The Detroit Lions are expected to be busy when free agency finally begins, and linebackers Justin Durant (Jaguars) and Stephen Tulloch (Titans) could be among their top priorities, according to foxsportsdetroit.com.
A source told the website that the Lions value Durant a bit higher due to his athleticism and ability to play inside or outside. Tulloch plays only in the middle, but hasn’t missed a game through his first five NFL seasons.
Tulloch also has the advantage of being familiar with Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who was his defensive coordinator for his first three seasons. Tulloch has 365 tackles over the past three seasons, including 169 last year. However, he has not forced a single fumble during his career.
Tulloch was Tennessee’s leading tackler, but in another very telling stat, the Titans’ next four tacklers were all defensive backs – Michael Griffin, Chris Hope, Alterraun Verner and Cortland Finnegan.
Durant, at 6-feet-1, is two inches taller, plays with more physicality and would give the Lions the flexibility to keep DeAndre Levy in the middle.
Oakland Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will be one of the most highly-coveted free agents once the league year starts, but the Lions aren’t expected to be serious bidders despite a glaring need for improved coverage.
Detroit finished 16th in pass defense last season, but that was primarily due to a strong pass rush and often playing behind with the league’s 24th-ranked run defense under constant siege. The Lions struggled on the corners, but the Detroit Free Press cited a team source that said Asomugha will likely prove “too expensive” for Detroit to seriously court.
The Houston Texans, who finished last in past defense last year, are expected to be among the most aggressive pursuers.
Asomugha wasn’t available to be given the franchise tag by the Oakland Raiders before the lockout because of a stipulation in his contract (he signed a three-year, $45.3 million deal in 2009 that allowed for the contract to be voided if Asomugha didn’t reach certain incentives that weren’t likely to be earned). Raiders owner Al Davis said the team would still like to talk about a contract with Asomugha, but he’ll be one of the top names on the free-agent market once it opens.
According to the Free Press, potential free agents such as Antonio Cromartie (Jets), Johnathan Joseph (Bengals) or Ike Taylor (Steelers) could be a higher priority for the Lions. Much will depend on the framework of the new collective bargaining agreement, including tags for free agents and salary cap.
One of the Lions’ priorities will be re-signing defensive end Cliff Avril, who was tendered before the lockout started but who could become an unrestricted free agent next offseason.
“Cliff has told me his desire is to stay there,” agent Brian Mackler told the Free Press. “He enjoys it. His first two years were very rough. Now, in terms of the atmosphere, I think coach (Jim) Schwartz and (president) Tom (Lewand) have really turned it around, where the expectations are that they’ll have the best defensive line in football.”
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