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Lions position outlook: Defensive tackles

1/27/2014

A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions' offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with defensive tackles.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen; Defensive ends.

2014 free agents: Andre Fluellen

The good: Ndamukong Suh was a Pro Bowler again and had possibly the most consistent season of his career. He spent the majority of 2013 facing double teams and still managed 49 tackles, 5.5 sacks and five pass breakups. According to Pro Football Focus, he had 54 hurries -- second among defensive tackles -- and graded out as the second-best defensive tackle in the NFL. He also only picked up eight penalties this season. When Nick Fairley played well, he played exceptionally well this season. He stayed healthy for most of the year, had 35 tackles and six sacks. He also had 21 quarterback hurries according to PFF, and graded out tied with Pat Sims for the best defensive tackle in coverage this season. C.J. Mosley, despite playing a third of the snaps, graded out as Detroit’s third-best defender according to PFF. Detroit’s run defense was also among the top run defenses in the NFL.

The bad: For as well as the Lions played against the run, they struggled getting to the passer. Despite not blitzing much at all, Detroit’s defensive linemen were 12th in the league as a unit in quarterback sacks, with 27. Not terrible numbers, but when the defense is predicated on getting enough pressure from the front four to force havoc in the back seven, they needed more.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Suh is the big question here, as he has an astronomical $22,412,000 cap number entering the final season of his contract. That makes for 34.02 percent of the defensive cap and 18.01 percent of the Lions’ total cap right now. Getting him to take a cap-friendly extension will be critical. Fairley is slated to make $3,146,500 against the cap in 2014 and Mosley is slated to make $1,725,000 next season as a cap number.

What Caldwell might favor: Most of this isn’t shocking for a defensive tackle. Caldwell’s defensive tackles were typically in the 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-3 range and usually over 300 pounds. Both Suh and Fairley are listed as being a little bit taller than that, but they’ll fit into what Detroit wants to do defensively, especially since the coaches haven’t changed along the defensive line.

Potential cuts: Jimmy Saddler-McQueen and Xavier Proctor were both practice squad guys last season who were signed to futures contracts. Neither is expected to make much money, but could see one of the two end up either back on the practice squad or off the roster. Suh, Fairley and Mosley would likely be safe.

Draft priority: Medium. Much like at defensive end, can’t see the Lions going with an early draft pick here, mostly because the team has used first rounders here in 2010 (Suh) and 2011 (Fairley). If there is someone in the middle rounds, though, this could be a drafted position, especially if the team chooses to not pick up the fifth-year option on Fairley or can’t come to an extension agreement with Suh by the draft.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.