The Detroit Lions currently have only one defensive end under contract. That's Ronnell Lewis, who played all of one snap on defense last season. They will also retain the rights to restricted free agent Willie Young if they decide to tender him a contract offer, but they have a lot of work to do with this position when free agency opens.
While it's expected that the Lions will try to re-sign Lawrence Jackson and Cliff Avril, there's no telling if either will be back. Jackson is certainly more likely to return than Avril, but either way, the Lions are likely going to be in need of more depth at this position. One way to go about adding depth would be to sign defensive end William Hayes. As pointed out by Rotoworld's Nick Mensio, Hayes makes a lot of sense for the Lions.
For starters, Hayes was drafted by the Tennessee Titans back in 2008, which was Jim Schwartz's final year as their defensive coordinator. Hayes spent four seasons with the Titans before following Jeff Fisher to the St. Louis Rams in 2012. With the Rams, Hayes played in all 16 games last season, and despite not making a single start, he had 35 tackles and 7.0 sacks. To put that in context, Avril led the Lions with 9.5 sacks last season. Hayes' 7.0 sacks would have ranked third on the Lions in 2012 and second among defensive ends.
Given his connection to Schwartz and the fact that he had so much success playing for Fisher last season, Hayes really seems like an ideal fit for the Lions. He played on a one-year deal worth $900,000 last season, so I'd imagine he'd be an affordable option for the Lions. Mensio writes that the Rams want Hayes to return as their third defensive end, but the Lions could offer him playing time and the chance to compete for a starting job.
If I had to guess right now, I'd expect the Lions to re-sign both Young and Jackson to go along with Lewis. Jackson figures to be a starter based on how things stand right now, and adding a guy like Hayes into the mix would give the Lions some flexibility going into the draft. Using the No. 5 pick on a defensive end would solidify the position, but if the Lions at least have some depth, they could afford to wait and use a later pick on a defensive end. Then, once the season begins, they would have a nice rotation of Jackson, Young, someone like Hayes, Lewis and a rookie.
Losing Avril would certainly be tough, but signing a low-profile guy like Hayes could be a very smart move for the Lions. They likely wouldn't have to break the bank, and they would get a guy who had only 2.5 fewer sacks than Avril last season despite not starting even once. With a wide-open depth chart to offer, I think the Lions could be a very attractive landing spot for Hayes.