Step #3 in turning Detroit into a perennial playoff contender is to not re-sign defensive end Cliff Avril or Louis Delmas to a Lions contract.
In the first article of this series, we clearly defined that steps #2 through #6 are dependent on each other. The success or failure of a step impacts the other steps. And here they are again for your review:
- Tell Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz the Lions must be 9-7 in 2013 or they’re gone.
- Resolve if Matthew Stafford or Ndamukong Suh deserves a long-term contract.
- Do not re-sign Cliff Avril or Louis Delmas.
- Select the best linebacker or pass rusher with your first pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
- Draft defense first and offensive line personnel second.
- Fill roster spots with medium and low-cost free agents.
By now step #1 should be done and the best outcome for step #2 is:
- Detroit has signed quarterback Matthew Stafford to a long-term contract that does not adversely affect their salary cap for the next five years.
- Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has been traded for draft picks, which could mean the Lions have 8-10 players to select in the 2013 NFL draft. (The normal number of draft selections is seven per team.)
- The Lions have $20 million to invest in signing or re-signing free agents and signing 2013 draft picks.
Why must both players go?
Defensive end Cliff Avril and free safety Louis Delmas are fine football players, but signing one or both of them to long-term contracts creates havoc for the other five steps.
Even if Step #2 is successful and takes the Lions payroll down from $100 million to $80 million, the Lions are limited to only $41 million to sign their 2013 draft picks and somewhere between 20-30 free agents. (Remember the projected salary cap for each NFL team is $121 million for 2013.)
Avril has been one of the most consistent defensive players in the last three years. He has 29 sacks with 11 in his best year (2011) and has averaged just under 35 tackles a year.
Delmas is considered the heart of the Lions secondary. He has been credited with 267 tackles, three sacks and three interceptions during his four-year career.
The problem with trying to sign Avril is the price would be too high. He was designated the Lions' franchise player in 2012 and was paid $10.61 million. Avril will be looking for a long-term deal in the same dollar range and it simply cannot happen given Detroit's current payroll.
The issue with Delmas is his health. He missed half the season this year and five games in 2011. Though it would not cost as much to re-sign Delmas, is he worth the long-term investment?
What is the impact of letting these players go?
Avril would definitely be missed, because he is the Lions' best defensive end. Still, there are some promising candidates in 2013 NFL draft (see Step #4).
Ricardo Silva replaced Delmas in the lineup and appeared in 10 games during the season. He wasn't flashy, but managed to record 40 tackles and had one interception.
Given the performance of the Detroit defense, change is coming regardless of what the Lions do with Avril and Delmas. Starting linebackers DeAndre Levy and Justin Durant are free agents. Defensive linemen Corey Williams, Sammie Lee Hill, Lawrence Jackson and Willie Young are restricted or unrestricted free agents. Seven defensive backs currently don't have contracts for the 2013 season.
Is there any way you could sign one of these guys?
Yes, you could leverage Delmas' injury issues into a one-year contract. It would be a "prove your worth" deal.
Now there is no guarantee that Delmas would agree to this arrangement, but the Lions don't have a lot of flexibility when it comes to their payroll.
So what is next for the Lions?
You have traded away Ndamukong Suh and refused to re-sign Cliff Avril and Louis Delmas. The next three steps (4-6) will be used to build a more competitive team with perennial playoff talent.
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Enjoy the last of this weekend's NFL playoff games. By the way, did you notice the number of rookies participating in the playoffs?