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Sunday, July 31, 2011
Stephen Tulloch gives Lions three legit LBs

By Kevin Seifert

On Saturday, we discussed the previously-unexplored possibility of the Detroit Lions adding veteran linebacker Nick Barnett. On Sunday, we learned they snagged a player most of us considered their top target all along.

Free agent Stephen Tulloch has agreed to a one-year contract worth $3.25 million, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s a surprisingly short-term deal, possibly reflective of tepid interest on the free-agent market, but for now means the Lions have formed a young and potentially long-term trio of competence.

Tulloch, 26, never missed a game in five seasons with the Tennessee Titans and seems likely to play middle linebacker for the Lions. That will shift DeAndre Levy, 24, to one outside position while free agent Justin Durant, 25, mans the other.

Tulloch is the second former Titans defender that coach Jim Schwartz has brought with him from Detroit. Schwartz, once the Titans’ defensive coordinator, recruited defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch last season. Like Vanden Bosch, Tulloch no doubt passes the character test Schwartz has applied while trying to re-shape the team’s locker-room culture. Tulloch will play hard, hit hard and no doubt be happy doing it behind a defensive line that will draw maximum attention from opponents.

The Lions finished the draft in April with remaining holes at linebacker and cornerback. They have aggressively filled the former, while taking a pickier approach at the latter. Based on the one-year deals they gave Tulloch and cornerback Eric Wright, along with the two-year contract Durant received, it seems clear the Lions managed to hide their desperation to fill those positions and are giving each player the motivation to increase his value with a strong season in 2011.

Tulloch obviously didn't get the lucrative long-term deal he was looking for, which could raise warning flags about the rest of the NFL's opinion of him. But still, it's a win for the Lions. When is the last time you could say they had three legitimate linebackers under the age of 27? In the end no team fills every roster hole before training camp, especially not with established starters.

Regardless, I think we should all agree that the Lions have improved themselves over the past week. No team is perfect, but the rest of the NFL should hear the clock ticking: Three years removed from the Armageddon of a 0-16 season, the holes are closing rapidly in Detroit.