The first day of free agency was a relative dud for the Detroit Lions. Though they re-signed a few of their only players, the only true addition from Wednesday was the modest signing of defensive back DeShawn Shead to a one-year deal.
But as they say, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. The 2018 season isn’t won on the first official day of the league’s new year, and after Eric Ebron’s release, the Lions have a little bit of cap space to work with.
So with plenty of talented players still on the market, here are 10 of the best remaining players that fit the Detroit Lions’ needs. (Note: This is not simply a list of the 10 best players, but rather ones that best fit Detroit’s current needs.)
In no particular order:
DE Adrian Clayborn - Clayborn is a pure pass rusher, and he was one of the most productive at doing so in 2017. His 9.5 sacks were the most on the Falcons and his pass rushing productivity was among the best in the league, per PFF. Though Clayborn won’t do much more than rush the passer, it’s something he does incredibly well.
RB Frank Gore - Gore is currently in Detroit, and he clearly fits the profile that the Lions are currently looking for: A veteran running back who is capable of putting his head down and picking up the yards necessary. Gore is somehow still extremely productive at age 34, but I shouldn’t have to sell you on Gore. Just look at this stat:
Whatever happens here is a note. Gore last year on 3rd or 4th and short had 15 carries and 13 first downs. That production would be welcome.— Dan Miller (@DanMillerFox2) March 15, 2018
TE Julius Thomas - Thomas was released by the Dolphins along with Suh on Wednesday, saving Miami $4.6 million in cap space. Thomas has some injury concerns (he’s never played a full season in his career), and his production has tailed off since he left Denver. However, with a much better quarterback and supporting cast in Detroit, Thomas could see a career revival with the Lions and ease the pain of Ebron’s loss.
G Justin Pugh - I get the feeling that Josh Sitton is gone to Miami, as the Dolphins “have every intention” of signing him. Pugh is the next best thing. Pugh has injury issues, but his back injury in 2017 didn’t require surgery and he has been cleared to return to football activities already. Pugh has the talent, too:
Pugh enters free agency as a high-end, starting caliber guard, who graded above 80.0 in both 2015 and 2016, and has allowed just 39 pressures over the last three seasons on the interior, the fourth-best mark among guards with at least 750 pass-blocking snaps since 2015.
DT Dontari Poe - I have no idea what’s going to happen with Ndamukong Suh or Poe, but I think it’s fair to say that Poe will be the cheaper of the two prospect. The buzz on Poe has been shockingly quiet, but the Lions have a little bit of cash available, and it’s hard to imagine them spending it any better than Poe.
Poe has 3-4 and 4-3 experience, though is best served as a 3-4 nose. Regardless of how the Lions would choose to use him, it would be a nice replacement for Haloti Ngata, who will be signing with the Eagles.
LB Kevin Minter - You may think the Lions don’t need another linebacker after grabbing two in free agency and re-signing Nick Bellore, but Detroit may actually need more depth, especially if they plan on using a lot of 3-4 looks in 2018.
Minter is a guy many wanted the Lions to target last year when he hit free agency, but he ended up signing a one-year deal with the Bengals. He struggled to stay healthy in 2017, but the interior linebacker could help give the Lions some much needed coverage help from their linebacking unit.
DT Sheldon Richardson - Richardson is a player that I’ve mostly avoided talking about as a potential Lions target because of the obvious character concerns. Richardson has been suspended twice, and he was part of the reason the Jets locker room fell apart in 2016.
However, if we’re talking about Richardson simply from a talent perspective, there aren’t a lot better than him out there. He’s only 27 years old and he’s one of the few interior defensive linemen remaining that can rush the passer. In five seasons, he has 19.0 sacks.
G Jack Mewhort - Mewhort hasn’t exactly been the same, promising offensive linemen since he suffered a serious knee injury in the 2016 preseason, but if he can stay healthy, he has the potential to be a top-20 guard in the league. That’s a bit of a risk for a Lions team that will likely need a starter at left guard on Day 1, but options are starting to run thin in free agency.
DE Junior Galette - Okay, first things first. Galette has not one, but two Achilles tears to his name. In 2017, however, he rebounded and played an entire 16 games for Washington. While his stats were underwhelming as a rotational piece (20 tackles, 3.0 sacks), he was actually fairly productive. According NFL.com’s NextGenStats, Galette was actually third in the league in pressure rate in 2017.
Galette had back-to-back years in which he had 10+ sacks back in 2013 and 2014, and while he may never return to that form, he still has some game left.
RB LeGarrette Blount - The Lions are reportedly hosting Blount for a visit on Friday, despite the fact that Bob Quinn passed over him last year. Blount has struggled to run from shotgun formations in the past, and that makes him a tough fit with the Lions’ offense as it currently stands. However, Blount found success with the Eagles last year, who run from the shotgun often. He’s not as good of a fit as Gore, but he’ll like come cheaper. Blount signed just a one-year $1.25 million deal last year.