Martin Mayhew outlines challenging offseason ahead for Lions

The Detroit Lions have signed all of their coordinators to contract extensions. Now, begins the hard work.

The club announced this morning that Scott Linehan, Gunther Cunningham and Danny Crossman all have new deals in place. General manager Martin Mayhew will now turn his focus to re-signing players that are set to enter free agency in March.

It signals a shift in philosophy. In the past, the Lions have been desperate to get out on the open market and bring in new talent. Now, they want to make free agency about preventing their own from departing on the open market. It makes sense coming off a 10-6 season and the club’s first playoff appearance in 12 years.

This year in free agency’s going to be a little bit different,” Mayhew said, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. “We’re going to be more focused on bringing our guys back more so than going out and trying to find five or six guys from somewhere else.”

The top priority is 25-year-old defensive end Cliff Avril who is coming off an 11-sack season. There are three others poised to be free agents: linebacker Stephen Tulloch, cornerback Eric Wright and left tackle Jeff Backus, who hasn’t missed a start in 11 seasons with the club.

Per the report, Mayhew does not want to place the franchise tag on Avril, but he hasn’t ruled out that option. Then, there is the deal that will have to be done for wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who has one year remaining on his rookie contract. Johnson will have a salary-cap number of about $20 million this season and Mayhew would obviously like to adjust that figure while also locking up Johnson long-term. There’s no question it will require a contract on par with what Arizona paid Larry Fitzgerald -- $120 million over eight years.

“We definitely plan to work on an extension with him in the near future. That’s what our plan is,” Mayhew said. “He’s got a big number but it’s workable.”

Then, there is coach Jim Schwartz, who is entering the final year of his contract. The Lions will probably have to consider that issue this offseason too.

"It's a totally different scenario this offseason," Mayhew said. "In the past we've been looking at just trying to acquire good players. Now we've got good players on our roster, now we have decisions to make on those good players about which ones we're able to keep, which ones we're not able to keep and can we replace those players with the same talent level at a better price, at the same price, what does it cost to replace those guys?

"It'll be one of our most challenging offseasons - probably the most challenging offseason so far because of where we are as a football team."

It’s going to be a challenge to close the gap with the Green Bay Packers in the division too. It sounds like Mayhew knows what is cut out for him.

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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune

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