Although nothing is official right now, the expected franchise tag values for 2013 are out. NFL.com's Ian Rapoport posted them in a story on Wednesday, giving us our first look at what players who get franchised could end up earning in 2013.
Let's focus on the values for three positions: defensive end, cornerback and safety. Based on the Lions' free agents, a player from one of these three positions is likely to be franchised should the Lions decide to use the tag. Here are the numbers: DE - $10.984 million, CB - $10.668 million, S - $6.798 million.
Lions defensive end Cliff Avril got a one-year franchise tender worth $10.605 million last offseason, so there isn't much of a difference for defensive ends next year. Of course, should the Lions decide to tag Avril again, they will have to pay him $12.726 million (a 120 percent increase of this year's salary). That seems highly unlikely, so this will be a situation where Avril likely walks unless the two sides surprisingly manage to agree to a new deal before free agency begins.
The cornerback number is relevant because the Lions may consider franchising Chris Houston. Houston recently made it known that he would prefer to not be franchised, but it's not up to him. If the Lions can't re-sign him before free agency opens, they could decide to franchise him. $10.668 million is certainly a lot, but losing Houston would leave a big hole in the defense.
Finally, there's safety Louis Delmas. Upon first glance, you wouldn't think he would be a real candidate to be franchised given his injury issues. However, he is a big part of the defense when he is on the field. The Lions have virtually no depth at safety right now, as evidenced by how rough it is for them when Delmas is out. My personal hope is that the Lions are able to sign him to a short-term deal worth much less than $6.798 million per year, but the franchise tag could be in order if nothing develops. Is Delmas worth that much given the injury concerns? I'm sure some would argue he isn't worth that much even if injures weren't a concern. Even so, it could be a situation where the Lions decide one year isn't that big of a gamble and franchise him in order to avoid losing him.
It's also worth mentioning that the 2013 NFL salary cap is reportedly going to be set at $121 million, according to Rapoport. That is a very minor bump from $120.6 million this year, especially when you take out the free cap space that was provided by penalties the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys received. It's likely going to be another offseason where the Lions have to get creative in order to create cap room and then stay under the cap.