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Next Man Up: It takes two (defensive ends) to tango

The Lions signed Trey Flowers to be their star pass rusher. Just how much help will he have?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

The Lions spent serious cash on EDGE Trey Flowers in free agency, luring him away from New England to the tune of a $90 million paycheck and reuniting him with his former defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia.

Flowers is a budding star (pun very much intended) with the potential to explode into one of the league’s premiere pass rushers in the 2019 season. The line is rooted in absolute units like Damon “Snacks” Harrison, A’Shawn Robinson, as well as Da’Shawn Hand, who quietly had a stellar rookie season.

The Lions splurged in the secondary as well this offseason, signing top nickel corner Justin Coleman, bringing in veteran Rashaan Melvin, and drafting rookie Amani Oruwariye, whose size and athleticism should push him into immediate playing time.

All these tools mean Patricia will finally have the fine-tuned defensive roster he needs to execute his game plan and put his star pass rusher in the position to have his best season yet.

It’s important to remember, however, that pass rushers frequently rotate in and out of the game—those who remember the Jim Schwartz era will recall that the Lions had as many as eight or nine defensive linemen who rotated in and out by play to keep everyone fresh. That being said, who will fill the gaps (literally and metaphorically) when Flowers isn’t in the game?

Next Man Up: Romeo Okwara

I don’t think there has ever been a training camp cut as polarizing as Okwara.

After getting caught up in the New York Giants’ final preseason roster cuts in 2018, Okwara was claimed off waivers by Detroit and came in without much in terms of expectations. It’s safe to say he exceeded that bar, as he ended up being the Lions’ best pass rusher last season with 7.5 sacks. That landed Okwara a two-year extension worth $7 million dollars—not bad for a training camp cut.

While the Lions seem high on Okwara’s 2018 performance, it’s not smiles all around. A large portion of the fan base holds the view that while Okwara did a great job on clean-up duty, he struggled to consistently produce pressure and often had the quarterback land in his lap. That does seem to be the narrative of the tape, and it’s a valid argument considering how much of Okwara’s success came out of the contain scheme Patricia loved to employ against mobile quarterbacks.

Grade: B-

It’s really tough to say for certain who and what the Lions will be getting in Okwara in 2019. I’d like to think that in playing a backup role, Okwara can stay fresh behind Flowers and perform at his peak whenever he’s on the field. Last year, Okwara played more than any other Lions defensive lineman, participating in 72.7 percent of the defensive snaps. With Flowers, the hope is that number drops, while Okwara’s efficiency rises.

At the end of the day, Okwara’s ceiling for next season is a very good rotational defensive end, and his floor is a slightly-overpaid contain man. Nothing is for certain, though, and only time will tell how well Okwara’s new role will suit him.