Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The Detroit Lions agreed to terms with impending free agent LB DeAndre Levy on Wed, according to the team’s website. Terms have yet to be disclosed but it is a multi-year deal that will keep Levy starting in Detroit for the foreseeable future.
The decision here was Levy or Justin Durant, the other starting LB hitting free agency. Martin Mayhew & Co. made the correct decision in that framework. Levy is more versatile, able to play both in the middle and outside; Durant is strictly an outside backer. Levy offers more stoutness against the run and is better at both taking on and getting off blockers, though that is most certainly a relative comparison and not necessarily a strength for Levy. He is a little younger, but more importantly Levy is a player this regime drafted and nurtured into being a solid starter.
Don’t underestimate the importance of that factor to the Lions. Continuity is a valued attribute of both the Ford family and the Mayhew/Schwartz camp. Levy has done everything asked of him and has been a solid football player. He is respected in the locker room and film room. Levy is an example of a non-premium draft pick which the Lions brought along and kept, which plays against the widespread image of the team. They will never say it, but I’ve been told by coaches, opposing coaches, and people close to the team that the Lions are very sensitive to this criticism; they feel it ties them too much to the Millen era, which everyone at Allen Park is desperate to whitewash from the memory bank. Keeping a homegrown talent who is a good-not-great player is not something the Lions have much recent experience with, and it signifies the team is maturing.
Levy will have to produce more impact plays to quell the critics. Those critics have a valid point: Levy had just one INT, three pass breakups, and one fumble recovery in 2012, and that was more productive in terms of impact plays than his 2011 season. He was clearly hampered in lateral movement late in the year with a hamstring issue, but that doesn’t excuse the lack of impact production. Without knowing the terms of the contract, if Levy wants to truly earn the money he needs to force more turnovers. Tackles and adequate coverage are nice, but interceptions and forced fumbles from linebackers win games. Neither Levy nor Durant offered much at all in terms of impact plays, but Levy has more promise as a physical tackler and has shown he can blitz on the rare occasions the Lions have dialed them up. Durant was a little better in coverage but didn’t make plays on the ball either, and the defensive coaches would rather sacrifice a few more completions if it produced a couple of extra INTs. Levy did make a couple of dramatic picks early in his career.
This almost certainly signifies the end of the linebacking movement for the Lions. Durant will not be back, though the Lions might be seeing him twice a year as a member of the Bears, who I’m told have interest in his services if the price is right. This year’s 4th round pick was parlayed into Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead in last year’s draft, and they will battle with Ashlee Palmer to earn the other outside starting spot. Palmer has the inside track with his recent contract extension and improved play in 2012, but the team would like it if Whitehead stepped up and won the job. Lewis will be the primary reserve inside and is the sort of intelligent, tough, high-effort, high character player the Lions want more of on the roster. Whitehead has a similar athletic profile to Durant, and it’s not a stretch for him to develop into a reasonable facsimile in 2013. With Ronnell Lewis ostensibly able to play some LB if needed, the entire linebacking corps for 2013 is already in place. It’s not a star-studded group by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a functional unit for a defense that wants big plays from the front four and back four.