As a precursor to free agency and the NFL Draft, Pride Of Detroit will take a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster. The series continues with a look at the linebacker position.
Free agents: Justin Durant (UFA)
Before re-signing DeAndre Levy, it looked like the Detroit Lions could conceivably have two new starters at linebacker next season. Stephen Tulloch is under contract through 2016 after getting a new deal last offseason, but the starters on the outside were both set to become free agents this year. The thinking was that at least one of Levy and Justin Durant would be brought back, and Levy is now under contract. Whether or not Durant will be re-signed remains to be seen.
One reason the Lions could potentially afford to lose Durant is the emergence of Ashlee Palmer. Palmer actually wasn't even tendered a contract as a restricted free agent last year, as the Lions wanted to sign him for less money. Fast forward to the end of 2012 and Palmer received an extension for his play on special teams and his potential as a starter. He made two starts at linebacker in 2012, and he will be the favorite to start if Durant leaves.
The other linebackers who could be in the mix for a starting job (if one opens up) are Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis and Carmen Messina. Whitehead and Lewis were talked up quite a bit after being drafted last year, but neither really did a whole lot outside of special teams. Messina was signed last year as an undrafted free agent and spent the entire season on the practice squad after having an impressive preseason.
Need going forward?
With Levy back in the fold, I don't see linebacker as being much of a need. The Lions used two draft picks on linebackers last year, and they have Palmer seemingly ready to step in as a starter. In other words, they aren't lacking depth like other positions on defense. Their depth is certainly unproven, but at some point the Lions are going to have to give the younger guys a chance to play. That doesn't mean you can rule out the possibility of another linebacker being drafted, but when it comes to needs on defense, this is toward the bottom of the list in my mind.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that Levy has been re-signed to a multi-year deal.