On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions re-signed wide receiver Josh Reynolds to a two-year contract. While the details of the deal have not been released, it can reportedly increase to as large as $12 million total over that time.
Currently, the Lions have five receivers under contract for 2022. Returning starters Amon-Ra St. Brown and now Reynolds are back, as are depth options in Quintez Cephus (who was holding down a starting role before being injured) and Trinity Benson, as well as practice squader Javon McKinley.
The Lions still need more receivers, but, how big of a priority is wide receiver this offseason?
Lions still need a WR-X
The most glaring need on offense is getting a start WR-X and Lions coaches have made no secret about this fact.
“We feel like we attack the middle of the field really well,” Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said at the NFL Combine. “The more we can expand both vertically and horizontally, outside the numbers and deep down the field, that’s going to make those guys on the inside that much more dangerous.”
If you’re not familiar, receiver roles are labeled X, Y, and Z, typically aligned from left to right across the formation. The “X” is typically a big-bodied receiver who has enough athleticism to be a traditional WR1 (think Calvin Johnson and Kenny Golladay). A “Y” is a slot receiver, which can be all different kinds of players ranging in skills from St. Brown to Danny Amendola to Anquan Boldin. The key is they can find ways to get open underneath and over the middle. The “Z” is an outside receiver that typically is a field stretcher that can push the safeties deeper into coverage (think Reynolds or Marvin Jones).
The Lions tried to find an “X” last season but after Tyrell Williams went down and Cephus was injured, they deployed Kalif Raymond (an unrestricted free agent) in the role. It was a tough ask, but at the time, he was the best option for the team.
But when will they try and grab a WR-X?
According to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press, he expects the Lions to attack the wide receiver market during free agency.
“The agent for one of the top pending free agent receivers said the Lions indicated in a meeting last week they value his receiver in the same financial ballpark he expects his player to fetch in free agency,” Birkett wrote on Sunday. “And multiple other sources view the Lions as legitimate contenders to sign one of the position’s premier free agents.”
Birkett suggested the Lions might pursue “Allen Robinson, Mike Williams, Chris Godwin or Christian Kirk, among others,” but since making that statement, Williams signed a three-year deal to stay with the Chargers and Godwin was franchise tagged by the Bucs.
Robinson (a traditional WR-X) is likely the top receiver on the market and the Michigan native could have some major appeal for the Lions. Meanwhile, Kirk was a player I identified during my free agent watchlist during the playoffs but he is more of a WR-Y/Z combo player.
Other potential WR-X options in free agency could include, DJ Chark Jr. of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who was mentioned by our own Mike Payton in his Free Agent preview, as well Dallas Cowboys’ Michael Gallop or Amari Cooper, depending on which one they opt to keep (though it appears Cooper will be cut in favor of them re-signing Gallup).
What about the draft?
Wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El went as far as to say, not only do they need a “backside X”, but he wants to “draft two (receivers) and bring in one (in free agency)”.
Adding two receivers in the draft may be the pipe dream of a position coach, but they definitely are still in the market to go after a receiver in this draft—and possibly high in the early rounds.
If the Lions fail to land a WR-X in free agency, then it will be a priority for them to get one in the draft. Garrett Wilson (Ohio State), Treylon Burks (Arkansas), and Drake London (USC) are all first-round options that the Lions could be hoping fall to pick No. 32. If they’re gone, Combine standout Christian Watson (North Dakota State), George Pickens (Georgia), and Jalen Tolbert (South Alabama) are all great Day 2 options.
But even if they land a WR-X in free agency, the Lions will surely be looking to add competition. While Reynolds has a two-year contract, there are no guarantees he sees the entire contract. Just because he is a returning starter doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed for him. Chris Olave (Ohio State), Jahan Dotson (Penn State), and John Metchie (Alabama) are all Day 1 and 2 WR-Y/Z options, who could push Reynolds for time on the outside.
Additionally, while St. Brown was typically a WR-Y for the Lions as a rookie, he has WR-Z range and if the Lions draft a slot receiver, St. Brown could split time at several wide receiver positions, including pushing Reynolds for playing time. In addition to the Y/Z’s listed above (who also have St. Brown-like range), Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) is arguably the top pure slot receiver in this class.
There are likely to be two or three free agents capable of filling the WR-X role in free agency if indeed the Lions are aggressive, as they are expected to be.
Additionally, it’s a fantastic move to get Reynolds back in the fold for 2022 and at this time he is currently slotted for a starting WR-Z role. But, nothing is guaranteed and competition will likely be added for his role.
The Lions have options to attack the draft in several different ways and the class sets up well to accommodate that approach.
Look for the Lions to add one wide receiver in free agency that will compete to start, another in the draft, and if Randel El gets his way, maybe another one for depth.