NFL free agency is just around the corner, and that means plenty of roster shuffling. With plenty of big names and even bigger paychecks, many teams will look for a player or two to change the fortunes of their football team. Will the Detroit Lions be one such team?
The Lions had a successful 2022 campaign despite falling short of the playoffs, and a key reason why were the free agents they brought it or retained. DJ Chark and Tracy Walker headlined the free agent class, but it was otherwise a modest group of signings and re-signings. The Lions got great bang for their buck, with many of their low-cost options putting forth solid seasons. Yet with the team looking to make that next step, is there a chance they spend a bit in free agency?
With numerous potential upgrades on both sides of the ball, the Lions could go in many directions this offseason. Two first round draft picks will certainly help with finding starting-caliber talent, but free agency may be another avenue to explore. Chark is one of the few Lions players to grace most lists of top free agents—could the Lions pluck another top free agent?
The quarterback position is obviously led by Lamar Jackson, though he is more a free agent in name than reality with the Baltimore Ravens likely to tag him. Detroit is unlikely to explore free agent quarterbacks in any major capacity, such as Daniel Jones or Derek Carr. Their eyes are more focused on backups behind Jared Goff. Signing a starting-caliber quarterback would be a monumental surprise.
What won’t be a surprise is the acquisition of a running back. Jamaal Williams is much-beloved in Detroit, but there is no guarantee both parties agree to a reunion. In the event he leaves, a running back may be a target, though the exact capacity remains to be seen. A top-tier back like Saquon Barkley or Tony Pollard sounds great on paper, but recent history with expensive running backs presents a cautionary tale. A safer option is to target a cheaper option with upside, not unlike Williams from a few seasons ago. Worst case scenario, the Lions get another option for a backfield committee.
Offensive line is always a need, for good offensive line depth is often poached by other teams. The Lions could use depth themselves, but a starting guard could enter the conversation as well. Elsewhere on offense, the Lions have a glaring need at tight end, but signing a free agent is far from guaranteed. A tight end like Dalton Schultz would undoubtedly be an upgrade over Brock Wright, but it might be difficult to justify a steep price tag after (likely) trading away T.J. Hockenson due to a fast-approaching payday.
The defensive free agents will look quite enticing to most Lions fans, and for good reason. The Lions defense was subpar for most of the season, and you could make a strong argument for upgrades at every position.
The cornerback group needs improvement at both starting and depth levels. The jury is still out on Jeff Okudah, and while Jerry Jacobs has impressed at times, he is no lockdown corner yet. With pending free agents like Amani Oruwariye, Mike Hughes, and Will Harris, the Lions need talent from top to bottom.
The Lions may have decisions to make along the defensive line. Michael Brockers seems like an obvious cap casualty, freeing up around $10 million. The cap casualties could also come from Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris due to strong performances from the rookies in 2022. Should the Lions move on from some expensive players, multiple linemen could be needed this offseason.
Wrapping up the defense and special teams, the Lions could use multiple starters due to pending free agents (Alex Anzalone at linebacker, DeShon Elliott at safety, and Michael Badgley at kicker). Depending on whom the Lions bring back—and at what cost—the Lions might shift their free agency plan.
That’s a quick(ish) summary of the Lions heading into the offseason: some promise, some holes. Will the Lions make a splash free agent signing to add to that promise and strengthen the core of this team?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
Who is your top free agent target for the Lions?
My answer: I’ll give two responses, one expensive option and one (likely) affordable option.
For my expensive option, Jamel Dean is my top choice for free agents the Lions should target. Signing Dean would be a massive victory for the Lions, albeit an expensive one. Dean, who turns 27 years old in October, is in the prime of his career, having developed into a top corner. Not only would Dean raise the overall talent on defense, but it would likely help Okudah and Jacobs by placing them in more favorable matchups. Though almost exclusively an outside corner, Dean would be the shutdown corner the Lions desperately need.
As for my cheaper option, I would keep an eye on Greg Gaines. The Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle has obvious ties to Lions general manager Brad Holmes, but his fit in Detroit would extend beyond familiarity. The Lions have a pressing need at defensive tackle, with only Alim McNeill being a reliable starter. Isaiah Buggs was a pleasant surprise, but he is still better suited for a backup role. Gaines is a nose tackle like Buggs, but offers more as a pass rusher (13 career sacks in four seasons) without sacrificing his presence in the run game. Gaines can eat up snaps as well, having hit over 700 snaps in each of the previous two seasons. It’s worth noting that he was hampered for all of the 2022 season, but he should be healthy come training camp.
If you’re hoping for a splash signing, be on the lookout for Dean. If you want something with a small price tag with plenty of upside, Gaines is someone you should know.
Is there a top free agent the Lions should go after? Is there an under-the-radar player you want to hype up?