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Lions have big decisions to make, some difficult

By Larry Lage

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 9 2012 4:01 p.m. MST

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz looks at the scoreboard during the second half of an NFL wild card playoff football game against the New Orleans Saints Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, in New Orleans.

Dave Martin, Associated Press

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions have problems. For a change, they're good ones.

"There are tougher decisions when you're trying to figure out how you're going to keep all your good players than how you're going to get rid of all your bad players," Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Monday. "Honestly, that's the difference between a couple years ago and now."

Three seasons after becoming the NFL's only 0-16 team and two years after winning just twice, the Lions had 10 victories and earned a spot in the playoffs for the first time since the 1999 season. The run ended Saturday night with a 45-28 loss at New Orleans in which the Lions gave up an NFL postseason-record 626 yards.

"It puts a sour taste in your mouth," Lions linebacker DeAndre Levy said. "It's going to be a long offseason."

Free agent defensive end Cliff Avril hopes the offseason includes him signing a lucrative contract that keeps him in Detroit after making a career-high 11 sacks in his fourth year with the team.

"It's all about if they want me to be here," Avril said. "I definitely want to be here, but I have to do the right thing for me and my family also. This doesn't roll around that often as far as trying to set yourself up and your family for the future, so it definitely has a lot to do with that."

All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson was not interested in answering questions about whether he wants a long-term deal before he plays the final year of his contract next season. Johnson probably can command a contract similar to the one Larry Fitzgerald signed with the Arizona Cardinals before the season (eight-year, $120 million contract with guarantees approaching $50 million).

"I'm not even going to talk about that right now," Johnson said. "I'm about to go home."

Schwartz, likewise, didn't want to comment on if possibly getting a contract extension this offseason with one season left on his four-year deal he signed as a first-time head coach.

Schwartz was still disappointed Detroit's defense didn't take advantage of some opportunities against the Saints — dropping some potential interceptions and failing to make some stops on third and fourth downs. He also wasn't in the mood to rave about the step the franchise took after languishing for years as one of the league's worst.

"It was an important year for us," Schwartz said. "I wouldn't classify it as a good year."

Detroit's other decisions this offseason include whether to re-sign offensive tackle Jeff Backus, linebacker Stephen Tulloch, kicker Jason Hanson, running back Kevin Smith and backup quarterback Shaun Hill.

Hanson, who was drafted by Detroit in 1992, clearly wants to be back after making 24 of 29 field goals last season.

"I hopefully showed them that I'm not as old as my hair," the 41-year-old Hanson joked. "And, that I can still do it. If they want me, I'll be ready."

If Detroit doesn't want Smith back to play behind Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure, Smith hopes he doesn't have to wait half a season to get a chance to play as he did in 2011. Best's third concussion ended his season after just six games, but he said it didn't end his career.

"I'll definitely be back," Best said. "I'm not worried about it."

The Lions' first priority this offseason will be evaluating their own players, then the front office, coaches and scouts will focus on other free agents before turning their attention toward prospects for the NFL draft in April. The franchise will likely stick with its plan of adding the best players available, not necessarily trying to fill voids, this offseason.

"It's a lot easier to see the needs that we have, but I don't think it changes your philosophy," Schwartz said. "We have a lot less needs than we have in the past."

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