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2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Should the Lions bring back Matt Nelson?

Matt Nelson has shown some development since transitioning to tackle from defensive end. Is that enough to keep him around as the Lions’ roster continues to improve?

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

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: WR DJ Chark, RB Justin Jackson, QB Nate Sudfeld, LB Chris Board, S DeShon Elliott, 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

With the 18 aforementioned unrestricted free agents now complete, we move into the restricted free agents.

First up:

Matt Nelson

Expectations heading into 2022

Originally a defensive end out of the University of Iowa, Nelson went undrafted in 2019 before being picked up by the Lions. The previous regime in Detroit decided Nelson’s skill-set was better suited for offensive tackle, and the former Hawkeye was tasked with gaining the requisite weight to play the position—as well as learning the necessary technique.

After logging over 200 snaps in 2020, Nelson saw 675 snaps over the course of the 2021 season. Starting left tackle Taylor Decker missed significant time with a hand injury that required surgery, forcing Sewell to switch to left tackle immediately—giving Nelson an extended look at right tackle. And as expected for someone with such limited experience playing tackle, the results were a mixed bag.

When used as an extra tackle in the running game, Nelson was a positive contributor. But less so when tasked with blocking premiere pass-rushers on an every down basis. Headed into the 2022 season, it was largely expected Nelson would again compete for the swing-tackle role.

Actual role in 2022

11 games:
PFF Overall grade: 46.3
PFF run blocking grade: 47.9
PFF pass blocking grade: 53.1

Nelson won the swing tackle role to start the season, and often checked in as an eligible receiver when offensive coordinator Ben Johnson opted to go with his heavy personnel package. Prior to the Week 5 matchup with the New England Patriots, Nelson was diagnosed with a calf injury that would cause him to miss the next six games.

He would return for the Thanksgiving Day game against the Buffalo Bills, but would go on to split duties as the extra tackle with fellow reserve lineman Dan Skipper. Additionally, when healthy—Nelson was a member of the field goal kicking unit.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Restricted free agent

Nelson signed an exclusive rights tender prior to the 2022 season, and will enter the 2023 period as a restricted free agent—meaning the Lions will have the opportunity to offer Nelson one of the various qualifying offers or “tenders,” if they choose to do so.

The Lions have their starters set in stone in Decker and Sewell, but upgrading the depth should be a priority for general manager Brad Holmes. Both Nelson and Skipper have had their moments, but at the end of the day—each proved to be a liability when forced into starter-level snaps.

Could the Lions bring back Nelson to compete in training camp? It’s definitely possible. He has stuck around this long, but without being a core special teams player, a younger tackle prospect being brought into the fold may make it difficult for a player like Nelson to make the final roster.

How do you think the Lions should approach Matt Nelson this offseason?


What should the Lions do with Matt Nelson?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Give an original-round tender (1-year, $2.6M)
    (239 votes)
  • 49%
    Try to sign for smaller amount
    (628 votes)
  • 31%
    Let him walk
    (391 votes)
1258 votes total Vote Now

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