National Football League teams will officially be permitted to sign free agent players on Tuesday March 12, although they can now officially contact players and express interest.
The Detroit Lions have articulated intent to be a larger participant in the free agent market in 2013 but are running the risk of losing some of their own players.
The biggest names that will be exposed to free agency for the Lions are defensive end Cliff Avril – who will certainly attract the interests of several teams – and cornerback Chris Houston – the team’s most reliable defensive back over the last couple years.
The Lions will undoubtedly pursue both, although only the passage of time will provide insight to their ability to retain either of their marquee free agents.
After Houston and Avril the attention shifts to several key contributors on the defense that may generate some interest on the open market.
Safety Louis Delmas has been brought back in for a physical evaluation and has reportedly been offered a contract by the Lions. It seems as if Delmas will test the open market – where he figures to draw interest– before making any decisions.
After missing 13 games in the last two seasons, it is understandable why the Lions may have taken their time offering a deal to the 2009 second-round draft choice but now they run the risk of losing an often undervalued member of their team.
Back in November, Lions head coach Jim Schwartz was asked about the impact Delmas had on his defense.
“There’s nothing like having the leader of your defense, a guy who is literally the heart and soul of our defense, and a guy that’s been experienced and played well in our defense,” said Schwartz. “It’d be nothing like having a guy like that back.”
Unlike the reports for Delmas, there is nothing suggesting that defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill and linebacker Justin Durant have received offers from the club.
Hill is a four-year pro and played last year on the one-season pact he was tendered as a restricted free agent. He appeared in 15 games for the team and was a key member of the defensive tackle rotation. He probably is capable of a bigger role elsewhere but he could represent a significant loss for the Lions with defensive tackle Corey Williams also on the market.
Hill indicated he’d prefer to stay in Detroit as the season was wrapping up in December. Of course, in order for that to happen, the Lions would need to make an attempt to bring him back.
“Detroit, you learn and grow to love it,” said Hill. “I’m happy and I’m content where I’m at and I don’t plan on going no where. Hopefully (I) will still be here.”
Durant is a reliable outside linebacker capable of stepping up and making a tackle as well as dropping into coverage. He was the team’s second leading tackler a year ago (103) and has 171 tackles during his two years with the Lions.
The team has already re-signed linebacker DeAndre Levy and it is unclear if they will make any attempt to bring back Durant as well. If they do let him walk, it will most likely be due to a reluctance to pay for a player that rarely generates turnovers (no interceptions, no fumble recoveries and only one forced fumbles over two seasons in Detroit).
Durant, a former member of the Jacksonville Jaguars, has experienced the rigors of free agency before and also hopes to stay in Detroit.
“I love it (in Detroit),” Durant said in December. “When I got up here, I was just used to Jacksonville and how it was. After the first week, I was like ‘man, I love it’. It’s a total different atmosphere. A whole different vibe. I like all the guys around here.”
With free agency opening up in a matter of days, the Lions 2013 roster will start to take shape. The shiny new additions that may arrive could provide a distraction to those that are lost but – as the adage says – you don’t always know what you have until it’s gone.
With Avril, Houst, Delmas, Hill and Durant all at risk of leaving, the Lions could have more holes to plug after free agency begins than before it started.