Here’s a look at some of the Lions roster concerns going into the start of free agency in the NFL.
Back-up quarterback: Shaun Hill is an unrestricted free agent, and is expected to resign with the Lions, provided the price is right. Drew Stanton would be the #3 QB if he returns; however, if he wants to get the shot to be someone’s #2 QB, he might have to leave. If Stanton doesn’t return, expect the Lions to look for a young quarterback in free agency or in the draft to develop as the eventual down-the-road replacement for Hill.
Running back: Expect the Lions to take some good, hard looks at free agents at this position, especially with Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure both returning from injuries. Kevin Smith will likely be resigned – he ran well, but his effectiveness was limited by injuries that kept him off the field. Two names of interest to keep an eye on: Ronnie Brown and Brandon Jacobs. The Lions almost acquired Brown in a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles last year; Jacobs is a tough, inside runner who was released last week by the New York Giants.
Wide receiver: Expect the Lions to resign Rashied Davis and Maurice Stovall, who were key contributors on special teams last year. If the team can only sign one, however, the choice would likely be Davis. With Nate Burleson restructuring his contract on Monday, he’ll return to battle Titus Young as the starter alongside Calvin Johnson.
Offensive line: Getting Jeff Backus resigned is a priority, as the Lions don’t have anyone set to step in at left tackle. In fact, adding young offensive linemen in both free agency and in the draft is a must, since 3 of the current starters are 30 or older [Backus, Dominic Raiola and Stephen Peterman] and a fourth [Rob Sims] is 28. Corey Hilliard, who’s a restricted free agent, is a serviceable right tackle, but Jason Fox has been derailed by injuries in the last two seasons. Interesting question: will free agent guard Leonard Davis return? He was a nice veteran presence in the locker room, despite not playing a game last season
Defensive line: The four starters [Ndamukong Suh, Vanden Bosch, Cliff Avril and Corey Williams] will return, as will three key reserves [Nick Fairley, Willie Young and Lawrence Jackson]. With Andre Fluellen an unrestricted free agent, and Sammie Lee Hill a restricted free agent, expect the Lions to add young players in both free agency and through the draft add depth to that critical position.
Linebacker: This is the area to watch in free agency. Brining back Stephen Tulloch is critical for the Lions, but he’ll be one of the more sought after players on the market. Losing Tulloch would force Detroit to add a veteran, like a London Fletcher or a Kirk Morrison, in free agency. Also an unrestricted free agent: Bobby Carpenter, who was a key reserve for the Lions last season. DeAndre Levy is a restricted free agent, and will likely be back. You could see a lot of turnover in this area as the off-season churns on.
Secondary: Like Tulloch, bringing Eric Wright back is important for the Lions, who don’t have the salary cap room to go after the bigger name free agents, like a Cortland Finnegan or a Carlos Rogers. Expect the Lions to add a player or two in free agency, just not marquee names, especially since Alphonso Smith has worn out his welcome and won’t be returning next season.
Special teams: Another area that bears watching. The Lions will bring in a punter to challenge Ryan Donahue in training camp, since Ben Graham, who punted well replacing the injured Donahue, is an unrestricted free agent. A key decision centers around underrated long snapper Don Muhlbach. He wants to return, but the Lions may go with a player with more versatility – someone who can play multiple positions, in addition to special teams.