Free agents: Cliff Avril (received franchise tag)
In terms of pure talent, defensive end is one of the best positions on the entire roster for the Detroit Lions. They made it a point a few years ago to start building a fierce pass rush, and by signing Kyle Vanden Bosch, trading for Lawrence Jackson and drafting Willie Young, the Lions added three talented players to go along with Cliff Avril.
Avril, as you all are well aware, has been franchised by the Lions after the two sides were unable to work out a long-term deal. Negotiations on a long-term deal are continuing, and the Lions have until July 15 to get something done. If nothing is, then Avril will be back on a one-year tender (assuming he signs it).
The Lions didn't want to let Avril go because of how much he has improved over the years and how well he played last season. The good news for the Lions is that even if they had decided to let him walk, there still would have been good depth at the position. Jackson is a great player to have in the rotation, as is Young, who had three sacks in 2011, which was only his second year in the NFL. Between them and Avril, there is a lot of young talent at the position.
The veteran of the group and really of the defense is Vanden Bosch. He came back strong from a neck injury at the end of 2010 and recorded eight sacks and four forced fumbles for the Lions in 2011. He is the unquestioned leader of the defense and has played a big part in this team's turnaround both on and off the field. I know many have suggested the Lions cut him loose because of his cap number, but it's not like Vanden Bosch didn't do anything last season. He had a pretty good year, and because he is such a great leader, his worth can't really be measured only by stats.
The one other defensive end currently on the roster is Ugo Chinasa. He was on the practice squad for the final two months of last season and signed a futures deal after the Lions were knocked out of the playoffs.
Need going forward?
As long as Avril gets re-signed (either to a long-term deal or his one-year tender), there really isn't much of a need at defensive end. Last year, the Lions carried only four on the roster for most of the season (partly because defensive tackle Andre Fluellen can also play defensive end), and the top four already appears to be set with Avril, Vanden Bosch, Jackson and Young.
Despite the lack of a need at this position, don't be surprised if the Lions draft another defensive end in April. In the first round especially, there could be a couple guys at the position worth selecting if they fall to the 23rd overall pick. Last year, the Lions didn't exactly have a need at defensive tackle, but that didn't stop them from drafting Nick Fairley. You can never have too many good pass rushers, so I wouldn't rule out a defensive end being taken in the draft and perhaps even in one of the higher rounds.