Linebacker has been a long-time issue for the Detroit Lions. Even though Detroit pumped both draft (Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai) and free agent (Reggie Ragland, Jamie Collins Sr.) resources into the position, it remains one of the weakest on the team.
Unfortunately for the Lions, this free agency class isn’t the deepest at the position, and it has even fewer players with connections to Detroit’s new coaching and front office staff. Detroit may, instead, try to reclaim the projects already here in Detroit, as head coach Dan Campbell has already expressed some interest in bringing back Davis, but if they decide to go shopping in a week, here are five free agent off-ball linebackers with ties to the Lions.
Connection: 4 years alongside Anthony Lynn with Chargers
Over the weekend, Perryman’s agent made it clear he wanted to test free agency after spending the first six years of his career with the Chargers. A former second-round pick, Perryman has struggled with injuries his entire career, but he’s shown flashes as to why he was picked so high in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Though he played a limited role in 2020, it was his best season to date by PFF’s record, recording an impressive 83.3 grade. Though he’s not the most athletic of linebackers, he’s improved in coverage throughout the years and has been a consistently good run defender.
However, in a shallow linebacker free agency class, Perryman may come with an inflated price tag. His last contract averaged $6 million a year, and it would not surprise me to see him take a slight pay increase in 2021 after a solid season.
Connection: 4 years with Saints (Dan Campbell, Aaron Glenn)
No free agent linebacker has a stronger connection to the Lions than Anzalone. He, too, is coming off one of his most prominent seasons, setting career highs in both defensive and special teams snaps in 2020.
With pick 76 in the 2017 NFL Draft, the #Saints selected Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida.— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) June 5, 2019
He posted a great #RAS with good size, great speed, poor explosiveness, great agility at the LB position.#Saints pic.twitter.com/2MMtR5C8Z8
With a great athletic profile, Anzalone can improve the Lions’ coverage ability at the linebacker position, but he’s not exactly a thumper in the run game, and he has struggled with missed tackles in the past.
Connection: 1 year with Chargers (Lynn)
After a decent year as a full-time starter for the Bengals in 2019, Vigil signed a one-year, $2.4 million deal with Anthony Lynn’s Chargers. There he served primarily as a depth and special teams player.
At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Vigil brings an above-average athletic profile. He doesn’t specialize in coverage, but he can hold his own.
Playing on all four units on special teams, Vigil could be an affordable option to maintain Detroit’s strength in that unit, while also providing depth with starting experience behind the Lions’ young linebacking corps.
Connection: Spent 2015 with the Dolphins (Campbell’s interim head coach year)
It’s a bit of a stretch to say Hewitt has ties to the Lions, considering his only connection was a one-year overlap with Dan Campbell as his interim head coach six years ago, but, again, this is a pretty shallow class.
However, that season was Hewitt’s first in the NFL as an undrafted rookie, and he eventually earned a significant defensive role by the end of that season, playing in a total of 341 defensive snaps.
From there, his career has only springboarded. In 2020, he started all 16 games for the New York Jets leading the team with 134 tackles. A force in run defense, Hewitt also served as the team’s play-caller in 2020.
Hewitt struggles in coverage, but if Detroit is seeking a gritty defender that should come fairly cheap, Hewitt could be a decent addition.
Connection: Signed by Chiefs on two occasions with John Dorsey as GM
2020 turned out to be a big year for Adams, who took over for injured Benardrick McKinney after the first month of the season. It was his first significant action as a defensive starter, and while it didn’t exactly go swimmingly (43.5 PFF grade), he did have some standout moments. Take, for example, his game against the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving: 17 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Dorsey obviously saw enough in undrafted prospect to bring him back to the Chiefs on two separate occasions. And while the clock is running out on Adams realizing that full potential—he turns 29 this year—he’d be an affordable option with some upside.