Franchise tag deadline day doesn't make the football heart race with eager anticipation as does the start of the free-agent signing period or that highest of holy days for the Lions -- the first night of the NFL draft.

But deciding who gets tagged for a one-year deal and who doesn't becomes an important window into that future.

Only eight teams used the franchise tag.

The Lions opted against exercising their franchise tag Monday. The decision addressed a couple of serious challenges facing general manager Martin Mayhew in the most crucial off-season in his four years at the management helm. The Lions didn't have sufficient salary-cap wiggle room to protect cornerback Chris Houston or defensive end Cliff Avril, the two most logical candidates for issuing the tender.

But even if they did have the space, Mayhew cannot ignore his principal responsibility of upgrading the Lions' overall talent while decreasing its overall age.

The Lions might lose both players once free-agency shopping formally begins at 4 p.m. next Tuesday. If they don't bring back Houston, it will put more pressure on the three corners Mayhew drafted last year -- Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Chris Greenwood -- to quickly develop into contributors next season.

But Monday's developments should dictate Mayhew's free-agency road map. His top priority should be getting a good safety.

There could be plenty of quality out there for the picking. San Francisco didn't place the franchise tag on Dashon Goldson, one of the better young bruisers in the NFL. Houston's Glover Quin and Atlanta's William Moore also are expected to hit the open market next week.