Lions position outlook: Linebackers

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
2:00
PM ET
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 linebackers.

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

2014 free agents: Rocky McIntosh; Julian Stanford (exclusive rights)

The good: It starts with DeAndre Levy, who had a Pro Bowl-level season for the Lions. His six interceptions were tied for second in the NFL, only behind Seattle’s Richard Sherman. He had 119 tackles and was a force stopping the run and sniffing out screen passes. By the end of the season, he became the Lions best defender. Stephen Tulloch had a team-high 135 tackles -- the second-highest total of his career -- and a career-high 3.5 sacks. He and Levy were part of one of the best run defenses in the NFL. Ashlee Palmer, the team’s third starting linebacker, played decently in essentially spot duty since he split snaps with Detroit’s nickel cornerbacks. Tahir Whitehead was the Lions’ top special-teams performer.

The bad: Detroit’s linebackers struggled in coverage even with Levy’s interceptions, particularly on tight ends. Travis Lewis was suspended for using Adderall and missed the final four games of the season. The team’s depth at the position was also highly suspect beyond the veteran McIntosh, who is an unrestricted free agent.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Tulloch has a fairly high cap number at $5,050,000 and with three years left on his deal is a tough candidate for a restructure. Levy is a manageable $3,250,000 cap number. Palmer, entering the final year of his contract, is at $1,583,334. Whitehead is at $623,000 and Lewis at $584,793.

What Caldwell might favor: This is probably a coincidence, but almost all of coach Jim Caldwell’s starting linebackers in Indianapolis were 6-foot tall and weighed between 230 and 240 pounds. The exceptions were 6-foot-2 Philip Wheeler and 5-foot-11 Gary Brackett.

Potential cuts: Palmer is a possibility, depending on what the Lions do in the draft or free agency. Lewis could be a cut as he is a special-teamer and the team didn’t appear to struggle on special teams without him.

Draft priority: Somewhat high. The Lions need depth at the position behind Levy and Tulloch and could even be shopping for a starter if the Lions aren’t big on Palmer.

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

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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