While they are far from done this offseason, the Detroit Lions’ 2020 plan is starting to come into focus. They’ve already done a major overhaul of their defense and made some significant changes on the offensive side of the ball.
Detroit still has a ton of valuable offseason resources—including the third-overall pick—to make improvements to the roster. But, for now, here are the five Lions players that stand to benefit from the first wave of free agency and three that have suffered the worst.
Winner: Kenny Golladay
The Detroit Lions didn’t add any new wide receiver help in free agency, and currently all nine wideouts on the roster have expiring deals after the 2020 season.
With no drastic moves—like trading for DeAndre Hopkins, for example—it appears Golladay is likely on track for a big extension this offseason. Though a Day 2 draft pick is still likely to be spent on the position, that will still leave one spot open for Golladay, and he will hold all the leverage coming off a Pro Bowl season.
Loser: Matthew Stafford
Not only did the Lions fail to add any new offensive weapons (so far), but they’ve taken a pretty significant hit on the offensive line. They cut well-rounded Rick Wagner for a run-blocking specialist in Halapoulivaati Vaitai at right tackle. They still have no clear plan at right guard.
So for a guy that’s coming off back injuries in consecutive seasons, it can’t be reassuring to see the Lions not putting his protection as a high priority.
Winner: Austin Bryant
The release of Devon Kennard has to be one of the most surprising moves the Lions made this offseason. A captain and Detroit’s second most-active defender in 2019 (only behind Justin Coleman in snaps), Kennard leaves a huge hole on the roster.
While the addition of Jamie Collins Sr. will certainly help in mitigating the damage, the former Patriots linebacker is likely better served on the inside.
That all paves the way for Lions 2019 fourth-round pick to get a real shot at some significant playing time as the team’s jack linebacker. Injuries derailed his rookie season, but as the roster currently stands, he’s going to get a real chance to compete for potential starting snaps in 2020.
Loser: Tyrell Crosby
When the Lions first released Wagner, it appeared the Lions may go the frugal route and allow Crosby to start at right tackle while on his rookie deal. But the addition of Vaitai all but seals Crosby’s fate as the backup swing tackle.
It’s not a bad role for Crosby, but if he was hoping for a promotion this year, he has to be a little disappointed with how things played out.
Winner: Jesse James
With a dead cap number of $8.27 million, James was never a candidate to get cut this offseason. However, after an extremely disappointing 2019 season, it wouldn’t have been that surprising to see the Lions try to bolster the tight end room.
Instead, the Lions actually got a little worse, letting James’ main competition for the TE2 job, Logan Thomas, hit free agency. That shows the Lions still have confidence in James finding a significant role in the offseason, as general manager Bob Quinn said at the end of the 2019 season.
“Jesse James needs to get more involved in the offense,” Quinn said back in December. “I think when you sign a tight end in the offseason and then you draft one in the first round, it’s kind of hard. It was kind of a hard thing for Jesse. But I know Jesse is excited about going forward with a really deep tight end room and that’s going to be a big part of our offense going forward.”
Loser: Will Harris
After the trade of Quandre Diggs, Harris essentially became a full-time starter. But the 2019 third-round pick may have to come off the bench again after the Lions traded for free safety Duron Harmon.
Harmon’s skills as a deep safety will free up Tracy Walker to move all around the defense, making Harris’ role a little less clear. Harris will still obviously play a pretty big role in the defense—as Detroit loves to utilize three-safety look often—but he may take a backseat to Harmon in base looks.
The good news for Harris is that Harmon only has one year remaining on his contract, and Harris could eventually earn a starting job with improved play.
Winner: Beau Benzschawel
While the Lions are almost certainly going to add at least two players at guard before the offseason is over, Benzschawel is currently trending towards competing for, at the very least, a reserve spot on the interior offensive line. The former Wisconsin Badger was a priority undrafted free agent signing by Detroit last year, but he was only active for two games last season. Things could be trending upwards for him 2020.
Winner: Darius Slay
Darius Slay got everything he wanted. He got an extension making him the highest paid corner by a per-year average. He got away from Matt Patricia, a coach he no longer respected. And he even got to take a shot on his way out.
Whether you agree with his methods or not, Slay did everything he needed to get a big, hefty contract just before turning 30.