Now that it is officially the offseason for the Detroit Lions, it’s time to start thinking about some personnel decisions the team will have to make in the upcoming months. Sure, the Lions will have to hire a head coach and general manager first, but they once they are hired, they won’t have much time to assess the roster and get into full offseason mode.
The first decisions facing the new staff will be the status of Lions players on expiring contracts, and there are quite a few of them. 18 of the Lions’ 53 players—33.9 percent—could become unrestricted free agents by March. The new GM is going to have to make decisions on all of them, and they won’t have a ton of time to do it.
So let’s make them a little cheat sheet. Here are the Lions’ 18 unrestricted free agents for the 2021 season ranked based on a combination of talent and re-signability.
1. WR Kenny Golladay
One of the biggest decisions facing the new GM is the future of Kenny Golladay. He’s a Pro Bowl receiver that is still very much in the prime of his career. In 2018 and 2019, he put together back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons and racked up 16 touchdowns. But his 2020 season looms large. Injuries to his hamstring and hip limited him to just five games played.
Re-signing Golladay last offseason was a no-brainer, but it never got done. That suggests either the last GM was being stingy with the Lions’ money or Golladay’s camp was asking for too much. The Lions gained some leverage with Golladay’s poor 2020, but he still won’t come cheap. The franchise tag seems like it’s very much in play here.
2. DE Romeo Okwara
Okwara may be the one and only candidate for Lions Most Improved Player. The Lions defensive end put up a career-high 10 sacks, finishing 10th in the NFL in that stat. And unlike his 7.5-sack season in 2018, this one was fully deserved. Okwara’s PFF pass rush grade will finish near the top 10 among edge defenders, while he spent much of 2020 in the top 10 of ESPN’s pass rush win rate, as well.
Okwara is only 25 years old, so he should cash in this offseason. Will he offer a hometown discount to stay with his brother in Detroit, or will he take this prime opportunity to get the most money on the open market? Pass rushers don’t come cheap, but the Lions also don’t have many on their roster.
3. K Matt Prater
Prater made it quite clear he’d like to return to Detroit during his media session last week.
“The easiest thing, obviously, would be to stay here with the kids and (we’re) kind of established here, and we love being here and living in Michigan,” Prater said per MLive. “Yeah, I would love to continue playing and hopefully it would be here.”
A 36-year-old kicker coming off one of his worst seasons shouldn’t be too pricey for Detroit, so a re-signing makes sense. Of course, there should be mild concern about Prater’s uncharacteristically inconsistent season, but he also showed that his leg hasn’t deteriorated much in terms of power.
4. WR Marvin Jones Jr.
Marvin Jones Jr. certainly made it sound like he’s going to test free agency, and that may make it near impossible for the next GM to keep him around. Jones absolutely went OFF in his final five games of the season, tallying 475 yards and four touchdowns.
At 31, it’s hard to imagine him getting paid among the elite, but this will likely be his last opportunity to grab a huge paycheck, and you can’t blame Jones for wanting to get paid after spending the last five years on a team-friendly deal in Detroit.
5. KR/PR Jamal Agnew
Although Agnew never emerged as the receiver some were hoping him to be this year, he did shine as a punt returner yet again. He finished the season with a 12.7 punt return average, which was good enough for second in the NFL. His kick return average of 28.0 ranked in the top-five, as well.
Agnew is a special teams weapon, even with his faults (see: fumbling problem). Some team—be it the Lions or someone else—is going to see that value.
6. S Duron Harmon
Harmon is a locker-room leader and the kind of guy you may want to keep around if, say, you were going through a rebuild and wanted someone to help produce a healthy culture in the locker room.
As for his talent, he produced above-average play for most of the season until things really fell apart for everyone on that defense late in the year. Harmon’s still a somewhat reliable deep coverage safety, but it remains to be seen if he’ll want to stick around for a rebuild, as the veteran defender turns 30 later this month.
7. WR Mohamed Sanu
In just six games with Detroit, Sanu made a mostly-positive impression with the Lions, catching at least two passes in every game played. At 31, Sanu probably doesn’t have a ton left in the tank, but he would provide some nice, cheap depth in Detroit for a team that currently just has two receivers under contract for 2021.
