UFA- Corey Smith
RFA- Langston Moore
We have two starters solidified right now in White and Redding. White was second on the team in sacks in his first season coming over from Tampa Bay. He is a solid pass rusher and acceptable against the run. The other defensive end position is wide open. Francis is young and untested, but he could win the job. He earned more playing time as the season progressed, but still may need another year as a backup in the line rotation. DeVries has been around forever, it seems, but again, he's nothing more than a solid backup. He started a career-high 10 games in 2007, recording 6.5 sacks, but at age 32, it strikes me as very fluky. We cannot rely on him as a starter again. Even though we have Francis as a young end, I would still feel more comfortable with another draft pick or young free agent. Edwards is all but gone as he was inactive for the last four games. He's burned so many bridges in the organization with his failed potential that I see no way to bring him back.
At tackle, we have another troubling situation. Our one Pro Bowl-caliber defensive player, Rogers, has squabbled with management numerous times. His issues with weight, drugs, and work ethic have led the Lions to seek a trade. Recent rumors have him heading to Denver for a 2nd and/or 3rd-rd pick. Whether he ends up in Denver or somewhere else, suffice to say he won't be in Honolulu Blue in the fall. It's sad that we are going to give up such a talented player, but in a rebuilding organization, the last thing we need is a malcontent that will only contribute to the lousy atmosphere. Cory Redding is the definite starter at the other tackle. He improved his run defense in 2007, setting a career-high in tackles. However, he only recorded one sack, down from 8 in 2007. On a line with Rogers, one sack is pitiful. Hopefully, this was an aberration, as he was still making plays. I just hope he can make more of those plays in the backfield. Cody seems to be ready to step in as the new DT starter if Rogers leaves. He has shown he can be a solid run-stopper, but he has only 1.5 sacks in 37 games as a Lion. He was a DE most of his college career, so I see no reason why he can't be an effective pass rusher.
Overall, this is a line severely lacking in depth. We will probably end up starting a couple players that would be better served as backups. Amazingly, this won't be our priority in the 1st round (CB is #1). But, we need to address our depth here either through the draft or in free agency. As the Giants showed in the Super Bowl, an effective D-line rotation can alter ballgames. By trading away our best lineman, we are weakening an already feeble position.
FA- Teddy Lehman, Boss Bailey
Our starting lineup currently consists of Ernie Sims on the outside and Paris Lenon in the middle. Bailey's departure opens a hole at the other outside spot. There's no need to look in-house. Lewis and Cannon are nothing more than depth and special teams fodder. At 6' 228, Cannon is likely too small to start, but he could be a nice backup. Lewis is almost the exact same size, and he has been able to carve out a major role on special teams. Davis is even smaller at 5'9 239, so I can't see him becoming a starter. He played only one game last season, spending the majority on the practice squad. He would have to seriously improve his game to warrant extensive playing time. The Lions have already started looking at free agent options on the outside. Former Bronco Al Wilson has been mentioned as a possible solution. One problem with that: He didn't play at all in 2007 because of a head injury late in 2006. At age 31, it would be interesting to see what Wilson has left. He could play the middle or the outside. Playing Wilson in the middle would push Lenon to the outside, a position he has played in the past. If healthy, Wilson is an All-Pro candidate, but there are no guarantees. Regardless of Wilson's presence, the Lions still need to address the depth (this will be a common phrase this spring in Allen Park).
UFA- Travis Fisher, Keith Smith
RFA- Stanley Wilson
UFA- Idrees Bashir
After releasing Fernando Bryant, Detroit is severely lacking at the CB position. Our other starter, Fisher, and our nickel back, Smith, are free agents. Wilson was also a solid contribubtor before going down to injury in late November. He, too, is a restricted free agent. The players left on the roster are practice squad and special team types, only receiving playing time because of others' injuries. Our top priority will be to draft a corner at the #15 slot in the draft, regardless of who we can re-sign. Multiple mocks have us picking Aqib Talib of Kansas. Talib is a solid corner who has tremendous speed and coverage ability. We're probably going to take a few more DBs in later rounds as well to add depth. We absolutely need to re-sign our FA corners. Fisher and Wilson are certainly not top-notch corners. Smith is a solid nickel back and special teamer, if nothing else. But, the other FA DB options are limited.
Safety is actually a somewhat promising spot. While Kennedy will likely be bought out (he's 30 and has lost some speed and coverage ability), Gerald Alexander is ready to step in. A 2nd-rd pick out of Boise St., Alexander was one of the only Lions' draft picks to contribute heavily. He led all rookie safeties in tackles and started every game. Our free safety should be Daniel Bullocks. He missed 2007 with an injury, but he played very well in his rookie campaign in 2006, compiling 70 tackles. A solid core of Alexander and Bullocks is a good asset to build around.
Jason Hanson, K
Nick Harris, P
Don Muhlbach, LS
Harris has greatly improved his game since coming to Detroit in 2003. He has averaged about 44 yds/punt the past three years. He has not had one blocked as well. Harris is only 30, which is quite young in punter standards, so he should be in Detroit for a while.
There aren't many kickers that are the face of their franchise. But, Hanson's constant presence on the Lions is refreshing for most fans. Even at 38, Hanson's leg has lost little. He is still deadly accurate at 83% the past two years. He is even 6-10 from 50+, a remarkable stat for his age. There is no reason to doubt Hanson's reliability until he proves otherwise.
The only special teams area that needs addressing is the return game. Ever since Eddie Drummond began getting hurt every other play, Detroit has struggled to find a solid return man. Whether it's one of our diminutive backup wideouts or a free agent pickup, the Lions need to improve the return game. Our field position has suffered as we try to find an adequate replacement.
Overall, this is a defense in serious need of help. Our depth is lacking at every position, especially the defensive backfield. We've already lost Bryant and Bailey. We may soon lose Kennedy and Rogers through trades or release. If we can't adequately replace those players through the draft or free agency, next year could get ugly in a hurry. I don't care how good our offense can be. Without a defense to hold down the fort, we won't win too many games.