The Detroit Lions have just under $10 million in cap space left, and the pool of players in free agency is pretty thin at this point. Though the Lions are likely to sign a few more free agents before the draft (Matt Cassel is still not officially signed yet), free agency is more or less done for the Lions. UPDATE: The Lions made the Cassel signing official Monday morning.
Therefore, the Lions are entering the 2018 NFL Draft with a handful of needs. Here’s a look at five of them in order from biggest priority to smallest.
Interior offensive lineman
The Detroit Lions will have one new starter along the offensive line in 2018. It may be at center, it may be at left guard. Graham Glasgow is the determining factor, as he has versatility to play both positions.
The Lions added two potential starters in Kenny Wiggins and Wesley Johnson. Johnson’s contract terms show how much confidence the Lions have in him—basically none. He signed to a veteran minimum contract and is far from guaranteed to even make the roster.
Wiggins is a more likely candidate to potentially start, but even he would be better served as a backup. The Lions’ depth was challenged last season and they didn’t rise to the occasion. Wiggins would be a much better option than the Don Barclay’s and Joe Dahl’s of the world.
I expect the Lions to address this position in the first two days of the draft, otherwise they’re going to have a clear weak link along the front five.
The Lions locked up Ezekiel Ansah for another year, but who knows what his future is beyond 2018? On the other side, free agent acquisition Devon Kennard will likely play on the edge some, but he’s too versatile to use primarily as an edge.
The Lions will get Kerry Hyder Jr. back, but the Lions would be wise not to hand the starting job to a player who only has two career starts and is coming off a serious Achilles injury. Anthony Zettel, Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga provide nice depth, but what the Lions need is a bonafide starter. If Ansah leaves next season, they won’t even have a single one.
This has been a serious need for several consecutive years, but with Ansah on the precipice of leaving, it’s time for the Lions to make a serious move here.
The Lions really don’t have anyone that can rush the passer from the interior. The closest player they have is Akeem Spence, who has 8.5 career sacks in five years. Spence is costing the Lions a pretty penny this year ($4.25 million in cap space) so some even think he’s a possible cap casualty should the Lions want to make another significant roster move.
Either way, the Lions have no long-term options at the three-tech, because the only player they added this offseason was Sylvester Williams on a one-year deal. There’s a still a good chance they add someone like Ricky Jean Francois, but he, again, would be a short-term option.
If the Lions can pair someone with A’Shawn Robinson, the Lions could have a killer duo for the next few seasons.
The Lions bought themselves a little time by signing LeGarrette Blount to a one-year deal. Detroit could theoretically go into the 2018 season with Blount and Ameer Abdullah as their No. 1 and 2 backs and be okay.
But, again, the Lions need to use the draft for the future, and both Blount and Abdullah’s contracts expire after 2018. With yet another decent-looking draft class, it makes a lot of sense for the Lions to finally grab a running back early in the draft.
Much like running back, the Lions gave themselves a buffer year in which they don’t have to add a tight end. Both Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo should play a significant amount of time while Michael Roberts continues to develop.
But much like nearly every free agent the Lions signed this offseason, both Toilolo and Willson are on one-year deals. If the Lions want someone ready to start by 2019, they could use another youngster who takes 2018 to develop on the bench.
It’s not a huge need, and it’s one they can probably try to address on Day 3, but the draft is about the long-term game, and this is a pretty significant long-term need.