Roster Deep Dive – Detroit Lions

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Offseason priorities — Detroit Lions

The best time of year is upon us, well that is if you are a fan of a perennial non-playoff team like myself. It’s the season of hope that your team will make a splash in free agency or possibly draft the next Aaron Donald. It’s that hope that keeps fanbases of losing teams coming back for more. Every offseason you think as a fan that your team made the right moves and this year it will be different.

In the spirit of the offseason frenzy that is upon us I will be doing a deep dive into some of those teams and where they need to bolster certain positions and how they can go about doing it. This offseason is especially fraught with storylines and available star players that there will be plenty of movement and excitement for us to dive into.

First team up is the Detroit Lions who had themselves a ho-hum of a boring season. I don’t believe that many people had extremely high predictions for them but there were some that predicted them as a fringe playoff team. Patricia’s first season as a head coach had some flashes but the team never really seemed to have an identity.

The addition of Darrell Bevell who is an experienced play caller who has tremendous experience working with Brett Favre and Russell Wilson will do wonders for Stafford and the offense. The biggest concern the first half of this past year was the run defense which looked god awful. Bob Quinn solved that problem when he traded for perennial all pro run stuffer Damon “Snacks” Harrison.

With the addition of Snacks, the interior defensive line started to dominate but the defense still struggled on the back end. The defense is where we will start as we look deeper into what the Lions need to add this offseason.

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Edge Rusher

The absolute top priority for Detroit this offseason is to add edge rushers who can put pressure on the quarterback without having to draw up crazy schemes. Matt Patricia found clever ways to get pressure on the quarterbacks but in doing so left holes in the coverage resulting in many of the sacks coming from the linebacker position. It is great that Patricia can figure out ways to try and mask the deficiencies on the roster but adding an edge rusher is priority number one.

Luckily for Detroit there are an abundance of edge players available via the draft or free agency. The team has a little under $38 million in cap space available but that could go up if they decide to cut oft injured players like T.J. Lang. For now, we will discuss like they are going to stick around the $38 million mark.

The franchise tag window is currently open, and it looks like DeMarcus Lawrence won’t sign his if he is tagged again. With him playing Russian roulette with the Cowboys he is likely off the table. Jadeveon Clowney, Frank Clark, and Trey Flowers are all solid options on the free agency market and the Lions will likely look at all three if they stay available. If they land any of those three players, it will start their offseason with a massive upgrade.

Of those three the most talked about in being linked to the team has been Trey Flowers. He would be a perfect addition as he likely will be a bit cheaper and he also knows the system extremely well. There are also quite a few edge rushers that look like they can be game changing talents in this year’s draft. Bosa and likely Josh Allen will likely be gone by the time the Lions pick at 8 but Montez Sweat and Clelin Ferrell would likely still be on the board but Sweat would likely be the better choice of the two.

If Josh Allen is available at 8 then the Lions will sprint to the podium with massive grins on their faces.

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The second highest priority is to find a cornerback to play opposite Darius Slay. Offenses continuously attacked whoever was playing that CB2 role whether it was Teez Tabor or Mike Ford. The latter started to play better as he got more experience but still looks like a depth CB that can fill in when needed. This position of need may work out nicely as their draft position has them nicely in the sweet spot for top CB Greedy Williams.

If the draft works out like most previous drafts where quarterbacks are continuously pushed up draft boards and quarterback needy teams panic, then the Lions should come out nicely. Williams is a long corner with great speed and quickness who should excel in man coverage which Patricia runs quite often. With Slay and Williams locking down team’s top receivers it will alleviate some of the pressure on the front seven and allow them to get to the quarterback on a more consistent basis.

Even without Williams last season the Lions ranked near the top of the league in coverage sacks so with him teams will have an even harder time converting on passing downs. If Quinn decides to pass on a Williams early in the draft, he can look for someone like Julian Love later in the draft. If the team decides to look at free agency, then there may be some value pickups like Jason Verrett.

Verrett comes with an extensive list of injuries though and the Chargers are rumored to want to re-sign him. The rest of the CB free agent market is somewhat thin as it usually is as teams tend not to let great corners walk. Because of this look for the Lions to stick with their options during the draft.

