year, they couldn't get him signed to a long-term deal, so they franchised him. Now what do they do? He probably still wants more money than is appropriate for him, and more than the Lions can afford. Somebody else will likely make him a big offer and he will be gone. This is part of the reason why I am advocating the Lions taking a defensive end with their first round pick. Combine that with re-signing Young and Lawrence Jackson and one cheap free agent signing, and they should be OK at defensive end, while saving some cash to spend elsewhere.
The other key defensive player is Louis Delmas. He's a really good player when he's healthy, but he's rarely healthy. However, I think the Lions should re-sign him. He could be their Bob Sanders. He may only play a couple full seasons, but when he does he'll be an All-Pro type and really lead this defense. The Lions will need to add another safety, perhaps through the draft, but they should keep Delmas around.
Corey Williams should probably be let go, since the Lions have Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh and Williams is up there in years. However, that would mean re-signing Sammie Hill, and perhaps Andre Fluellen as well. You need a defensive line rotation. They should also try and re-sign both DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant, because they don't have the depth at linebacker to see one of them go, let alone both of them. Detroit could replace one in free agency and it may not be an issue, but they aren't likely to really improve on either player unless they break the bank.
The secondary has a couple of notable free agents as well. They can allow Drayton Florence is walk away if they want, and perhaps even Jacob Lacey, but re-signing him might be a good idea. Then, there's Chris Houston. He's a good cornerback, but I fear he may want too much money. If so, they may have to let him leave. This would be problematic, especially in this modern NFL with all the passing and the need for the nickel package more often than in the past.
Clearly, Detroit has a lot of signings to make this offseason, whether it is re-signing their own players or signing some new ones. The NFL Draft can't fill all these needs, especially if the Lions want to really rebound from last season. What the Lions do in free agency will make a big impact on their draft plans. We shall see what Detroit does with their many key free agents in the upcoming weeks.