The Detroit Lions are entering a pivotal moment of their rebuild. The Lions were not good last season, and that was okay for the initial phase of the general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell era. It was about seeing progress and setting themselves up for success down the road. The 2021 offseason was centered around low-risk moves and cutting costs. However, that trend cannot continue.
If the Lions want to be competitive, they need to acquire integral pieces for their team. Not only do they need to acquire multiple starters, but many positions require additional depth as well. The Lions don’t necessarily have to make splash signings, but they need to be smart with how they spend their assets. This offseason could determine the fate of this rebuild.
With decent cap space and draft capital to work with, what are some of the weaknesses that need addressing?
Firstly, our Contract Status Tracker is a must-read. Not only does it keep track of every player’s contract, but also the length and cost of those contracts. Additionally, with plenty of offseason signings incoming, I have to make some assumptions with my ratings. I am assuming that every Restricted Free Agent (RFA) and Exclusive Rights Free Agent (ERFA) returns to the Lions. Inversely, I am assuming that every Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) is no longer with the team.
Under contract: Jared Goff, Steven Montez
UFA: Tim Boyle
RFA: David Blough
Right off the bat, the quarterback position is a difficult one to gauge. Do you believe that Jared Goff is a long-term option? The value of having an elite quarterback in the NFL has only skyrocketed, and we are reaching a point where you need a top ten player to achieve success. I don’t believe Goff is that type of quarterback. He is in a similar vein to Jimmy Garoppolo—certainly a starting-caliber player, but not an elite one. It would make sense for the Lions to take a shot on a young quarterback.
The backup spot(s) could also see a significant change this offseason. With Goff injured, Tim Boyle started three games, and they were uninspiring at best. Boyle is a toolsy player, but at 27-years old, things are unlikely to click. As for David Blough, he is a low-cost option with familiarity, but he has not played well enough to justify settling on him. The Lions should be in the market for a backup, whether a veteran in free agency or a rookie in the draft.
Under contract: D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson
ERFA: Godwin Igwebuike
Out of every position on the Lions roster, running back might be the most set. Their top four running backs are all under contract, and their fifth is an exclusive rights free agent. It would be very surprising if the Lions invested significant capital in free agency or the draft. That being said, 2022 could be a make-or-break year for D’Andre Swift. Health is a key concern for him, and if he can’t shake the injury bug next season, the Lions may be in the running back market come 2023.
Under contract: Jason Cabinda
With the Lions signing Jason Cabinda to a two-year extension, they are likely finished addressing their need at fullback this offseason. They may look to add an H-back, but Cabinda is a lock for their “superback” position.
Under contract: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus, Trinity Benson, Javon McKinley
UFA: Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, KhaDarel Hodge
ERFA: Tom Kennedy
Entering the offseason, the Lions need to address the wide receiver significantly. Not only do they need to add top-end talent, but their depth needs improvement too. With Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond slated for free agency, the Lions have very little outside of Amon-Ra St. Brown. Quintez Cephus has shown flashes, but it’s tough to feel overly confident given his minimal production. Elsewhere, the Lions are hoping Trinity Benson can prove his worth with a full offseason under his belt.
Thankfully for the Lions, both the draft and free agency are loaded with talent. It will be interesting to see if they opt for youth, experience, or both. St. Brown and Cephus are enough to bump this need down to an eight, but the Lions ought to come away with at least one capable starter this offseason.
Under contract: T.J. Hockenson, Hunter Bryant, Jared Pinkney, Charlie Taumopeau, Matt Sokol, Jordan Thomas
ERFA: Brock Wright
The Lions have a great tight end in T.J. Hockenson, but the rest of the group is underwhelming at best. Brock Wright saw the most action out of the remaining players, but he showed plenty of growing pains as an undrafted free agent. Josh Hill and Darren Fells were expected to be the TE2 for Detroit, but the Lions were instead left with a massive vacancy. There’s a chance Wright sticks around as the top backup, but the Lions need to add experienced competition. A blocking tight end is a likely target.
Under contract: Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Dan Skipper
UFA: Tyrell Crosby
RFA: Will Holden
ERFA: Matt Nelson
The Lions are locked into their starters with Taylor Decker and Penei Sewell, but a reliable swing tackle might be needed. Matt Nelson filled in for Taylor Decker, but he had his fair share of struggles. Tyrell Crosby formerly occupied the role of top backup nicely but coming off a season on the Injured Reserve and with free agency ahead, there’s no certainty he returns. Don’t be surprised if the Lions draft a tackle on Day 3.
Under contract: Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Logan Stenberg
ERFA: Tommy Kraemer
Once again, the Lions seem to have their starters set in stone. Jonah Jackson is coming off a Pro Bowl season, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai rebounded well after a disappointing first year in Detroit. Vaitai’s contract is still less-than-ideal, but the odds of Detroit cutting him seem slim.
The Lions need Logan Stenberg to live up to his fourth-round billing. Stenberg has played just four offensive snaps in his entire career, and he can’t be depended upon to be the Lions’ top backup guard. Coupled with Tommy Kraemer playing decently in limited action, Stenberg is firmly on the bubble in 2022. Adding an experienced backup seems like a good route for the Lions.
Under contract: Frank Ragnow
RFA: Evan Brown
ERFA: Ryan McCollum
Frank Ragnow is one of the top centers in the league, so there’s no surprise here. Assuming he returns to full health following his toe injury, he’ll be the starter without question. His injury opened up a role for Evan Brown, and he capitalized on it. The offensive line hardly faltered with Brown at center, and he looks like a great backup to have—he might even be the top backup guard as well. Ryan McCollum saw some action last season, but he figures to be depth for the practice squad. Brown is a restricted free agent, so signing him is an underrated priority.
