According to ESPN insider Field Yates, the Detroit Lions hosted free agent defensive tackle Malcom Brown for a visit on Thursday.
Brown was a 2015 first-round pick for the New England Patriots. There, he was a four-year starter, racking up 186 tackles an 8.5 sacks over that time. The Patriots declined his fifth-year option, and Brown ended up signing a three-year, $15 million deal with the New Orleans Saints in 2019—where he overlapped with current Lions coaches Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn. He would spend two seasons there before being traded to Jacksonville and singing a new two-year deal. He was released by the Jaguars a week ago.
Brown, at 6-foot-2, 320 pound, would bring some size to a Lions defensive front that is missing—as the Lions have put it—girth. Currently, the Lions only have one defensive player weighing over 300 pounds in Alim McNeill. But as defensive line coach Todd Wash said earlier this week, they want to play McNeill more at the three technique, requiring more players capable of playing nose tackle, like Isaiah Buggs, who has been getting first-team reps with the defense in base formation.
“After the Atlanta game, we said, ‘Hey, we got to get a little bit more size, get a little more girth in there.’” Wash said. “And [McNeill] has the athleticism–a lot of noses can’t do that, and get on the edge of the guard, but Mac can. So I think we’re going to see more production out of him at that three spot.”
Detroit struggled to defend the run against the Falcons in their first preseason game, and while it was much better last week against the Colts, there is certainly some concern about the middle of Detroit’s defense. Brown, according to our friends at Big Cat Country, ranked sixth in run-stop percentage (11.5%) among interior defenders with at least 100 run defense snaps.
Part of the reason the Lions are in this bind is because of the injury to Levi Onwuzurike. The former second-round pick was likely in line to take a lot of snaps at the three technique, but an injury on the first day of padded practice has kept him out of practice for the past three weeks. On Thursday, coach Dan Campbell did not sound optimistic about Onwuzurike being available to start the year.
“It’s hard to say right now,” Campbell said. “I would say there’s no setbacks. He’s trending the right way but it’s at a snail’s pace is the best way to say it. He’s doing everything we’re asking him to do, it is getting better, but I don’t know. I would say this, if you’re asking me right now, you’re twisting my arm, I’m saying he’s not available for Philly, that’s me, but we’ll see.”
The Lions roster is currently at the maximum of 80 players, so if the Lions decide to sign Brown, they will have to make a corresponding move to make room for him.