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The next position of need should be at linebacker specifically one to replace Christian Jones. This isn’t to say Jones was horrendous this past season, but he also wasn’t very good. Devon Kennard seems like a good fit at strongside linebacker piling up seven sacks from that spot plus is signed for two more years with a cap hit around $5 million.

The linebackers available this offseason is quite surprising as its uncommon to see such big names possibly hit free agency. As of this moment guys like C.J. Mosely and Kwon Alexander have not been franchise tagged and former 9th overall pick Anthony Barr won’t be re-signed. Also, draft options like Devin White and Devin Bush if they decide to use their 1st round pick on the linebacker position.

Signing Mosely or Alexander would be big splashes, but they will cost big bucks likely from a bidding war with other suitors. Barr will also have some suitors but may come cheaper than Alexander and Mosely. I expect Barr to command around $6.5 million on average while Alexander will be closer to $8 or $9 million and Mosely will be $10+ million.

The team can certainly use some of their available cap space to try and land one of those top two but look for them to use most of that on an edge rusher. Barr would be a nice complement to take over for Christian Jones who they can cut and save an additional $3 million in cap space. Cutting Jones and signing Barr would only cost them $3.5 million when adding in the cap savings.

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Slot Receiver

The next two needs are not as dire and could be filled by in house candidates but likely will need to be addressed this offseason. Having a reliable option in the slot has been crucial for Matthew Stafford and he has had that since the Lions signed Golden Tate in 2014. After trading him to the Eagles for a third-round pick at the trade deadline the offense took an even bigger step backwards.

They brought in Bruce Ellington to try and fill the void and while he was formidable he wasn’t the answer. In house option Brandon Powell fits the mold of that slot receiver role and had an outstanding curtain call game in week 17 against the Packers. I do not expect Bob Quinn to shell out serious money to try and bring someone in to man the slot but could absolutely see him spending a third or fourth round pick on one.

Deebo Samuel opened a lot of scout’s eyes during the senior bowl and would be a nice option if they could land him in the third round. If he continues to increase his stock, then he may be looking like a second-round pick instead. Andy Isabella out of UMass could likely be had in the fifth round. Getting Isabella in the fourth would be ideal to fill this need instead of paying someone during free agency or spending a pick on day one or two of the draft.

My guess is this will be the exact route they take by waiting until day three of the draft for this need.

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Last but not least results from the team releasing fan favorite Glover Quin. Safety isn’t a huge concern because they still have Quandre Diggs, Tracy Walker, Tavon Wilson, and Miles Killebrew. Because they have that solid depth this isn’t a big need, but they will likely look to add at least one more guy to the mix.

In an ideal world and I’m sure fans would love it the team would sign Landon Collins who the Giants seem to be letting walk for some idiotic reason. That is in an ideal world though and in that ideal world the team has endless amounts of money to throw around. Collins will likely be looking for at least honey badger money, but I expect him to command more like Earl Thomas money that averages about $10 million a year.

Although Collins can be a game changer he doesn’t fill a big enough need for the team to spend all that money on. A somewhat under the radar free agent is Adrian Phillips previously of the L.A. Chargers. He will cost significantly less but could still be a game changer next to Quandre Diggs. Expect the Lions to bring in a veteran who fits the system or draft one in the later rounds.

The Lions dream scenario for the offseason:

  • Sign Trey Flowers for 4 yrs/$48 million with an AAV of $12 million
  • Draft Greedy Williams
  • Release Christian Jones and sign Anthony Barr for 3 yrs/$22 million with an AAV of $7.3 million
  • Draft Andy Isabella in the 5-6th round
  • Sign Landon Collins for 5 yrs/$55 million with an AAV of $11 million

In this scenario the Lions will be looking at a huge turnaround season come 2019-2020. Predicating what a front office will do especially one with ties to the siloed New England organization is extremely difficult though. Still, it is always fun to look at need, value, and opportunity to try and see how the dominoes could possibly fall.

Don’t forget to follow me on twitter @jdefeo91 so you can interact with me and let me know what team I should do next.

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