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2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Has DeShon Elliott become a core piece of the defense?

Elliott finished the season as a core piece of this team, but it was anything but a smooth journey to get there.

Detroit Lions v New England Patriots Photo by Nick Grace/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions have 28 players from their 2022 roster set to become free agents in 2023 (18 unrestricted, 10 restricted), and we are covering them all throughout the month of February.

If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: RB Jamaal Williams, IOL Evan Brown, OT Dan Skipper, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Austin Bryant, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley .

Next up:

DeShon Elliott, S

Expectations heading into 2022

The Lions entered the 2022 offseason with just two safeties signed beyond 2022. In an upheaval to find long-term talent to pair with Tracy Walker, the Lions signed a bunch more and drafted one. At one point, they have seven safeties signed as they approached training camp.

It was a group comprised of more questions than answers, with Walker leading a group rounded out by DeShon Elliott, Ifeatu Melifonwu, (rooke) Kerby Joseph, C.J. Moore, JuJu Hughes, and Brady Breeze. Elliott was coming off a torn bicep that limited him to just six games in 2021, but had started all 22 games he was healthy for in the two years with the Ravens—one of the league’s stronger defenses. He quickly became the evident pairing with Walker on the backend, and didn’t look back.

Entering the regular season, he was expected to be a strong complementary piece to Walker to help compensate for the question marks at cornerback. However, like much of the defense, Elliott was in for anything but a smooth ride.

Actual role in 2022

Stats: 14 games (13 starts), 1 INT, 3 passes defended, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery, 96 tackles (5 TFL), 3 QB hits
PFF grade: 66.5 (39th among 75 safeties with at least 500 snaps)

The stats show a solid starter who was a strong contributor to his team’s defense. While that may have been the final product, Elliott didn’t reach that outcome without adversity.

Four weeks into the season, it became evident that the offense was carrying the defense, and not the other way around. The Lions were coming off of a pitiful 48-45 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, still considered at the time to be in the thick of a rebuild and not the playoff team we discovered them to be. There were missed assignments and missed tackles, including several from Elliott, and a sense of frustration with the Lions defense was brewing in Detroit. Dan Campbell made it clear that there were changes coming.

It was unclear at first what those personnel changes were going to be, but we learned that in the warmups for Week 5 in New England.

With Tracy Walker out for the season, the Lions rolled with a starting lineup of Saivion Smith and Kerby Joseph. That lasted for all of four minutes and 44 seconds, until Saivion Smith was knocked out of the game in an unfortunate injury that saw him taken out of Gillette Stadium in an ambulance. The Lions were once again turning to Elliott, whether they liked it or not, and hoping that a half of a drive on the bench was enough to get through to him.

It wasn’t instantaneous, but as the Lions asked more of Elliott, he stepped up in the coming weeks. As Kerby Joseph broke out and the Lions didn’t have to ask as much of Elliott, he complemented Joseph well and thrived in playing to his strengths. After missing Week 8 with a finger injury, Elliott was among a slew of defenders whose return to health coincided with the departure of Aubrey Pleasant ahead of Week 9, and the defense never looked back.

Elliott would go on to miss Weeks 16 and 17 against the Panthers and Bears, respectively, after leaving suffering a shoulder injury against the Jets in Week 15. His absence was sorely missed, as Ifeatu Melifonwu struggled mightily in Elliott’s absence, but especially in the run game, where Elliott had been thriving. Much of the secondary was a mess in run support against the Panthers, missing tackles in the same manner that Elliott was benched for and had since remedied.

Elliott had a vocal return ahead of Week 18, doing as much talking as anyone in the locker room as the Lions headed to Lambeau to face the Packers.

Elliott would finish out a crucial piece of the defense, a strong safety (both figuratively and, to an extent, literally) next to Kerby Joseph. He also finished with the second-most tackles on the team (96) behind linebacker Alex Anzalone (125) despite playing just 14 games.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

It took some bumps early in the season, but Elliott cemented himself as a core piece of this defense and it was painfully evident how much the team missed him in his absence down the stretch. He would make for a terrific third safety entering 2023, allowing the Lions an insurance policy at the position as well as opening up the possibility of Aaron Glenn’s beloved three-safety looks.

It has to come at the right price, of course, but this is a guy who stepped up when the team asked the most of him and became a vocal leader on the defense and a strong proponent of the culture change in the locker room. It’s hard to imagine the Lions letting him walk without a fight, especially after learning the hard way in 2022 what happens when you lose a good safety.

Spotrac puts Elliott’s market value at $10 million a year, which seems quite inflated and would be a massive raise from the one-year, $1.4 million deal he got last year. The Lions almost certainly wouldn’t pay that much for Elliott with two starters likely entrenched in Walker (assuming he’ll be ready to play) and Joseph, but if that number is cut in half, he’d be a worthwhile re-investment.

What do you think the Lions should do with DeShon Elliott? Is he worth keeping around as a third option, or should the Lions not fork over money for a guy who may not start? Vote in the poll and let us know your thoughts below.


What should the Lions do with DeShon Elliott?

This poll is closed

  • 48%
    Sign him to another one-year deal
    (805 votes)
  • 37%
    Sign him to a multi-year deal
    (625 votes)
  • 13%
    Let him walk in free agency
    (220 votes)
1650 votes total Vote Now

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