The Detroit Lions had spent the past five seasons building up their defensive line into one of the best units in the NFL.
Now, though, all of that could change.
With Ndamukong Suh headed to Miami and the return of Nick Fairley still in question, the Lions are without a true tandem at defensive tackle for the first time since 2011 (other than when Fairley suffered injuries). So it leaves open the possibility of making the defensive scheme switch, especially considering the personnel the Lions have entering free agency.
Detroit Lions head coach Jim Caldwell didn't shoot down the idea at the NFL combine last month, but a lot of what the Lions would likely decide there was predicated on retaining Ndamukong Suh, who is a better fit in a 4-3 defense. Now, the Lions have some flexibility there, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has some experience working with a 3-4 front at other NFL stops.
So far this offseason, the Lions have re-signed Darryl Tapp and signed Phillip Hunt, formerly of Philadelphia and the CFL. Both are players who have the flexibility to play both defensive end and outside linebacker if necessary. Kyle Van Noy, entering his second season, worked out with the defensive linemen during points in practice in 2014. Most of the team's ends could fit in a 3-4 if necessary as well.
Though none of the defensive linemen on the roster fit a nose tackle description, there are some players who could fit there on the free agent market, including Vince Wilfork (New England), Dan Williams (Arizona), Kevin Vickerson (Kansas City), Alan Branch (New England), and Ahtyba Rubin (Cleveland). Other than Williams and Rubin, all would be short-term fixes because of age and ability. The draft could also provide a 3-4 nose tackle if necessary.
At linebacker, the Lions have enough depth to make it work, with DeAndre Levy, Stephen Tulloch, Tahir Whitehead, and Kyle Van Noy as potential starters if a 3-4 shift were to happen. There is also Travis Lewis, Julian Stanford and the potential return of Josh Bynes as other options at linebacker.
Understand this is all hypothetical, but with Suh off to the Dolphins, the Lions could theoretically stick with a 4-3 or make the move to the 3-4 without much roster upheaval.
And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:
Ndamukong Suh is headed to Miami after five years with the Lions. At the end, Suh's price tag was too costly for the Lions. Some potential defensive tackle options now that Suh is gone. The Lions Mailbag from this week (prior to Suh signing).
Sam Martin talks to me and opens up for the first time about the shanked punt against Dallas.
The Lions must stay calm after losing Ndamukong Suh, writes Dave Birkett in the Detroit Free Press.
The Lions have themselves to blame for Suh's departure, writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.
If the Lions don't make major moves in free agency, saving the money from Suh will be for naught, writes Justin Rogers of MLive.