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2017 free agent profile: Could Melvin Ingram fix the Lions’ pass rushing issues?

The Lions are in dire need of an edge rusher. Melvin Ingram looks like he’ll hit free agency. Is this a match made in heaven?

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Miami Dolphins v San Diego Chargers Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have an estimated $32.8 million in cap space this year and are expected to be somewhat active during free agency. Though we still have to see what the Lions do with their own 20 players set to become unrestricted free agents, we’re going to take a look at potential free agents from around the league that the Lions may target.

We start our free agent profiles with a position that some (myself included) argue is Detroit’s biggest of need: defensive end. The Lions finished the 2016 season with the second-fewest sacks in the league. With Devin Taylor likely heading elsewhere after an ineffective 2016 season, the Lions have a massive hole on the left side of the defensive line.

Lions fans have mostly focused on fixing this need through the talented 2017 draft class, but free agency offers a few options, too. Jason Pierre-Paul tends to get the majority of the attention, but this option from the San Diego Los Angeles Chargers could be an even better get for the Lions.

Melvin Ingram

Stat history:

2012: 16 games (2 starts): 27 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble
2013: 4 games (1 start): 8 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 1 FF
2014: 9 games (9 starts): 29 tackles, 4.0 sacks, 2 FFs
2015: 16 games (16 starts): 65 tackles, 10.5 sacks, 3 FFs
2016: 16 games (16 starts): 60 tackles, 8.0 sacks, 4 FFs

After battling through injuries for the first portion of his career, Ingram has established himself as one of the better edge rushers in the AFC. The former first-round pick is a Pro Football Focus darling, ranking as the fourth-best free agent in 2017 and the best edge rusher available. Here’s what PFF had to say about him:

Ingram finished the year ranked as the sixth-best edge defender in terms of PFF overall grade (88.1)—just behind teammate Joey Bosa, in fifth—recording 72 total QB pressures over the season. He also showed the ability to play in coverage more than most edge rushers, batting away two passes and allowing just 6.8 yards per reception.

Despite all of the love, Chargers fans are a bit mixed on Ingram. Our friends at Bolts From the Blue are split on whether they believe the Chargers should re-sign the 27-year-old. Those in favor of keeping Ingram believe his pass rushing skills are borderline elite and his skills go well beyond that.

From Bolts From the Blue:

Ingram is an outside linebacker, a defensive end, a defensive tackle, a pass rusher, and a zone defender. Pagano lines Ingram up all over the field to take advantage of his versatility. It is his versatility that helps him wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Dissenters, however, note Ingram’s clear inconsistency. He’s been accused of disappearing for huge portions of the game, looking completely lost at times and regularly missing tackles.

Why he makes sense in Detroit

The Lions are in need of a premier pass-rusher alongside Ezekiel Ansah. While Kerry Hyder proved himself a worthy rotational player, he likely isn’t the full-time starter that the Lions need.

Ingram is known for his edge rushing skills, but his versatility gives Detroit even more options. We’ve seen defensive coordinator Teryl Austin move defensive lineman inside and outside,and even occasionally drop them into coverage. Ingram can do it all, keeping Austin happy and opposing offenses guessing.

Above all, Detroit needs defensive talent and playmakers. Ingram has forced a fumble in every season of his career and has 18.5 sacks in his past two years. Whoever is lucky enough to land Ingram will get him in the prime of his career.

Why the Lions should pass

Ingram has played as a 3-4 outside linebacker his entire career. While he is versatile, he is a bit undersized for a 4-3 defensive end, especially as a closed end. Ingram is 6-foot-1, 264 pounds. Ezekiel Ansah is 6-foot-5, 275 pounds. That difference in height (and arm length) is crucial in battling offensive linemen from a 4-3 position.

Even if the position change doesn’t bother you that much, his price tag will. Spotrac lists his calculated market value at a whopping $17.2 million per year, estimating a contract around five years, $86.4 million.

If Detroit were to shell out a contract like that, it would likely spell the end of Ansah after 2017. Ansah is due for an extension soon, and if the Lions invest that much in Ingram, they likely wouldn’t spend a smaller, but significant amount on Ansah when he contract expires at the end of next season. Though Ansah’s 2016 season was a huge disappointment, I don’t think the Lions are ready to move on quite yet.


Ingram isn’t a perfect fit for the Lions, but he presents a rare opportunity to get a young defensive talent on the free agency market. Unfortunately, that means he is going to come with a huge price. I have been beating the drum all offseason for a huge defensive playmaker on the front-four, but if Detroit were to empty their wallet for Ingram, it would not only be a risky, but it would almost ensure the Lions would not be able to address all other needs on defense.

Ingram is a tempting free agent, but I think the Lions should pass.