"I know the nucleus of this team is coming back," center Dominic Raiola said. "We've walked out of here in the past not knowing what was going to happen. But I see a lot of these guys, most of these guys, coming back."
That, as much as the season-ending four-game win streak, is fueling the players' optimism for 2011. The coaching staff and the systems are expected back intact for a third straight season, unheard of during Matt Millen's reign in Detroit.
"Across the board, offense and defense, we are still looking to improve the roster," coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "We are still looking to improve our starting 22. But we aren't looking at an overhaul. Even at the spots where we do have need, it's not like it was last year with the defensive backs where we erased everybody except Louis Delmas.
"There are a lot of guys here that we will continue moving forward with, and a lot of them might not be starters."
Every starter and main backup on offense is expected to return for 2011. On defense, starting defensive end Cliff Avril can be a restricted free agent (pending what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement), while starting cornerback Chris Houston and defensive end Turk McBride could become restricted free agents.
The Lions, though, can tender all three of those players. Among those who have probably played their final games with the Lions are outside linebacker Julian Peterson, cornerback Nathan Vasher (unrestricted) and safety C.C. Brown (unrestricted).
Outside linebacker Landon Johnson is also unrestricted, but the Lions may try to bring him back.
"We have talked before about having to address the starting 22 before you can address your depth," Schwartz said. "What has happened this year is, because of the injuries and other things, we have been able to address a lot of the depth issues. Now we have to start adding pieces to the starting 22."
- OLB Zack Follett isn't ready to quit playing football, but his body, particularly his neck and spine, might not let him. Follett is still recovering from a serious neck injury suffered against the Giants on Oct. 17.
"I am just in my second year, so I know I still have a lot to go," Follett said "But if my body tells me something else, then, you know, I still want to walk and enjoy life. I know football isn't life, but it's what I love to do."
Follett, who began the season as the Lions' starting outside linebacker, continues to follow the team's rehabilitation schedule. He hasn't been told whether or not his neck and spine will heal to the point of allowing him to play. The problem is that the disk in his neck was damaged and there is very little space between the disk and his spinal cord. Any serious contact to the area could cause paralysis.
"When I got hurt, it tapped my spinal cord - they call it a cervical tap," he said. "That's why I lost feeling. Doing the rehab and correcting posture and stuff like that, they said could help the disk retract a little bit."
- DE Cliff Avril can be a restricted free agent depending on what happens with the new collective bargaining agreement, but he has no moving plans. "I definitely want to be here next year and I think I will be here next year," he said. "Wherever it goes and whatever I get (contract-wise), it is what it is, but I think I am going to be here."
- OLB Julian Peterson, who was a healthy scratch Sunday after starting the first 15 games, is not expected to be back next season. The Lions would have to pay him $8 million to bring him back and given his subpar play and his unhappiness throughout the season, that's not going to happen. Peterson cleared out his locker Monday and refused to talk to the media.
- QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder) said he was close to being 100 percent and that if the Lions had made the playoffs, he would have been ready to play. He will not require surgery in the offseason.
- RB Jahvid Best said he will not require surgery to fix the turf toe injuries that plagued him all year. "They told me it was going to take about eight weeks of rest to completely heal them up," he said.
- MLB DeAndre Levy, who will have surgery to fix a groin problem he dealt with all season, said he would have no issue with moving to outside linebacker next season. The Lions' plan for now is to keep him in the middle, but depending who they draft or acquire in the offseason, that could change.
- PK Dave Rayner has probably won the right to compete with veteran Jason Hanson for the kicking job next season. Hanson, 41, is coming off surgery in each of the last two seasons.