The Detroit Lions are in dire need of a reliable edge rusher. Ezekiel Ansah was supposed to fill the role in 2018, but a shoulder injury sidelined him for much of the year and they had trouble replacing his production. It seems that in today’s NFL it is hard to succeed with out a top-tier pass rush and Detroit is currently without one.
Luckily, the 2019 class of edge rushing free agents is as deep as ever. Some of the most talented players in the league are set to hit the open market and Detroit may be able to make a splash in free agency.
This will be an absolutely stacked free agent class for edge defenders, but for a variety of reasons some of the bigger names probably will not be available for the Lions. Here are a few names to watch for but not get too excited about.
Dee Ford - The edge had a huge 2018 season and it is likely that the Kansas City Chiefs franchise him to see if he can keep his high level of play going before they commit to a long term deal.
Za’Darius Smith - The Baltimore Ravens pass rusher was a force coming off of the edge for the team in his contract year. It is likely that the team will have to choose between Smith and off-ball linebacker C.J. Mosely for who gets the franchise tag, and odds are they use it on the more-valuable pass rusher.
Jadeveon Clowney - The former No. 1 overall pick has had trouble staying healthy so far in his career. He has been an absolute force on the edge when he is on the field, though, so it is likely the Houston Texans either tag him or give him an expensive contract.
Frank Clark - Great football player. Probably not a guy that should be wearing a Lions uniform, though.
Now for the guys who the Lions may actually make a run at:
Trey Flowers (DE - New England Patriots)
Trey Flowers may be one of the most sought after names this spring. The Patriots defensive end can do pretty much everything you could ask from an edge defender. He is a great pass rusher that can line up basically anywhere and is very reliable against the run. His rookie contract finally comes to an end this offseason, and while he is a candidate for the franchise tag, New England is a team that occasionally lets talent walk for no reason.
Flowers has earned 21 sacks over the past three seasons. His presence on the edge would be huge for the Lions defense and he has experience, and even won a Super Bowl, with head coach Matt Patricia. We already know how much the Lions love bringing in Patricia’s old friends to the team, so this move would seem like a no brainer.
Demarcus Lawrence (DE - Dallas Cowboys)
Demarcus Lawrence may be the best player to hit free agency this offseason. He may be one of the best players in the NFL.
The defensive end played on the franchise tag in 2018 after putting up 14.5 sacks in his 2017 contract year. Lawrence “regressed” to only 10.5 sacks this season but was the most important piece of an incredible Cowboys defense. Using another franchise tag on Lawrence will be incredibly expensive and it is unknown whether or not the Cowboys are willing to pay the hefty price tag to sign him long term.
Lawrence is going to get paid very well this offseason. Whether or not the Lions will be willing — or able — to meet his price tag is something only general manager Bob Quinn knows, but he should at least be on the teams radar.
Anthony Barr (LB - Minnesota Vikings)
Anthony Barr has been one of the stars of Minnesota’s defense over the years, but it is likely that comes to an end this offseason. The linebacker regressed in 2018 and with so much talent all over the roster waiting to get paid, it is likely the Vikings pass rusher will be the odd man out.
Barr will also be an expensive land this offseason, but he may not be in the same tier as Lawrence or Flowers. He has the speed and bend to be a top level pass rusher, and while he may not be as great as Devon Kennard against the run, he would give the Lions a 3-4 outside linebacker that can pass rush as well as anyone around.
Preston Smith (LB - Washington)
Washington’s destructive defensive line and the existence of Ryan Kerrigan have denied Preston Smith the attention he deserves from the average NFL fan. The linebacker may not be the elite talent that the names above him on this list are, but he is has been a reliable, consistent pass rusher for years in the nation’s capital.
Smith has 24.5 sacks over the past four seasons and will now hit the open market at the conclusion of his rookie deal. He is a candidate for the franchise tag but Washington is a team currently being run by baboons so it is unlikely they actually make a move to retain some of their talented players.
He will not be as expensive as Flowers or Lawrence and probably not even as expensive as Barr. Brown is a great talent, though, and is yet to miss a single game four years into his NFL career. It would not be surprising if he’s Detroit’s top target this offseason.
Dante Fowler Jr. (DE - Los Angeles Rams)
Dante Fowler is a name that is not gathering enough attention as we inch towards the offseason. The defensive end was traded from the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Rams midway through the season and has given Los Angeles the edge presence they desperately needed. He missed his rookie season with a knee injury but did have 12 sacks in his first two seasons with the Jaguars. He added four more between both teams in 2018.
Fowler will most likely be a second-tier free agent this offseason, but he still has a lot to provide to a defense. He is versatile and had the athletic profile of a top-five draft pick. He has only missed one game since returning from his rookie season injury, so health is not really a concern either. There also is a very real chance he has a Super Bowl championship to his name when he hits the market this spring.