As a precursor to free agency and the NFL Draft, we are going to take a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster. We continue the series with a look at the Lions' linebackers.
Under contract: DeAndre Levy (2015), Stephen Tulloch (2016), Ashlee Palmer (2014), Tahir Whitehead (2015), Travis Lewis (2015), Cory Greenwood (2015), Brandon Hepburn (2015), Jon Morgan (2015)
Free agents: Rocky McIntosh (UFA), Julian Stanford (ERFA)
Thanks in part to the career season DeAndre Levy had in 2013, the Lions are in pretty good shape at linebacker right now. They chose to re-sign Levy over Justin Durant a year ago, and that decision turned out to be a good one. With Levy at one of the outside spots and Stephen Tulloch returning in the middle, the Lions have two excellent starters at linebacker.
The third starting spot isn't quite as set in stone. Ashlee Palmer became the Lions' third starter last season as the top left outside linebacker, but they were in the nickel so much that he often wasn't even on the field. That's the one spot in the starting lineup where the Lions could really use an upgrade, although they could likely get by again with a combination of Palmer and the nickel package.
Moving down the depth chart, the Lions have several young, unproven linebackers. Tahir Whitehead and Travis Lewis were both in the mix to start last year during training camp, but neither player was able to beat out Palmer. As a result, Whitehead and Lewis were mainly special teams guys. That was also the case for Julian Stanford and Rocky McIntosh, who are both set to become free agents. We already know that McIntosh won't be back with the Lions next season, but Stanford could be tendered as an exclusive-rights free agent after filling in on special teams during Lewis' suspension at the end of 2013.
The Lions also have Cory Greenwood, Brandon Hepburn and Jon Morgan at linebacker. Greenwood was poised to have a shot at making the team as a special teams contributor last summer before he suffered a season-ending injury, so he could be in the mix for a roster spot this year. Hepburn could also be in the mix for a roster spot after spending last season on the practice squad. Morgan's chances aren't quite as good considering he was let go during the final round of cuts last year and did not end up on the practice squad. The Lions only brought him back after the 2013 season ended, so he will likely just be a camp body again.
Need going forward?
There have been some indications that the Lions aren't actively seeking an upgrade at outside linebacker. That doesn't mean they won't make an upgrade at some point, but replacing Palmer doesn't appear to be a top priority. Even so, they would benefit from adding more talent to the starting lineup at that spot, and bringing in a new starter would improve the overall depth by shifting Palmer into a backup role. Also, having someone with more pass-rushing skills in that spot would be nice, but this doesn't appear to be a pressing need for the Lions.
Previously: Quarterback, running back, wide receiver, tight end, offensive tackle, offensive guard, center, defensive end, defensive tackle