The Lions have 18 of their 22 starters under contract for next season.
QB Matthew Stafford will be 24 next year. WR Calvin Johnson will be 27. The defensive is anchored by three 25-year-olds, DT Ndamukong Suh, DE Cliff Avril and FS Louis Delmas.
There is a workable mix of youth and experience throughout the roster. The days of annual roster upheaval are over for the Lions. Still, general manager Martin Mayhew faces a daunting offseason.
Gaping holes in the defense were exposed and exploited late in the season by the Packers and the Saints. The run game and the secondary were clearly deficient. There is some aging issues on the offensive and defensive lines, and some durability and depth issues at linebacker and safety.
The heavy lifting is over, though. The reconstruction is just about complete. Mayhew now must fortify some existing components (with long-term contracts) while upgrading others.
Avril, LT Jeff Backus, MLB Stephen Tulloch and CB Eric Wright -- all starters -- will be unrestricted free agents.
In addition, Johnson will be entering the final year of his contract and will occupy nearly $20 million on the cap. Mayhew would probably love to restructure that final year into a long-term extension.
If he can do that, then he would have a better idea what he can spend on the rest of the free agents.
Backus, 34, had surgery Monday to repair a torn bicep muscle. He is expected to re-sign for one more season, but the injury could cloud things.
The Lions don't have a lot of salary-cap space to spend on free agents, although they could decide to cut some payroll by releasing high-priced veterans (WR Nate Burleson, DT Corey Williams) though that seems unlikely.
"There are tougher decisions when you're trying to figure out how you're going to keep all your good players then how you're going to get rid of all your bad players," Schwartz said. "Honestly, that's the difference between a couple years ago and now. But if you keep drafting well, you keep signing good free agents, you develop young players -- you're going to have some of those decisions."
Detroit Lions player notes ...
- RB Jahvid Best insists that his playing career is not over, though in the same breath admits there are no guarantees the next concussion won't put him out of the game for good. "Even the specialists can't really answer that question," he said, "so it's kind of tough. But I definitely have a bigger understanding of all of it now."
There are similarities between Best and NHL star Sidney Crosby. Both are in the care of sports-concussion specialist Dr. Mickey Collins. Both are using "chiropractic neurology" and various holistic treatment methods. For now, Best will continue regular football workouts until the Lions offseason program begins in April.
"I'm doing a lot of running, a lot of lifting," he said, adding that the expected monthly trips to the see his specialists "is when I'll get all the extra stuff where they work on my vision and all that. But once I get that going," he said, "they're telling me that'll ensure that my tolerance will be a lot higher."
- You get the feeling negotiations to re-sign DE Cliff Avril aren't going to be smooth and simple. Avril gambled on himself last summer, coming back to Detroit on a one-year deal worth $2.6 million. He cashed in on that gamble, having a career season with 11 sacks and six forced fumbles. He said he has no intention of giving the team a hometown discount. "I wouldn't say it's out of my control, but it's up to them if they want me here," he said. "Can it get messy? I think so. I definitely want to be here, but I'm not going to get low-balled, either. I got a family and a lot of people that depend on me. There's no point in getting this opportunity and not being able to take advantage of it."
- Coach Jim Schwartz was asked if he thought the defensive schemes need to be adjusted to better matchup with the high-powered offenses in the NFC.
"There's something to schemes and how they match up to certain opponents," he said. "And there's also something to what are you able to do with the talent you have. Also, what are you good at? The same schemes that allowed 10 points to San Diego were the same schemes that didn't play well down the stretch. You are always a work in progress with that. The most important thing scheme-wise is matching scheme to talent."
- The Lions are bracing for the possibility of losing some members off their coaching staff. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is expected to get some attention among the teams looking for a new head coach. Linebackers coach Matt Burke, defensive assistant Brandon Fisher (son of Jeff Fisher), receivers coach Shaun Jefferson and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek are among those who might draw interest. "That's a byproduct of success," head coach Jim Schwartz said. "I don't view that as a negative."