Under contract: Michael Brockers, Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike, John Penisini, Jashon Cornell, Bruce Hector, Eric Banks
UFA: Nick Williams, Joel Heath
The Lions have two budding linemen in Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike, with Michael Brockers providing veteran leadership. The defensive line could use three-technique help with Nick Williams as a pending free agent, but Onwuzurike is expected to step into that starting role. The Lions could theoretically get an upgrade over Brockers, but it’s more likely the Lions focus on adding low-cost depth pieces.
Under contract: Romeo Okwara, Trey Flowers, Julian Okwara, Austin Bryant
UFA: Charles Harris
ERFA: Jesse Lemonier, Rashod Berry
Pass rush is king in the NFL, and the Lions are in a difficult position. Entering the season, Romeo Okwara and Trey Flowers were firmly the top edge defenders. However, both players experienced injuries in 2021, with Okwara’s torn Achilles being the worst of them. Sadly, there’s no guarantee Okwara returns to form. With Flowers looking like a poor scheme fit, he seems like an obvious cap casualty.
Charles Harris played very well in relief, but as a pending free agent, cost is a concern. How expensive will he be, and how much are you willing to spend on a player with one good season? Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant are rotational defenders, but they haven’t done enough to secure a starting role. With the second overall pick in the 2022 draft, the Lions could certainly upgrade that spot.
Under contract: Derrick Barnes, Curtis Bolton, Tavante Beckett
UFA: Alex Anzalone, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Shaun Dion Hamilton
RFA: Josh Woods
ERFA: Anthony Pittman
We could see a massive overhaul at the linebacker position. The only starter under contract is Derrick Barnes. Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are unrestricted free agents, but the Lions should upgrade over them anyway. Anzalone has familiarity with the defense, but that might not be enough to offset the poor play and injuries. As for Reeves-Maybin, he exceeded expectations by actually starting, but the former special teams ace still has a lot to prove on defense.
It would make sense for Detroit to spend an early draft pick on a linebacker to pair with Barnes. It is an underwhelming off-ball linebacker free agent class as well. Additional depth is needed too, though Anthony Pittman has played well on special teams.
Under contract: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Ifeatu Melifonwu, AJ Parker, Jerry Jacobs, Parnell Motley, Saivion Smith
SFA: Corey Ballentine
ERFA: Mark Gilbert, Bobby Price
The cornerback group is extremely young and promising, but the Lions need results sooner than later. Jeff Okudah was dealt another tough blow with a torn Achilles, shutting down the young corner’s season right at the start. Thankfully, Amani Oruwariye stepped up across from him, leading the team in interceptions. He isn’t a lockdown corner, however, so the Lions are hoping Okudah can rebound or Ifeatu Melifonwu can develop further.
The Lions struck gold with their undrafted rookies. AJ Parker and Jerry Jacobs may not start in 2021, but they showed a lot in Year 1 and look primed to contribute in 2022. The Lions may opt to add a veteran to the group, but there isn’t a pressing personnel need.
Under contract: Will Harris, Brady Breeze
UFA: Tracy Walker, Dean Marlowe
RFA: C.J. Moore
ERFA: Jalen Elliott, JuJu Hughes
The Lions are in a perilous position at safety. Tracy Walker, their lone dependable starter, is a free agent, and there is nobody on the roster—signed or otherwise—that looks capable of filling his spot. The Lions may, however, benefit from a stacked free agent safety class. It could lower Walker’s asking price, and if he leaves elsewhere, there will be ample candidates to replace him.
That being said, a single signing in free agency may not be enough. Will Harris has struggled immensely as a safety. Having closed out the season as a cornerback, he may no longer be viewed as a starting safety. Dean Marlowe improved down the stretch, but he is a fringe third safety, though he could return on a team-friendly deal.
However, a strength of the safeties group is special teams. C.J. Moore in particular is the ace of the unit, but Brady Breeze and Jalen Elliott were important contributors as well.
Under contract: Austin Seibert (K), Aldrick Rosas (K)
ERFA: Jack Fox (P), Riley Patterson (K), Scott Daly (LS)
Jack Fox is the star of the special teams unit, and he only added to his repertoire with some beautiful passes. He won’t become the next quarterback-punter hybrid, but Fox has established himself as one of the best in the league. He’s an exclusive rights free agent, and there’s no reason for Detroit to let him walk.
Scott Daly took over the longsnapping duties from Don Muhlbach and performed well. I won’t pretend to know the ins and outs of longsnapping, but I didn’t note many bad snaps from him. He likely snaps again for Detroit in 2022.
As for the kicking position, there’s a bit more drama. The Lions have two kickers officially under contract in Austin Seibert and Aldrick Rosas, but it was Riley Patterson that kicked his way into the starting role. Patterson finished the season 13-for-14. However, Patterson’s lone miss came from beyond 50 yards, and questions regarding his leg strength are still unsettled. The Lions could upgrade their kicker this offseason, but it’s more likely they roll with these three. The starting role could come down to training camp.
One aspect of special teams that needs improvement is their returners. Kalif Raymond and Godwin Igwebuike were the primary punt and kickoff returners, respectively, but neither were exceptional. With Raymond being an unrestricted free agent, the Lions could stand to acquire a new returner this offseason.