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2021 NFL free agency: 5 edge defenders with ties to the Detroit Lions

There is no shortage of talented pass rushers in this year’s free agency class.

Los Angeles Rams v Cleveland Browns Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Detroit Lions haven’t finished in the top 10 for sacks in a single season since 2015. Though Romeo Okwara had a breakout year in 2020, Detroit usually struggled to find a defender that could consistently make opposing quarterbacks uncomfortable. With Okwara’s future with the team uncertain at best, 2021 again challenges the Lions to find an edge defender that can make a true difference in bolstering their weak pass rush.

Luckily for Detroit, this free agency period features many excellent pass rushers, and several have significant ties to Detroit’s new staff of coaches and talent evaluators. Like every year, edge defenders won’t come cheap. If the Lions decide this is the position they want to empty the vault to fill, though, there is no shortage of options.

Here are five edge defenders with ties to the Detroit Lions.

Previously: Quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends, offensive linemen, defensive tackles

Yannick Ngakoue

Connection: 4 years in Jaguars with Todd Wash (Lions DL coach) as his defensive coordinator

The Lions can probably afford one splurge in free agency, and Ngakoue would make a lot of sense to be that one. He’s likely the best edge defender in the free agency market, and he’s just about to turn 26 years old.

Ngakoue was traded twice last season, first from the Jaguars, then from the Vikings to the Ravens. If he’s looking for some stability, rejoining Todd Wash in Detroit could be a hugely beneficial reunion. Ngakoue had his two best seasons in Jacksonville, posting at least 8.0 sacks in four consecutive years.

Detroit will really have to ask themselves, though, if they’re in a place to be spending $15.5 million a year (estimated by Spotrac) on a single player right now.

Samson Ebukam

Connection: Drafted by Rams in the fourth round of 2017 draft (Holmes/Agnew)

Ebukam may not be a household name, but he’s quietly been a solid defender for the Rams over the past four seasons.

An elite athlete, Ebukam tallied 4.5 sacks in back-to-back seasons as a rotational pass rusher. Despite his relatively small size (6-foot-3, 245 pounds), he’s also been a fairly stout run defender in Los Angeles.

He’ll obviously be a scheme fit, as the Lions try to emulate the Rams’ defensive front, according to head coach Dan Campbell. As an added benefit, he should come with a relatively affordable price tag.

Melvin Ingram

Connection: 9 seasons with the Chargers (4 overlapping with Anthony Lynn)

Ingram will almost certainly land on the more expensive end of the spectrum for free agent edge defenders. But due to injuries (12 games missed in past two years) and age (turns 32 in April), it may be possible to sign him to a short, prove-it deal.

Though Lynn is an offensive-minded coach, he’s likely well aware of Ingram’s potential. Prior to registering zero sacks in an injury-shortened 2020 (active for seven games), Ingram had at least 7.0 in five consecutive seasons, including three straight Pro Bowl appearances.

At this point in his career, though, Ingram may be looking for one last payday or a shot at a ring. I’m not sure the Lions can provide either of those things.

Dawuane Smoot

Connection: 4 years with the Jaguars (Wash)

A 2017 third-round pick, Smoot likely has a close relationship with Wash. Though Smoot’s career in Jacksonville was plagued with inconsistent play, he’s coming off a relatively good season as a sub-package pass rusher. In 2020, he saw his role with the team grow, and as a result, his production increased. The former third-round pick tallied a career-high 32 pressures per PFF last year, and he’s been credited with 11.5 sacks over the past two seasons.

Justin Houston

Connection: 4-year overlap with John Dorsey in Kansas City (including extension signing)

If the Lions aren’t looking to go bargain bin shopping, but are not trying to break the bank on a young guy, Houston could provide a nice one or two-year stopgap that could bring some serious leadership and production to a defense lacking in both.

Houston is a four-time Pro Bowler with 97.5 sacks to his name. At 32 years old, he’s still producing at a high level, too. He’s had at least 8.0 sacks in each of his past four seasons.

But the dilemma with Houston is the same as Ingram. He’s likely searching for a big payday or a ring.