Heading into the 2023 NFL trade deadline, the Detroit Lions are in an exciting position. While they are in the playoff race and the NFC North division favorite, they could trade away some players for future NFL Draft picks to help them in another trade or build for the 2024 season. Another option for them is to acquire new talent to pair with their existing team to put them up into the Super Bowl contenders category... if they aren’t already there.
4 possible needs
In my opinion, cornerback is the clearest need position that could help the Lions, but there are arguably four positions that could see upgrades. Let’s break each of them down.
- Wide Receiver
- Defensive End
As soon as the Lions released wide receiver Marvin Jones to be with his family, the urge to trade for a wide receiver surged among fans. While Jones is a veteran and a good leader for that room, his production—five catches for 35 yards—can comfortably be replicated by receivers already on the roster. If you add another player who is going to demand targets from quarterback Jared Goff, you are going to have too many good players to spread the ball around to. That would create a new problem of underutilizing players known to be productive and good fits already. Essentially, adding another guy who needs to play, knocks one of their current contributors to the bench.
Thankfully for the Lions, they have yet to lose a game due to poor kicking. The moment it happens, though, you can be sure people will want a new kicker instead of Riley Patterson. Inconsistency and issues with distance can strain your team, as your offense has to drive further for points and risk going for it on fourth down. If the offense goes for it on fourth down and fails, the defense is in a tough spot with a short field to defend. Further complicating the issue is that the Lions already traded for Patterson, so trading for another kicker seems like poor value.
This position has a lot of contributors right now, but despite the depth, nobody has jumped out to be the next best option to pair with EDGE rusher Aidan Hutchinson. People want a superstar to pair with Hutchinson to make the defensive line one of the best in the league, but I just don’t see that. EDGE rusher James Houston has been missed on this defense more than people thought heading into the season. While there hasn’t been any word on whether Houston could return this year (he is now eligible to return from IR), I believe the depth the Lions already have is serviceable for the remainder of the season.
No position has been through the gauntlet this season more than cornerback. Lions GM Brad Holmes upgraded it to the best of his abilities this offseason, and it hasn’t gone exactly to plan. Losing Emmanuel Moseley for the season hurt the number two spot, but Jerry Jacobs stepped up this season in a big way. Cameron Sutton has locked down the number one role, and rookie Brian Branch has been a fantastic rookie for the slot cornerback role. The issue arises once a player or two go down.
We saw this against the Baltimore Ravens as Jacobs was a late addition to the injury report and missed the game. That forced Will Harris into the lineup, and his performance wasn’t outstanding. When Branch missed time earlier this year, Harris stepped in at the slot, and he didn’t play well in that spot either. So, the team desperately needs help at cornerback so that when a player goes down, the unit doesn’t falter and fall apart. The depth they currently have in Khalil Dorsey, Steven Gilmore, and Chase Lucas hasn’t been tested much and doesn’t give me confidence that they can fill in if one of the top three guys goes down.
If both a starter and Harris (or two starters) are injured at the same time, one of those three has to fill in and step up. I don’t believe they are ready to play long-term. Detroit desperately needs a proven cornerback who can fill in if a starter needs to miss time because when a starter misses time in the secondary right now, bad things happen. Unlike most other positions, the depth isn’t there. Adding another body to the secondary could be very useful, especially once the playoffs roll around.
The good news about the defensive end spot is there are many options available for the Lions to try and get. The team could make a trade and get a defensive end, but then the question becomes, can the Lions afford him, and should they pay him?
That all depends on who the player is. For example, Washington Commanders have two defensive ends available in Chase Young and Montez Sweat. Young has been dealing with injuries his whole career, and the team declined his fifth-year option, while Sweat has yet to live up to the team’s expectations for him. Both players are in the last year of their contracts, and it doesn’t appear that the Commanders are going to try and re-sign either one of them.
For the Lions, trading for either of those defensive ends can have large ripple effects on the rest of their long-term plans. If the team goes in with the intent of working out a newer, longer deal with whoever they trade for, that constrains them in how the team deals with players already on the roster who will eventually be up for new contracts. If the Lions want to re-sign Goff, Hutchinson, St. Brown, Jonah Jackson, and Penei Sewell, they need the money to do that. Trading for someone like the Carolina Panthers defensive end Brian Burns (demanding possibly $30m per year in a new deal) makes the front office have to decide who they can let go because they won’t be able to keep all five of these guys.
Alternatively, the Lions could trade for a defensive end like Young or Sweat with an expiring contract without the intent to bring them back. The only way such a move could be justified is if the Lions hardly gave anything up to obtain their rental services. It’s doubtful a real game-changer could be acquired cheaply, though.
So, with the cost of other positions and the need for cornerback being higher, I can’t endorse the Lions trading for anything other than a cornerback. It should be cheaper, more helpful, and more intelligent for the front office to make a deal to boost that position at the trade deadline. In the end, if the Lions don’t make any moves they will just have to work with what they have, like they’ve done so far this season.