The interior of Detroit’s defensive line looked like the weakest point on the roster entering the 2018 season, but by the end of the year it looked like its greatest strength. The acquisition of Damon Harrison Sr. midway through the year was a huge boost for one of the league’s worst run defenses. Rookie Da’Shawn Hand moving inside after spending much of his college career on the edge was a revelation. A’Shawn Robinson was a healthy scratch to start the season but developed into a staunch run defender in his own right.
Detroit still needs depth at the position, though. A starting defensive tackle will usually only play around 60 percent of the team’s snaps, meaning that the Lions needs two quality backups that can take on a big workload. Depth is also important in case the team is struck with another injury crisis like they were towards the end of the 2018 season.
So this offseason the Detroit Lions will probably be looking for an older veteran on the last legs of his career. Someone who can still contribute, but someone who may not want a long or expensive deal.
There are a few players that do not meet that mold that deserve mention here, though.
Johnathan Hankins - Lions fans will recognize this name from last offseason. Hankins will be a free agent once again this offseason but he will also probably make more on the open market than Detroit will be willing to pay for a rotational defensive tackle. There is always a chance he lasts until late in free agency again and is undervalued.
Gerald McCoy - A week ago, an ESPN analyst speculated that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers may part ways with their star defensive tackle. McCoy would be an expensive target for the Lions but he is great enough to be worth it. The Buccaneer is an incredible pass rusher and would be a huge boost to the team’s defense.
Now to the list:
Haloti Ngata (DT - Philadelphia Eagles)
Ngata was acquired by Detroit in 2015 when they sent a pair of picks to the Baltimore Ravens for the defensive tackle. Ngata was one of the players tasked with helping replace the loss of both Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley up front, and while he was never going to match his predecessors, he was great in the role. Ngata was the team’s best run defender up front during his time in Detroit.
A bicep injury cut his 2017 season short and he joined the Philadelphia Eagles on a one-year deal in 2018. He had a fairly quiet 2018 but did show that he has a bit in the tank. If he does not retire (which is always a possibility at age 35) he will be a cheap veteran with Super Bowl tenure that would be a great locker room figure for the team’s younger defensive tackles. The question will be if he’s willing to reunite with the Lions after reportedly turning down an offer last year.
Kyle Love (DT - Carolina Panthers)
If the Panthers do not decide to retain veteran defensive tackle Kyle Love, then he may play for his fifth team in 2019. The 2010 UDFA has carved out an impressive nine-year career for himself. He primarily plays on the interior but can kick outside when need be. Love is definitely not a top-level talent, but he would be the perfect role player in Detroit. He is versatile and dependable. More importantly than anything, he will be cheap and should be willing to take a short deal.
Bennie Logan (DT - Tennessee Titans)
Logan should be an inexpensive target that has potential to be a boon for the team in free agency. He was a third-round pick by the Eagles in 2013 but slightly disappointed for his original team. Last season he joined the Tennessee Titans as a rotational defensive lineman and did fine within that role.
He will still be 29 when the 2019 season kicks off, so Logan should have a lot left in the tank. Barring injury, he really is not a risk for a huge regression like many of his older counterparts. There is even a chance Detroit could sign him to an incredibly cheap multi-year deal and fill the void for the foreseeable future.
Steve McLendon (DT - New York Jets)
McLendon is probably the best player on this list but also will be the most expensive of the bunch. The defensive tackle was a regular starter in New York and did well in that role. He was not a stand-out player but not a weakness either. The Jets may want to move on from the 33-year-old this offseason, though, as they are undergoing a full rebuild.
The defensive tackle has not slowed down with age, though. He has played all 32 games over the past two seasons, starting in 28 of them. McLendon was a decent run defender last season and would be a useful part of the Lions defensive line rotation. He may actually have a decently sized market and Detroit may not want to meet his price for a fourth defensive tackle, but if they have a chance at McLendon they should at least pick up the phone.