The 2023 NFL Playoffs begin with two games on Saturday. The Seattle Seahawks (7) will be taking on the San Francisco 49ers (2) at 4:30 p.m. ET on FOX, while the second game of the day will feature the Los Angeles Chargers (5) taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars (4) at 8:15 p.m. ET on NBC.
Here are four potential 2023 free agents—one from each team—that the Detroit Lions and their fans should be watching during Saturday’s games.
Poona Ford, DT, Seahawks
It’s no secret the Lions need to add talent to the defensive line this offseason. They made it most of the season with just three defensive tackles on their game-day roster, but that model doesn’t seem sustainable.
After going undrafted in 2018, Ford, not yet 27 years old, has started 63 games over the last four seasons and is currently in the final year of a two-year, $12.35 million contract with the Seahawks.
Don’t let the PFF scores fool you, his low grades are more of a product of a scheme change (if you recall from the Week 4 Honolulu Blueprint, Seattle switched to a hybrid 3-4 this offseason) and a lack of talent around him. Ford is a twitchy interior defender and one of the most underrated run defenders in the NFL, despite being on one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL.
Jimmie Ward, NB/S, 49ers
Jim Harbaugh’s last first-round pick from his 49ers' head coaching days, Ward was taken 30th overall in the 2014 draft. Ward has always been a hybrid player, splitting his time between free safety, in the slot, and in the box, but this past season, the 49ers asked him to shift into a slot role full-time.
The Lions did something similar with Will Harris, and with Harris’ contract expiring, the Lions could be in the market for his replacement.
Make no mistake, Ward has his drawbacks. He’ll turn 32 years old in training camp and has an injury history, which will scare people away. But he is also still one of the best defensive backs in the NFL and might be the best run defending defensive back in the NFL, with a 91.8 run defense grade from PFF—only Titans safety Joshua Kalu was better.
#1 Jimmie Ward in hot pursuit after the ball the entire play pic.twitter.com/frSSpTUloq— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) August 9, 2022
Drue Tranquill, LB, Chargers
Tranquill started 11 games over his first three seasons in the NFL but he elevated himself into the starting lineup this season and had a breakout year. Through the regular season, he would record 146 tackles, 15 pressures, five sacks, an interception, and a 76.7 coverage grade from PFF on 502 coverage snaps.
Tranquill likely won’t come cheap, but even in a free agent class that includes Devin Bush, Tremaine Edmunds, Deion Jones, David Long Jr., and Lavonte David, he still might be a player sought out in the first wave of free agency.
That is if he makes it to free agency. The Chargers gave Tranquill the green dot (play distributor) this season and have put their trust in him to handle their defense as their MIKE linebacker. In an SB Nation Reacts poll from Bolts from the Blue (Chargers site), fans tabbed Tranquill as the Chargers' top free agent they hoped to re-sign, and it’s very possible the Chargers' intentions fall in line with the fans.
If Tranquill does decide to test the market, he should be a player the Lions consider as a replacement for Alex Anzalone, if he departs in free agency. Tranquill’s skill set to play on all three downs, drop into coverage, and blitz the passer would be an upgrade at the MIKE and would pair perfectly with the Lions' young linebackers Malcolm Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes.
Alright I'm in with Drue Tranquill. If he's blitzing, good things normally happen for the Chargers pic.twitter.com/xCl0oclMJ9— JP Acosta (@acosta32_jp) December 12, 2022
Andrew Wingard, S, Jaguars
Wingard has started 24 games over his four years in the NFL, including six when current Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash was Jacksonville’s defensive coordinator in 2019-20. While he likely wouldn’t be in the starting in Detroit, he does have a lot of intangibles this coaching staff would love.
“If he doesn’t get a rep, he’s going to have his nose in [the playbook], he’s going to watch film, he’s going to come in with questions,” Jaguars defensive coordinator Mike Caldwell told the Florida Times-Union. “He’s a guy that you love to have on the team because he does it the right way, practices the right way, plays special teams, then, when called upon, he goes out there and makes plays.”
A high-energy player with a strong work ethic, Wingard lost his starting job this past season after the Jaguars signed Rayshawn Jenkins, but that hasn’t stopped him from contributing and making impact plays, both on defense and special teams.
Andrew Wingard has taken to the Jaguars' scheme as well as any of the other returning pieces. Two games out of three he's stepped up big in pic.twitter.com/iCeUctKsg5— John Shipley (@_John_Shipley) November 28, 2022
“I just consider myself a football player,” said Wingard. “I can do a lot of different things within a football game. But I really enjoy having a job. I love being employed.”
DeShon Elliott is a pending free agent, and if the Lions are not able to re-sign him, they will be on the lookout for a safety who can be a key special teams contributor, can also spot start when necessary, and brings a lot of grit with him. You know, a football player.
Wingard screams “Dan Campbell-guy”: