NFC North Tour: Detroit Lions

What's going on around the NFC North? We continue in Detroit, which went 2-14 and showed some progress this past season after going winless in 2008. We have the Lions' offseason strategy, top needs, free agent bios and more.

The Lions' No. 1 need is talent. They have gone 2-30 over the past two seasons — and 3-37 over the past 2 1/2 — because of serious holes in their roster after years of mismanagement by former president Matt Millen.

Though the Lions feel they found a quarterback in Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, they know they must build around him. They need weapons to complement wide receiver Calvin Johnson on offense, and they must shore up a defense that ranked last in the NFL each of the past three seasons.

Offseason strategy

General manager Martin Mayhew made it clear the Lions won't be using a franchise or transition tag on anyone this year. No one rises to that level.

The biggest decisions are at linebacker. Larry Foote, the captain in the middle in 2009, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 5. Mayhew said he wouldn't rule out bringing back Foote, but Foote sensed a lack of interest and said he expected to hit the market. Julian Peterson is due a $7.5 million salary in 2010. The Lions can't afford to overpay, but they're so short on talent that they can't afford to let decent players leave, either.

Team needs

1. Defensive line: The Lions failed to generate a four-man rush and were inconsistent against the run in 2009. They need both a pass rusher on the edge and a force in the middle. They could use the No. 2 pick on one of two tackles: Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh or Oklahoma's Gerald McCoy.

2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.

3. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.

Unrestricted free agents

— LB Vinny Ciurciu helped improve the woeful coverage units. He could be signed as a role player.

— OL Damion Cook spent the season on injured reserve. If he comes back, it will be for depth.

— QB Daunte Culpepper appeared certain to be gone, but both sides haven't ruled out a reunion.

— TE Casey Fitzsimmons is a good receiving tight end and a valuable player on special teams. He could be back in that role.

— TE Will Heller blocked well and made some good catches. He could return in that role, especially with Brandon Pettigrew recovering from a torn ACL.

— LB Larry Foote wants to stay in his hometown and is upset the Lions haven't shown more interest, but he struggled to adapt to the middle in a 4-3 after seven years in Pittsburgh's 3-4.

— CB Anthony Henry isn't the cover man he once was and spent most of the season in the doghouse.

— CB Will James might have been the Lions' most consistent corner, and the team would like him back at the right price with the position so thin.

— OT Jon Jansen is limited physically after so many injuries but remains a solid backup and a valuable veteran presence in locker room.

— S Marquand Manuel started six games but did not distinguish himself, then finished the season on injured reserve.

— QB Patrick Ramsey signed only at the end of the season to dress as the third quarterback with Matthew Stafford injured. The Lions are looking for a veteran backup.

Restricted free agents

(*indicates restricted because of uncapped year)

— DE Copeland Bryan finished the season on injured reserve and would return if the Lions want him for depth.

— *S Daniel Bullocks has missed two out of the last three seasons because of a knee injury. He is recovering from microfracture surgery, and it remains to be seen whether the Lions will tender the 2006 second-round pick.

— LB Zack Follett made an impact on special teams when signed off practice squad, also contributed in four-linebacker package. He's likely to be tendered.

— *OG Dylan Gandy started at right guard after Stephen Peterman suffered an ankle injury. The Lions might want him back for depth.

— OT Corey Hilliard, signed during the season for depth, could return to compete for a roster spot.

— CB Kevin Hobbs was the top nickel back, but for one of the league's most porous pass defenses. He could return until Lions find an upgrade.

— *DE Jason Hunter started at left end and was solid, at best. The Lions are likely to tender him.

— *OT Daniel Loper couldn't hold onto the starting job at left guard, rotating with Manny Ramirez all season.

— TE Jake Nordin spent the preseason with the Lions, then returned when they had injury problems at tight end.

— RB Cedric Peerman provided depth at running back. He could return at thin position.

— OG Manny Ramirez couldn't hold onto left guard spot, either, rotating with Daniel Loper.

— *S Ko Simpson is recovering from microfracture surgery. Health could be determining factor.

— CB DeAngelo Smith provided depth at corner.

— *LB Cody Spencer spent the season on injured reserve with knee injury.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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