Detroit Lions 2013 Offseason Preview
SI.com is laying out offseason road maps for all 32 teams as they start their journey for the Lombardi Trophy -- two teams per day, from the teams that need the most work to contend in 2013 to the ones that are in pretty good shape. See them all.
2012 Record: 4-12
Key Pending Free Agents: Cliff Avril (DE), Gosder Cherulis (RT), Louis Delmas (S), Justin Durant (LB), Jason Hanson (K), Chris Houston (CB), DeAndre Levy (LB), Corey Williams (DT)
List of Draft Picks (pending compensatory picks): 1 (5), 2 (36), 3 (68), 5 (130), 6 (163), 7 (195)
Available Cap Space: $5 million
GM/Coaching moves made (if any): Fired special teams coach Danny Crossman; hired special teams coach John Bonamego, running backs coach Curtis Modkins, tight ends coach Bobby Johnson
On the heels of a surprising 2011 playoff berth, the Lions started a disappointing 1-3 in 2012. They bounced back, however, to pull even at 4-4, with a strong stretch that included a win over Russell Wilson and the Seahawks.
Then, the roof caved in.
Detroit lost its final eight, including five straight at home -- with the nail in the playoff-hopes coffin coming on Thanksgiving Day, as Ndamukong Suh "accidentally" kicked Houston quarterback Matt Schaub and Jim Schwartz cost his team a touchdown with an errant challenge. Three weeks after that holiday debacle, the Lions rolled over in a 38-10 loss to an Arizona team coming off a 58-0 setback at Seattle's hands.
The Lions' collapse occurred despite the incomparable efforts of wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who set a new NFL single-season receiving record by racking up 1,964 yards. Not surprisingly, he earned a Pro Bowl bid (though he withdrew from the game) and an All-Pro nod. His quarterback, Matthew Stafford, finished the year just 33 yards shy of 5,000 and was named a Pro Bowl alternate.
Still, the Lions' offense suffered through some frustrating droughts, as the franchise searched far and wide to find a complement for Johnson. Fellow receiver Nate Burleson wound up on injured reserve with a broken leg, while Titus Young's selfish antics eventually led to his release. Detroit also again struggled to generate any sort of run game, and the defense continued to be an Achilles' heel -- the Lions finished 23rd in rush offense and 27th in points allowed.
4,927. The Lions' passing yardage total, good for second in the league (though it's actually less than what Stafford threw for, due to sacks). Only New England (4,997) picked up more yards through the air.
The obvious choice is Johnson, off the heels of a season for the ages.
But the Lions have a pretty good thing going at defensive tackle, too, where Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley showed the potential to be the dynamic duo up front that this team covets. Suh and Fairley combined for 14 sacks and 50 QB hurries (per Pro Football Focus).
The Lions have drafted so their defense is built around its interior lineman -- both Suh and Fairley were first-round picks. So, though upwards of a dozen Detroit defenders could hit free agency this year, Jim Schwartz can rest easy knowing that he has Suh and Fairley as building blocks.
45. The number of combined sacks, hits and hurries Stephen Peterman gave up, most of any guard in the league
The Lions set about trying to remedy that situation by cutting Peterman (along with veteran DE Kyle Vanden Bosch), days after Super Bowl XLVII. There are two potential replacements on the roster: Bill Nagy, who spent the season on injured reserve but should be healthy next season; and 2012 first-round pick Riley Reiff. Detroit has to find somewhere for Reiff to play, though with Gosder Cherulis up for free agency and Jeff Backus contemplating retirement, he may have to inherit a tackle spot.
Would the Lions consider using a draft pick here? No. 5 overall might be high to nab Chance Warmack, but someone like Warmack's teammate Barrett Jones in Round 2 makes sense.
1. Try to fix the run game (again). Mikel Leshoure showed some glimpses of potential in 2012, as did unheralded backup Joique Bell. Both should be back next season, but the Lions are no longer counting on Jahvid Best to return from multiple concussions. That means this team badly needs to find a home-run threat out of the backfield. When healthy, Best added a dynamic that defenses had to account for -- something neither Leshoure nor Bell really brings to the table.
2. Rebuild the defense. Easy, right? Last year, the Lions brought back 21 of 22 starters; this time around, they face the possibility of needing to replace eight starters on defense alone. All three levels of the defense need help, especially the secondary, where Chris Houston, the Lions' lone reliable cornerback, could bail in free agency.
3. Improve the special teams. Jason Hanson has yet to announce if he'll be back for a 22nd season. Even if he does, the Lions have to get better in the return game (Stefan Logan won't be re-signed) and must find a punter (Nick Harris was awful in 2012).
There will be a lot of new faces in Detroit when training camp rolls around, beginning with at least two or three draft picks that the Lions expect to step in and start immediately.
Detroit has a little wiggle room under the cap but not enough to be major players -- a fact that might lead to Avril's departure for more money than Detroit can give him. The Lions have to stretch that cash over a number of areas, but 2013 may see a roster filled with guys trying to prove themselves.
The Lions will head into the summer as a high-upside, relatively unpredictable commodity. Stafford, Johnson and Detroit's passing attack will be enough to keep this team in most games, but will the offensive line hold up? Will the run game improve? Who will join Suh, Fairley and Stephen Tulloch in the defense's starting 11?
Even with high picks in the draft's first three rounds, the Lions probably will not know those answers until late in camp.