Now that we’ve handed out grades for the Detroit Lions’ first four offensive moves in free agency, let’s turn our attention towards what they’ve done to improve the defense.
DE Cornelius Washington - Two years, $6 million
Washington has plenty to prove after not making much of an impact in his stint with the Chicago Bears, but Detroit will offer him the best situation to finally showcase the incredible athleticism that made him such an intriguing prospect in the first place. With some versatility to play both inside and out, Washington’s chance to make an impact is as a straight-line edge rusher, much in the way Armonty Bryant did. This wasn’t as pressing a need as adding a starting DE or even a starting LB in the wake of DeAndre Levy’s release, so it’s hard to get too excited over adding a situational pass rusher, but I do like the potential of Washington in Detroit.
I’m a big fan of this signing. As mentioned by Robert Zeglinski in Ryan’s breakdown of Washington, this guy has a ceiling like Willie Young. I see Washington as a huge rotational piece that will likely pull in around 30 percent of snaps. Now that he’ll finally be in a defense that fits his strengths, I think he’ll have a real opportunity to shine, and I think he pulls in at least five sacks this year, which is more than Devin Taylor had in 2016.
DT Akeem Spence - Three years, $10.5 million
A former fourth-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2013, Spence’s raw strength—37 bench press reps at the Combine—made him a candidate to patrol the line of scrimmage as a 1-technique in Tampa’s 4-3. Viewed as the type of player to compliment Gerald McCoy and his knack for getting into the backfield to cause havoc for opposing quarterbacks, things didn’t end up playing out that way for Spence; after playing 16 games and starting in 14 of them his rookie year, Spence started a career-low four games while participating in all 16 games in 2016.
This move is still a bit of a head-scratcher considering the depth chart at defensive tackle. Around $1.5 million of Spence’s deal is in incentives, and those primarily center around him being included on the team’s 46-man game day roster. But beyond the commitment in years and price tag, the Lions already seem committed to both A’Shawn Robinson and Haloti Ngata at this point of the offseason—two players who do what Spence will be asked to do here in Detroit. Now, if Ngata is cut, this play makes more sense than it stands today, but as of now, a real head-scratcher.
I’m with Ryan. I don’t understand this signing. I don’t understand selecting this player. I don’t understand the contract terms. I don’t really understand the fit, either. The Lions are in the market for a agile, quick defensive tackle to get after the quarterback, and Spence is decidedly not that—or, at least, he wasn’t with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In Tampa, Spence was asked to primarily be a run-stopper, though the 25-year-old said he's looking forward to taking on more of a pass-rush role in Detroit.
"What I did last year, I just did my job," Spence said. "I did what I was supposed to do. I did what the team asked of me. And granted, my numbers weren’t what I wanted them to be, but now I’m here in Detroit, got another opportunity, and I’m here to make the best of it."
If Spence can really come in and become that pass rushing tackle, I’ll gladly eat crow. But I think it’s a lot more likely Spence does not see any of that money in the third year of his contract and the Lions end up saving $2.5 million in cap space in 2019.
LB Paul Worrilow - One year, $3 million (contract terms via Dave Birkett)
Another depth signing by Quinn, and another player that shouldn’t see as many snaps on defense as he should on special teams, but at least he’ll be capable in a pinch.
It’s a cheap deal, it’s a one-year deal, so I’m fine with the contract terms, but Detroit is desperately in need of adding playmakers to their defense, and I don’t see Worrilow being that guy. The Lions may have eight draft picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, but they can only acquire so many players who will have the potential to make an impact.
This is a classic Bob Quinn signing: A depth player with starting experience, but his biggest value is on special teams. It’s a fine signing, and the Lions will likely get a decent amount of special teams snaps from a guy that’s only earning a $2 million base salary.
What is interesting about this signing, however, is Detroit’s urgency in adding him. Rumor of Detroit’s interest in Worrilow hit the rumor mill even before the tampering period began. On the eve before free agency, they had already agreed to terms with him.
Considering the Lions have a sinkhole at the linebacker position, this addition doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence, but depth and special teams are both important, and Worrilow is coming fairly cheap, so I’ve got no beef with this.
CB D.J. Hayden - One year, $5.25 million
Hayden could make an impact, or he could be completely irrelevant and cost the Lions very little money in 2017. It’s another Quinn “lottery ticket” so to speak, and it’s possible that the Oakland Raiders just weren’t able to get the most out of Hayden. However, at the same time, it’s probably more of Hayden not getting the most out of himself because of durability issues.
As bad as Hayden’s been in Oakland, he’s most likely an upgrade over the likes of Asa Jackson and Don Carey as a replacement slot corner.
On one hand, I’m very excited about the Lions adding a player that can both play the nickel cornerback position and contend for the No. 2 spot with Nevin Lawson. On the other hand, the guy has dealt with a ton of injuries and even when healthy hasn’t lived up to being a first-round draft pick. A change in venue and a fresh start could help revitalize his career, but the Lions know this pick is a risk, which is why it’s very much a “prove-it” deal with a lot of playing-time incentives built into the contract.