The stated offseason goal of Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz is to retain the team's own free agents. Given the number of players set to hit the open market next month, that might be easier said than done.
The Lions have several starters who could walk in free agency unless deals get done, including linebacker Stephen Tulloch, defensive end Cliff Avril, offensive tackle Jeff Backus and cornerback Eric Wright.
The Lions met with the agent for Backus at the NFL Scouting Combine, who described the general discussion as positive, according to the Detroit Free Press. Backus has been a mainstay at left tackle for 11 seasons, starting a team-record 176 straight games.
Tulloch started all 16 games in his first season in Detroit. According to ProFootballTalk.com, the Lions are still talking to Tulloch's representatives but the sides are not close to getting a deal done.
Avril, who had a career high 11 sacks last season, is thought to be a candidate for the franchise tag if the sides can't reach a long-term deal. Avril, though, has suggested he would hold out if the team uses the franchise tag, which is expected to be valued at $10.6 million for the 2012 season.
The Lions could gain some salary cap flexibility by restructuring the contract of Johnson, who is about to enter the final year of a rookie deal that carries a salary cap number of about $22.5 million, according to the Free Press. Johnson's agent, Bus Cook, told the Free Press he was scheduled to meet with the team at the combine to discuss a deal that would make Johnson the highest-paid receiver in the league.
One way or another, the dominoes will eventually start to fall for the Lions.