Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.
Expectations before 2016
The position of linebacker was surrounded and shrouded in uncertainty heading into the 2016 season. The health and status of DeAndre Levy was up in the air, Jon Bostic was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury prior to the start of the preseason and it seemed as though Tahir Whitehead and Bynes were the only healthy options.
That is, until Bynes suffered an injury during the preseason and was placed on IR. And not long after the Lions were awarded Thurston Armbrister from the Jaguars practice squad, Bynes was outright released from the team after reaching an injury settlement.
This, of course, was a peculiar move from general manager Bob Quinn for a couple of reasons. For one, Bynes was the first to move to IR, not Jon Bostic, who had actually undergone surgery. Also, Bynes was expected to be the player who could fill in for Levy should he miss any time—as he did in 2015 when he racked up 54 tackles, 26 assists, 0.5 sacks and 5 passes defended in 16 games of action, 11 of which he started.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 9 games (8 starts) | 26 tackles, 12 assists, 3 passes defended
After a trade during Week 8 which sent Kyle Van Noy to New England, the Lions suddenly had a glaring hole at linebacker. Levy was still on the mend, rookie Antwoine Williams was dealing with injuries and the NFL learning curve and Armbrister was just not working out.
Insert a familiar face in Josh Bynes.
When Bynes was initially released from the team, there were many questions as to why the team would cut ties with a proven backup. Things became clear with his re-signing, however: It was a move to avoid having to use their one designation from IR permitted to them on Bynes when it seemed likely that Bostic could return before season’s end. With Bostic arriving in exchange for a conditional draft pick, releasing him could have ended up costing Detroit the selection sent to New England.
As for Bynes’ contributions, he immediately improved the level of play from the unit. Granted it went from abysmal to teeth-grindingly passable, but the addition of Bynes increased the athleticism and awareness at the position.
Considering the circumstances, Bynes going from his home to playing 43 snaps in Week 8 against Houston was something impressive. He played a season-high 61 snaps in Week 13 against New Orleans, compiling five tackles and three assists en route to one of the more impressive wins of the season for Detroit.
If nothing else, Bynes established just how valuable he is as a backup. His 59.2 grade from Pro Football Focus ranked him 58th among 87 qualifying linebackers, but his run defense grade—63.3—ranked him 48th out of 89 linebackers.
Outlook for 2017
One of Detroit’s biggest needs heading into this offseason is linebacker, and it’s regardless of alignment; the Lions could stand to improve this unit whether it be at the Sam, Will or Mike positions.
The Lions should end up having eight draft picks in the 2017 draft and enough cap space—roughly $40 million—to make some moves to upgrade positions in free agency.
Something important to keep in mind when it comes to upgrading at positions—and this is especially true for a player like Bynes—is that players familiar with the schemes and concepts should be treated as a valuable commodity to the team. Should the Lions break the bank for Bynes? No, they shouldn’t, and they wouldn’t have to in order to retain him. His relative value is disproportionate to that of a free agent unfamiliar with the team because he hits the ground running in training camp.
In other words, as a veteran and reliable asset, Bynes would provide quality depth at the position, and he’s a viable option for Detroit in 2017.
Previously profiled Lions: Riley Reiff, Anquan Boldin, Dan Orlovsky, Devin Taylor, Rafael Bush, Don Muhlbach, Larry Warford, Andre Roberts, TJ Jones, Kerry Hyder, Jon Bostic, Marvin Jones, Alex Carter, Tim Wright, Armonty Bryant, Clay Harbor, Crezdon Butler, Matthew Mulligan, Asa Jackson, Tyrunn Walker