With Kerry Hyder now confirmed to be out with a very serious injury, likely sidelining him for all of 2017, the Detroit Lions are left even more woefully thin at pass rusher than they already were.
Star pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah has been on the PUP list all preseason, while suspended rotational end Armonty Bryant has barely seen the field because of an injury of his own. Recent free agent acquisition Cornelius Washington has also been dinged up, spending most of camp on the PUP. Even Brandon Copeland left the Colts game with a shoulder injury, of which we do not know the severity of, leaving the Lions with only late-round picks and undrafted free agents at the defensive end position.
They need help and are likely to seek it. So here’s a few routes they might take.
Mario Williams, free agent
Mario Williams has come a long way since he was the No. 1 overall pick in 2006. The veteran pass rusher had five double digit sack seasons, his most recent back in 2014, but only had 5.0 for Buffalo in 2015, and only 1.5 in 13 games for Miami last season. He fits the physical mold of pass rushers that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes, being tall with long arms and over 270 pounds, but at 32 years old, and swiftly declining, I’m not sure how much production the Lions would expect from Williams. If Hyder were only out for a short period of time, or if there was a more reliable pass rusher waiting in the wings, I’d be more comfortable with him.
Dwight Freeney, free agent
Dwight Freeney, like Mario Williams, is a long tenured veteran. Freeney is even further removed from top tier production, having had his last double digit sack season all the way back in 2010. He had a strong season in 2015 with 8.0 sacks, but managed only 3.0 sacks and a handful of tackles in 2016 as a rotational rusher. Freeney isn’t starting material anymore (only one start in the past two seasons), and doesn’t fit the size profile Teryl Austin has stuck to.
With that said, the team is surely desperate and Austin has finally showed a little bit of lenience with his size specifications, signing UDFA Alex Barrett despite being much smaller than Austin prefers. I know Freeney is a favorite to be signed due to his history, but he’s 37 years old and has only started 14 games in the last four years, so temper it a bit.
Preston Smith (via trade) - Washington
One thing that we’ve found out about Bob Quinn is that he loves reclamation projects. Preston Smith isn’t the disaster of a pick that Greg Robinson or Cyrus Kouandjio were for their respective teams, but he has been a bit of a disappointment. After a promising rookie campaign where he tallied 8.0 sacks, Smith only notched 4.5 in full-time starting duties in 2016.
The team would go on to draft Ryan Anderson in the second round this season and have Junior Galette returning from injury to go with Ryan Kerrigan. They also have Trent Murphy, who had 8.0 sacks last season, but they’ll have to wait until he comes back from suspension. Smith suffered an ankle injury recently, which could complicate any trade. While Smith is projected to start for Washington, the cost likely wouldn’t be as high as the second-round pick that was used on him initially.
Geneo Grissom (via trade) - New England Patriots
To those outside New England, it may be a bit surprising to know that the Pats used a third-round pick to acquire the former Oklahoma product. Not just because he comes from the Patriots and there is a Bob Quinn connection, but Grissom is a noted special teams contributor who would benefit from a change of scenery that could see him getting more snaps in actual defensive line rotation. Grissom had only 7.5 sacks in four seasons for Oklahoma and managed only a single sack through 26 games active for the Patriots.
Demarcus Lawrence (via trade or cuts) - Dallas Cowboys
Drafted in the second round of 2014, Lawrence did nothing as a rookie for the Cowboys and next to nothing last season, with a strong 8.0 sack season sandwiched in there. The talented rusher has also dealt with suspensions and injuries in his short career.
With the Cowboys apparently moving in a different direction, it’s possible Lawrence doesn’t even make the team in 2017, but more likely he would have to be acquired in a trade where the Cowboys wouldn’t come close to recouping the second-round pick they used to acquire him.
Kony Ealy (via trade or cuts) - New England Patriots
A former Panthers early pick, Kony Ealy was a rotational rusher for Carolina before being somewhat unceremoniously traded to the Patriots for a short drop down in the 2017 NFL Draft. Though he had reasonable production, Ealy was one of the least productive pass rushers in the NFL in 2016, ranking fifth worst among all DEs for pass rush productivity according to PFF.
Ealy isn’t a lock to make the Patriots roster, and they used the pick that they traded down for to draft Derek Rivers, but if he isn’t cut, the Lions could possibly pick him up for next to nothing.
Nobody expected Sammy Watkins to be traded, or Ronald Darby, or Jordan Matthews, and yet all were on the same day. There are surprise cuts every year, so it’s possible the Lions get lucky once teams start whittling down their rosters in a few weeks. Barring surprises, though, the cupboards are pretty bare this time of year. Let us know in the comments who you’d like to see the Lions pursue or if they should roll with what they have in 2017.
Who would you like to see the Lions pursue to help replace Kerry Hyder?
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Other (mention in comments)