8. LS Don Muhlbach
No one has been more reliable over the past two decades than the Lions’ long snapper. But this could theoretically be the end of the road for Don Muhlbach. The Lions decided to keep rookie long snapper Steven Wirtel on the practice squad all season, suggesting they were grooming him to become Muhlbach’s eventual replacement.
That being said, Muhlbach sure sounds like he still has some unfinished business in Detroit.
9. WR Danny Amendola
Amendola proved a lot of doubters wrong in his two season in Detroit. Despite joining the Lions at 33 years old with a laundry list of injuries, Amendola stayed mostly healthy here and produced back-to-back 600-yard season for only the second time in his career.
He turned out to be a nice security blanket for Matthew Stafford and a first down machine. But with the Patriots Way now gone in Detroit, it’s hard to imagine Amendola being too eager to stick around in 2021.
10. DE Everson Griffen
Griffen quietly picked up 3.5 sacks in just seven games with Detroit after the Lions made a deadline deal to add the defensive end. Though his days of being a dominant pass rusher are clearly over—and he’s also an offsides machine—he could still provide a team with some high-energy play in a rotational role. At 33, he’s in the twilight of his career, but there’s still some value there.
11. RB Adrian Peterson
It was truly an up-and-down season for Peterson in Detroit. He started out hot by nearly eclipsing the 100-yard mark in his Lions debut. He quickly hit a dry spell, though, averaging just 3.2 yards per carry in Weeks 3 through 14.
But Peterson finished strong, finding the end zone five times in the final six games.
D’Andre Swift is the present and the future of this backfield, but there could still be a role for Peterson here if Detroit doesn’t want to put a ton of resources into the running back position. And Peterson wants to stick around, too.
12. CB Darryl Roberts
Roberts is a decent enough backup and special teamer. However, injuries to Detroit’s secondary forced him into the lineup, limiting his role as a special teamer this season, and showing that he’s probably not a starter at the NFL level.
Still, there’s value to a depth player that can both play the slot and outside corner. So don’t be surprised to see Roberts catch on here or somewhere else in 2021.
13. S Miles Killebrew
Depending on how much the next Lions coach values special teams, Killebrew could end up just being one of those guys that always returns to Detroit. At this point, we know he doesn’t provide much value on defense—either as a safety or a linebacker—but he plays on every special teams unit, and does it well.
14. LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin
Reeves-Maybin is in the same boat as Killebrew, though there may still be some hope for him on defense. He’s one of the more athletic linebackers on the roster, which apparently was a fault according to the previous regime. He’s a solid special teamer that just hasn’t been given much of a chance on defense. He’ll be 26 by the end of January, so there may still be some hope he could find a rotational role on defense eventually.
15. CB Tony McRae
McRae has been a phenomenal special teamer his entire career, but his season ended early due to injury. Because he was brought to Detroit by now-fired special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs, who McRae still clearly holds in high regard, it’s hard to imagine him sticking around in 2021.
16. LB Reggie Ragland
Ragland was one of the better Lions linebackers in 2020, but that’s setting the bar especially low. As the season went on, Ragland saw his snaps go up, but the production just wasn’t really there. As an edge that would often be sent on a blitz, Raglan produced just one sack on the season. He was also very much a Matt Patricia guy, so his desire to be here may have waned.
17. G Oday Aboushi
It was a bit surprising when the Lions decided to stick with Aboushi over veteran Kenny Wiggins last offseason. As far as depth, Aboushi isn’t bad. Having veterans like him with experience has value. But he’ll be 30 next year, and the next coaching staff may want to bring in their guys.
18. Jarrad Davis
There’s always a chance Davis catches on somewhere else. He’s got the athletic traits and the character that you’d want in a linebacker. But he still struggles with the mental part of the game. In truth, the Lions made their decision on Davis last year when they declined his fifth-year option. Sadly, he’ll go down as one of Bob Quinn’s worst draft picks.