The Detroit Lions haven’t had a true playmaking linebacker since the days of DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. The Lions have spent significant resources on the position—using a first-round pick on Jarrad Davis and a second-round pick on Jahlani Tavai, but it just hasn’t paid off yet.
Instead, we’re left with weekly complaints about the opponents’ tight ends tearing apart the Lions defense and inconsistent tackling at the second level, a problem that’s plagued the team for years now.
That all being said, I don’t foresee any major personnel changes coming at the linebacker position this offseason. Let me explain in our 2020 positional breakdown of the Lions linebackers.
(Final year under contract in parentheses)
Under contract: Jarrad Davis (2020), Jahlani Tavai (2022), Christian Jones (2021), Jalen Reeves-Maybin (2020), Steve Longa (2020), Jason Cabinda (2020), Anthony Pittman (2020), Christian Sam (2021)
Free agents: Miles Killebrew (UFA)
Last year, the Lions made a couple of moves that solidify their future for the next couple years: draft Tavai and giving Christian Jones a two-year extension. With those two in place, and Davis coming back, the Lions top three linebackers are likely set for 2020. They also have most of their depth pieces still in place, with linebacker/safety hybrid Miles Killebrew the only player facing free agency.
That being said, all eyes should be on Jarrad Davis this offseason. He’s entering the last year of his rookie deal, but the Lions have the option to exercise a fifth-year option by the May deadline. That option will be around $10 million, though even if Detroit exercises it, they could cut Davis before that money becomes guaranteed and take on no dead money. What the Lions decide to do with Davis will be very telling about the future of the position.
Level of need: 2/10
While most of us agree that the Lions could stand to improve upon both Christian Jones and Jarrad Davis, the coaching staff has given us little indication that they’re unhappy with either’s play. Jones just got an extension and Davis continues to be a guy coaches—and not just Detroit’s staff—rave about.
That being said, this quote from Patricia about Davis still sticks out in my mind.
“He’s one of our better players and he’s out there in front, and it’s hard, because there hasn’t been that consistent, dynamic guy next to him that maybe has 10 years of experience,” Patricia said back at least year’s owners meetings.
The Lions could certainly use that veteran presence, and they could have a couple of intriguing options in free agency in either Jamie Collins or, yes, Kyle Van Noy.
Detroit could also decide to target a linebacker in the draft, expecting this to be Davis’ final year with the team. Wisconsin’s Zack Baun is a name to keep an eye on, as he reportedly made an impression during Senior Bowl week.
Overall, though, there has been nothing to suggest that the Lions are interested in making any sweeping changes with their linebacking corps. Don’t be surprised if they go into 2020 with most the same personnel intact.