The Detroit Lions could see some serious turnover on the defensive line this offseason, and while many hope it’s on the edges, the interior is where there is the most uncertainty. The Lions have four defensive tackles potentially facing free agency, and their lynchpin at the middle of the line is currently contemplating retirement.
It’s a position that probably needs some serious retooling following a disappointing year, but the path to a better interior is not exactly clear.
Let’s take a closer look at the Detroit Lions’ future at defensive tackle.
(Final year under contract in parentheses)
Under contract: Damon Harrison Sr. (2021), Da’Shawn Hand (2021), Kevin Strong (2021), John Atkins (2020), Olive Sagapolu (2021)
Free agents: Mike Daniels (UFA), A’Shawn Robinson (UFA), Darius Kilgo (UFA), Jamie Meder (RFA)
With Mike Daniels and A’Shawn Robinson potentially headed to free agency, that’s 631 defensive snaps to account for. Throw in Damon Harrison Sr.’s potential retirement and that’s another 527 to replace this offseason.
The dark truth about the Lions is that three of their top four defensive tackles could be gone this offseason, and that means Detroit needs to start thinking about the future. Even Da’Shawn Hand, who many consider a long-term piece to this defensive line, is only signed on for two more years.
Level of need: 9/10
I do think the Lions like what they have in some of their depth pieces. Kevin Strong (23 years old) is someone I expect to be part of the Lions rotation for at least the next two years, while John Atkins has seen plenty of playing time as a reserve.
But the truth is the Lions don’t have a single player on their roster that they can confidently say will be a part of this team’s long-term starting plan. Even if Harrison decides to stick around, we now know he’s on borrowed time in his playing career. The Lions will need to start looking for their run-stuffing nose tackle of the future, starting this offseason.
Maybe even more importantly, the Lions need to generate some pass rush up the middle. They need someone to collapse the pocket up the middle. Last year, the Lions doled out $8+ million to Mike Daniels hoping to fix that problem, but it obviously didn’t work out. Maybe they go back to that well again this year, hoping that health will help Daniels recapture his magic.
There’s a reason I put both nose tackle and three-tech defensive tackle on my list of the Lions’ top six needs. Detroit is near desperation level at DT, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see them use multiple resources—including the third overall pick—at the position.