Though free agency has essentially been underway for 48 hours, the real free agency period—you know, the one where teams can actually sign players—begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. We already know the Lions will be bringing back some of their own and have a few new linebackers coming their way, but Detroit isn’t finished by a longshot.
So while we’re just hours away from free agency beginning, here are five specific positions I’m looking for the Lions to add.
Veteran running back
We’ll start with an easy one, since it’s very clear what the Lions are doing. Detroit is seeking a reliable, veteran running back on a short-term deal. Why? As our own Mike Payton explained, they need a reliable force back there to complement a rookie running back the Lions are almost certain to add in the NFL Draft.
Right now Frank Gore and DeMarco Murray are the leading candidates, and both could provide valuable knowledge and mentorship for an upcoming rookie.
Favorite option: Frank Gore. He’s a monster and has still somehow been productive at age 34. He’s also very good at just about everything. I love the idea of him teaching a young running back how to block, catch and run.
Starting defensive tackle
At this point, I’d take just about any defensive linemen, but there is still a lot of talent on the board at defensive tackle. The Lions have almost certainly lost Haloti Ngata to free agency, and while adding someone like Beau Allen would help ease the pain there (UPDATE: Allen is signing with the Buccaneers anyways), I’m talking about a bigger signing than that.
The draft is not very deep at defensive tackle, and the Lions currently only have A’Shawn Robinson and Akeem Spence as acceptable players at the position. I don’t want those two starting when the Lions are in 4-3 looks.
The market has been suspiciously quiet on Dontari Poe and soon-to-be-released Ndamukong Suh. If the Lions are going to make one big splash signing, it should be one of these players.
Favorite option: Ndamukong Suh. I’m sorry, but it just makes a lot of football sense. Suh is a guy who will completely transform your defensive line from a weakness to a strength. Price tag is obviously the biggest issue with Suh, and it may be one that ultimately prices him out of the Lions’ range, but I’m a dreamer.
Blocking tight end
The Lions lost Darren Fells to the Brown, who gave him a $3 million per year raise. That leaves Detroit pretty thin at the position.
At this point, the expectation is that Eric Ebron will not be traded, simply because the Lions don’t have many other options as a starting tight end. That being said, the Lions still need depth, and preferably someone who could block. The free agency market has pretty much dried up on prime pass catchers anyways, but there are still some blocking bodies out there.
Favorite option: Virgil Green. At 6-foot-5, 255 pounds, Green could essentially act as another offensive lineman in certain formations. Last year, Green started all 16 games for the Broncos, spending most time as a blocker. Lions new offensive line coach Jeff Davidson would have a lot of familiarity with Green, and should be able to utilize him perfectly in Detroit’s new rushing scheme.
Special teams gunner
With Don Carey facing free agency, the Lions will need another gunner to keep their punt coverage unit among the best in the league. Carey has been one of Detroit’s special teams MVPs since assuming the role back in 2012. Unfortunately, Carey turned 31 this year, and it may finally be time for the Lions to move on.
Favorite option: WR Jeff Janis. Janis has been an integral part of the Green Bay Packers’ special teams for the past three years. Here’s what the Wisconsin State Journal had to say about Janis’ special teams value:
The Packers seemingly value Janis’ contributions on special teams. While he started the season as the kickoff returner before being replaced by Davis, he was on the field for every one of Vogel’s punts and special teams coordinator Ron Zook attributed much of Vogel’s statistical success to the Janis-led coverage group when asked about it late in the season.
You can never have too many pass rushers, and for the 200th-straight season it seems the Lions don’t have enough. Ezekiel Ansah will be back. As will Kerry Hyder, who is coming off an Achilles tear. Detroit does have some rotational pieces in Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington, too. And newly-added Devon Kennard is also capable of rushing off the edge.
But Detroit needs someone who will strike fear in their opponent. Detroit needs someone who they can rely upon for at least 8.0 sacks in 2018. The Lions need another playmaker in their front four.
Favorite option: Adrian Clayborn. At first, I wasn’t too big of a fan of adding Clayborn in free agency. His 9.5 sacks in 2017 are a bit bloated because of a six-sack game against a backup tackle vs. Dallas. However, his pass rushing skills cannot really be denied. He’s best coming off the bench and catching an exhausted tackle off-guard. The biggest downside to Clayborn is that he’d be predominantly a pass-rushing specialist. Seeing as he only had 21 total tackles in 2017, he wouldn’t be of much help in run defense.
And if PFF is your thing, they think very highly of Clayborn:
Clayborn ended the year ranked 19th among edge defenders with an overall grade of 85.5, making him one of the highest-graded free agent edge defenders in this year’s free agency class.
[Note: I realize interior offensive linemen is a big need too, but at this point in free agency, I advocate addressing the need in the NFL Draft.]