There might not be a bigger need for the Detroit Lions this offseason than adding another pass rusher. While Trey Flowers was a great addition last offseason, the team still needs another defensive end to serve as a pure pass rusher that can win one-on-ones playing for a team that rarely sends extra rushers with the blitz. This year’s free agent pass rushing class is not as deep as last year’s, but there are still a few names the Lions could make use of in 2020.
Jadeveon Clowney was set to be a free agent last season, but the Houston Texans—who drafted him first overall in 2014—franchise tagged him and then dealt him over to the Seattle Seahawks. The star edge rusher had his least productive healthy season in 2019, only notching three sacks, but he still had a great year.
Clowney is now set to hit the free market for the first time in his career. He is likely to get paid a huge amount as he is the best pass rusher in what is a very shallow free agent class. He also seems like the biggest guarantee among the class, even though his health has been a real concern throughout his career.
It is hard to see the Lions signing him, though. There will be a lot of suitors for his services and the market could get expensive very quickly. With the team just having spent $90 million on Trey Flowers just a year ago, spending big at pass rusher once again would be a daring move for Bob Quinn.
Dante Fowler Jr.
Dante Fowler was dealt by the Jacksonville Jaguars to the Los Angeles Rams after he unperformed expectations as the third overall pick in the 2013 draft. While he improved as the Rams season went on, he still did not quite look like the top talent he was once supposed to be. Los Angeles gave him a one-year deal worth $12 million to prove himself last offseason, and he managed to meet expectations.
The edge defender shattered his previous career highs with 11.5 sacks and 58 combined tackles in 2019. He proved to be an asset for the Rams, and is now set to get paid on the open market.
Fowler will be a second-tier option on the market—Clowney is the only real top tier guy—so you could expect him to cost somewhere slightly upwards of $15 million. He will still be a cheaper option that Clowney with a lot of upside as well. He has less health concerns than the former, though his inconsistent production throughout his career is a question mark.
Was 2019 a sign of real development for the edge defender, or just an outlier in an otherwise lackluster career?
Some team is going to take a huge gamble hoping that it represents real development. If Detroit seriously wants to bolster their pass rush and improve from Devon Kennard at jack, Fowler could be the answer.
Markus Golden is another player coming off of a prove-it deal in 2019. The former second-round pick had a great season for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016, but due to injuries and poor play, he failed to ever repeat that level of production. He hit the market for the first time in his career last offseason, and signed a cheap one-year deal with a struggling New York Giants defense.
Golden managed to play all 16 games in 2019 and was one of the team’s best defenders. He notched 10 sacks and a career high 72 tackles—for context, in the two previous years combined he had 2.5 sacks and 41 combined tackles—and showed that he had the potential to return to his previous form.
While he is similar to Fowler in a way, Golden will not demand anywhere near the same amount of money. He is certainly the cheapest option on this list, and with this team’s love of former Giants players, it is easy to see how he could end up in Detroit. If his price is not too high, Golden could be a great rotational piece that can rush from the edge as Flowers is moved across the formation.
There is a real chance Golden ends up a Detroit Lion next season.
Shaquil Barrett was one of the most interesting stories of the early part of the 2019 season. The edge rusher erupted on to the scene, and the 19.5 sacks he notched led the NFL last year. And he managed to do this on his second straight one-year contract.
Barrett entered the league in 2014 as an undrafted free agent for the Denver Broncos, though he did not get playing time until 2015. He made a name for himself by notching 5.5 sacks on a Broncos defense that eventually led their team to a Super Bowl title. He could never again reach that level in the Mile High city, though, and he signed a one-year deal with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, betting on himself that he could prove himself after a change in scenery.
He did exactly that, and is now set to get a huge, long-term deal for the first time. He may get even more money than Fowler.
Barrett is another huge risk on this list. He only has one year of elite level production and has always played alongside other elite talent—whether Von Miller or Ndamukong Suh — so we really do not know how he would fair in a Lions defensive front that does not have a generational talent at that level.
It would be best for Detroit to stay away here, but if they want to swing for the fences and get a player that could produce at the same level as Clowney, but for cheaper, Barrett is the guy.
While Bud Dupree may not be coming off of a one-year contract like all of the others on this list, his story will read the exact same.
Dupree was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round of the 2015 draft. He never became the pass rusher they expected him to be in the first four years of his career, but he took off in year five.
He totaled 11.5 sacks and 68 combined tackles—both career highs—in his contract year. Dupree was the top pass rusher on a defense that nearly led their team to the playoffs despite starting a UDFA third stringer for parts of the year. He finally looked like the player the Steelers always wanted him to be.
Pittsburgh may use the franchise tag on Dupree, getting to control him for another year and see if he truly has taken the next step as a football player. If he does hit the open market, Detroit could offer him a prove-it deal, similar to the deals all of the other players on this list signed.
Dupree may be the safest option on the list and should be the team’s top target for a one-year deal if the Steelers do allow him to walk.