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6 potential 2022 free agents the Lions should watch during Sunday’s Wild Card games

Identifying one player from each of today’s playoff teams the Lions could be interested in.

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The 2022 NFL Playoffs continue on Sunday with two NFC and one AFC Super Wild Card matchups. The first game of the day will feature (7) Philadelphia Eagles at (2) Tampa Bay Buccaneers at 1 p.m. ET on FOX, followed by (6) San Francisco 49ers at (3) Dallas Cowboys at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS and Nickelodeon, and the day will conclude with (7) Pittsburgh Steelers at (2) Kansas City Chiefs at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC.

Here are six potential 2022 free agents—one from each team—that the Detroit Lions should be watching during Sunday’s games.

Eagles: Anthony Harris, safety (6-foot-1, 202)

In 2018 and 2019, Harris was one of the best safeties in football. He was dominant in coverage and earned grades of 89.0 and 91.1 from PFF, respectively. He was franchise tagged by the Vikings in 2020 but took a step back, and they let him hit the market in 2021. He signed with the Eagles—joining their new defensive coordinator Jonathan Gannon, who he played for in Minnesota—on a very reasonable one-year, $4 million contract. Unfortunately, his play didn’t improve and he once again earned an average grade (61.6) from PFF this past season.

At 30 years old, Harris may be on the move again, and while he might not be the player he once was, we have seen how a change of scenery can help a player (hello, Charles Harris). The advantage here for the Lions is his cost will likely be affordable, and he can provide the team with a starter-level player if they’re not looking to invest much at the position.

Buccaneers: Jordan Whitehead, safety (5-foot-10, 200)

A tough, strong safety whose coverage skill set often gets overlooked because of his aggressive play. His game is reminiscent of Bengals’ safety Vonn Bell, who thrived under Aaron Glenn for four seasons in New Orleans. If the Lions plan on re-signing Tracy Walker and using Will Harris in more of a hybrid safety/corner role, targeting an ascending young (not yet 25 years old) physical talent to complement them could pay benefits.

In PFF’s free agency primer ($ubscription required), they suggested Whitehead may be in line for a Bell-like contract of three-year, $18-million, which would be a very reasonable offer for the Lions to consider.

49ers: Jordan Willis, EDGE (6-foot-4, 270)

If Charles Harris walks in free agency, Willis could be the next reclamation project on the EDGE for the Lions.

An above-average athlete (9.41 RAS), Willis was drafted in the third round and after being a situational pass rusher as a rookie, he was expected to take over a starting role for the Bengals in 2018. Unfortunately, he only made two starts, and when a new Bengals regime took over in 2019, Willis was released. The Jets would claim Willis off waivers but once again he was relegated to a bench role and was traded to the 49ers for a seventh-round pick.

Willis saw more playing time in 2020 due to injuries and Willis got a one-year, $990,000 contract extension from the 49ers. Unfortunately, he was suspended for the first six games of 2021 due to a performance-enhancing substance violation.

There’s a lot of baggage that comes with Willis, but he is still just 26 years old and has flashed impressive pass-rushing talent and the ability to set the edge. For a Lions team with young options on the edge, they can afford to take a chance on another inexpensive lottery ticket.

Cowboys: Keanu Neal, SS/LB (6-foot-1, 216)

Neal suffered an ACL injury that cost him the 2018 season, then an Achilles kept him out of 2019. He was able to return to play in 2020—an encouraging sign for Jeff Okudah and Romeo Okwara—and had one of his better seasons as a safety for the Falcons.

In 2021, the Cowboys—with former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn now their defensive coordinator—made a push to sign him (one year, $4 million) and elected to move him away from safety to use him as a weakside linebacker. The results were not ideal.

Last offseason, the Lions pursued Neal but lost out to the Cowboys in the end. After a failed season in Dallas, it’ll be interesting to see if the Lions are still interested in him, and if they would return him back to safety where he found previous success.

Steelers: Terrell Edmunds, safety (6-foot-1, 220)

A polarizing player early in his career, Edmunds struggled his first two seasons in the league but put together a nice 2020 campaign. Despite the improvement, the Steelers declined his fifth-year option and he entered 2021 in the final year of his rookie deal.

2021 began very up and down for Edmunds, but over the last two months of the season, he has started to come into his own—most notably in coverage. What’s most intriguing about Edmunds is how his skill set can be utilized. Best suited as a strong safety, his coverage skills would allow him to thrive in a split safety scheme (like Detroit’s), while also being used as a dime linebacker and in the slot versus bigger options.

He likely won’t be among the first wave of safety targets in free agency, but he will be popular among the second wave of players.

Chiefs: Tyrann Mathieu, safety (5-foot-9, 185)

Speaking of safeties likely to be sought after in the first wave of free agency, Mathieu continues to be one of the most impactful safeties in the game. Undersized but a very capable tackler and coverage player, Mathieu will command significant money to acquire in this free agency period. That cost will likely be driven up by the fact that he is approaching 30 years old and will surely be looking for one last payday.

Money and age could be deterrents for the Lions and what they are building, but you have to believe his attitude and production is something the Lions would covet.

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