As he embarked on the offseason in January, Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew made clear he wanted to infuse his team's defense with playmakers. Here's how he put it during a meeting with local reporters:
"We need guys that can impact the game. We've got a lot of guys that are good guys. They line up right, they know what their job is, but they don't impact the game. We need interceptors. We need guys that sack the quarterback. We need guys that cause fumbles, guys that make plays on third down. Those are the kind of guys that can change the game for us."
No objective analysis would put linebacker DeAndre Levy in that category. In four seasons, Levy has intercepted five passes, forced two fumbles and notched one sack. But you also can't replace an entire defense in one offseason, which helps explain why Levy and the Lions agreed to a multiyear contract Wednesday, per the team's website.
Using Mayhew's words, Levy is a good guy who lines up right and knows what his job is. He will occasionally make his presence known, as he did during a game-winning interception return at the Miami Dolphins in 2010. But unless his game changes significantly, he won't spark the Lions at the "impact" level that Mayhew is seeking.
In the end, impact players are more expensive than good guys who line up right and know what their job is. The Lions don't have a lot of salary-cap flexibility, and their football decisions must reflect economics as well. And in all fairness, Levy started last season off well -- he was part of our All-NFC North midseason team -- before a groin injury limited him the rest of the way. Based on the full season, our friends at Pro Football Focus ranked him No. 41 among 43 outside linebackers who played in a 4-3 scheme.
The Lions have now re-signed two of the nine pending free agents they have targeted, Levy and offensive lineman Corey Hilliard. It's not clear what Levy's return means for fellow linebacker and free agent Justin Durant, who in two seasons with the Lions has 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble.
Still on deck on the Lions' fre- agent list are a number of big names, from defensive end Cliff Avril to cornerback Chris Houston to safety Louis Delmas. NFL free agents can begin negotiating with teams this weekend.