Last week, Chris Spielman, the Detroit Lions’ special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood, told local radio station 97.1 The Ticket that he believed the team needs to beef up their defensive line.
The Lions may want to focus that effort on the defensive interior. With both Danny Shelton and Nick Williams saving the Lions $4 million each as potential cap casualties, the Lions may look very different at defensive tackle in 2021.
While the team would not prefer to build through free agency, they’ll need to at least have players to sport in the upcoming season. So here are five free agent defensive tackles that already have ties to the Lions’ front office or coaching staff.
Connection: 8 years alongside DL coach/defensive coordinator Todd Wash with Jaguars
New Detroit Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash may know Abry Jones as a player better than any other NFL coach, as both have spent the past eight years in Jacksonville.
Jones will be 30 this year, and is coming off a contract where he averaged $4 million a year. Under Detroit’s tight cap situation, he’d be an affordable option comfortable under this coaching staff.
However, Jones is coming off an ankle injury that held him to just five games last year, and he’s pretty much a pure run defender. If the Lions are looking for interior pass rush, Jones is not their guy.
Connection: 1 year alongside Todd Wash (also a former Lion)
Since leaving the Lions in 2016 (and again in 2018), Reid has been a journeyman in the NFL. His latest stop was alongside Wash and Jones in Jacksonville, where he tallied just five tackles in seven game appearances.
Reid is a bit more well-rounded than Jones but is really best served as a depth piece. It would make a nice story to bring him back to Detroit, but this would be a pure bargain-bin signing.
Connection: 5 seasons with the Saints (Aaron Glenn, Dan Campbell)
A former first-round pick, Rankins is set to cash in on free agency for the first time in his career. Though he’s coming off a shortened season due to a knee injury, he’s still projected to earn around $11 million per year, according to Spotrac’s market value projections.
Rankins could finally be the interior pass rush the Lions have been seeking at defensive tackle. At his peak, Rankins tallied 8.0 sacks in 2018 and a total of 96 pressures in 2017 and 2018 combined.
However, Rankins is a significant injury risk, having missed 10 games in the past two seasons. Additionally, I don’t know how the Lions find $11 million per year in their budget right now, even though you’d have to think both Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn would love to bring him along.
Connection: 5 years with the Rams (selected as an undrafted rookie by Brad Holmes and company)
Back to the bargain bin, Fox has made a nice career for himself despite entering the league as an undrafted rookie. He’s served as rotational depth along the Rams defensive line for three out of the past four years (he lost his 2018 season to a torn ACL during OTAs).
At 6-foot-3, 275 pounds, Fox is a bit undersized for your traditional defensive tackle, and the Lions may want to utilize him more on the edge. But he brings a decent amount of pass rush, and is coming off a career year with 6.0 sacks. Still, his contract should be somewhat reasonable seeing as he earned under $1 million last year. He’s due for a raise, but the 26 year old still should come fairly cheap.
Connection: Spent 2018 with the Rams (Brad Holmes)
Our own Mike Payton made a case for bringing Suh back to Detroit. However, unless the Lions can somehow convince him to pass on a chance for back-to-back titles in Tampa and take an extreme discount in Detroit, there is no reason to be spending a considerable amount of cap space on a 34-year-old defensive tackle.