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Detroit Lions 2019 free agency preview: Defensive line

A look at the Lions’ top options along the defensive line.

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NFL: Buffalo Bills at Baltimore Ravens Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Previous position previews: Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive line, running back

Currently under contract

Defensive end

Romeo Okwara

  • Signed through 2020
  • $1,788,853 cap hit in 2019

Eric Lee

  • Signed through 2019
  • $645,000 cap hit in 2019

Jonathan Wynn

  • Signed through 2020
  • $495,000 cap hit in 2019

Mitchell Loewen

  • Signed through 2019
  • $570,00 cap hit

Pending free agents

Kerry Hyder Jr.
Eli Harold
Ezekiel Ansah

Level of need: 8/10

The Lions already took care of a few free agents, signing Romeo Okwara to a two-year deal, and giving Mitchell Loewen his ERFA tender, which he already signed. The Lions will not be offering Kerry Hyder a restricted tender, which means they’re almost certainly moving on from him. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Ansah seems unlikely to return after Detroit did not give him the franchise tag again. Eli Harold’s fate is TBD.

That leaves the Lions with only four defensive ends on the roster, and only one of which is expected to make the 53-man roster at the end of the year. They barely have any money allocated to the position, meaning they’re poised to go on a spending spree.

Defensive tackle

Damon Harrison Sr.

  • Signed through 2020
  • $7 million cap hit in 2019

A’Shawn Robinson

  • Signed through 2019
  • $1,665,248 cap hit in 2019

Da’Shawn Hand

  • Signed through 2021
  • $740,491 cap hit in 2019

John Atkins

  • Signed through 2020
  • $495,000 cap hit in 2019

Jarron Jones

  • Signed through 2020
  • $495,000 cap hit in 2019

Pending free agents

Ricky Jean Francois

Level of need: 2/10

The Lions’ starting lineup is already set for 2019, and they even have a nice little rotation with Da’Shawn Hand potentially coming off the bench at both the interior and the edge. If Detroit decides to re-sign Francois, it’ll be identical to the interior lineup that dominated the second half of the season. Nothing wrong with that.

However, Snacks may be seeking a new contract and A’Shawn Robinson is entering the final year of his contract. Detroit may want to start considering a new future on the inside, as this crew is going to become very costly soon.

Top defensive line free agents available:

Trey Flowers - It’s no secret that Trey Flowers is the best available edge defender in this year’s free agency class. Fortunately/unfortunately for the Lions, he also happens to be a perfect fit both in terms of scheme and need. The unfortunate part is that he is going to come at an extremely high cost. Some estimate Flowers will cost $14-17 million a year.

Preston Smith - Football Outsiders suggested the Lions make a run as Smith, and it’s easy to see why. His size and athleticism fit perfectly in Patricia’s system, and at just 26 years old, the pass rusher is still growing. He’ll come a little cheaper than Flowers, but could still certainly reach double digit figures in the millions.

Za’Darius Smith - If the Lions want to go a more cost-effective route, Smith may be their guy. Smith likely would not have been considered a top target if he had entered free agency last year, as he had just 10 total sacks in his first three years with the Ravens. However, last year, Smith blew up for 8.5 sacks and a pass rushing grade of 78.7 (15th among edge defenders). Here’s what PFF has to say about Smith:

Unlike Dee Ford, Smith has seen a consistent upward trend in his production throughout his four-year career before a breakout 2018 in which he racked up 60 pressures during the regular season

The downside to Smith is that he’s a bit of a liability in run defense.

Best fit

It has to be Trey Flowers. Lions general manager Bob Quinn (and the Patriots) may not have a reputation spending a lot of money on pass rushers, but it’s rare that free agency provides the opportunity to get a player that’s young, a perfect scheme fit, and fills one of the team’s biggest needs. For it to be a pass rusher—a position that rarely has a valuable free agent market—is just too good of an opportunity for the Lions to pass up.

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