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2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile: Can the Lions afford to keep Evan Brown as a backup?

Evan Brown has proven his value two seasons in a row now. Will his steady play and versatility be enough to keep him in Detroit?

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/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, DT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, LB Josh Woods, and CB Will Harris.

Next up:

Evan Brown

Expectations heading into 2022

When All-Pro center Frank Ragnow missed extended time in 2021 due to a foot injury that required surgery, it was Evan Brown that came in and held down the position. It wasn’t perfect for Brown, but considering offensive line depth is an issue around the entire NFL, he provided more than serviceable play in place of one of the best in the game.

Prior to the 2022 season, Brown signed a one-year deal with the Lions, and with Ragnow healthy again, it was expected that Brown would be one of the primary backups for all three positions along the interior offensive line.

Actual role in 2022

13 games (12 starts):
PFF grade: 64.8 (33rd out of 78 guards per PFF)
Snap breakdown (per PFF)

  • 68 at center
  • 700 at right guard

As they tend to do in sports and life, things didn’t go as planned for the Lions, and starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai suffered a back injury that kept him out for the entire season. Once again, the Lions would be without the starting five offensive linemen they envisioned in the offseason, and for the second season in a row—Brown would be thrust into the starting lineup for a prolonged period of time.

In Week 2 against the Washington Commanders, Brown would step in for Ragnow when he got dinged up, but from Week 3 on (minus an injury suffered in Week 11 against the New York Giants that caused him to miss the next three games)—Brown started at right guard between Ragnow and budding superstar right tackle Penei Sewell. Even with Ragnow hobbled by a nagging foot injury for most of the 2022 season, what an ideal situation for a young offensive lineman to be in.

Like his play in 2021, Brown’s play in 2022 was adequate. It seems as though the coaching staff trusts him, even if they sought out different options at right guard earlier in the season. They tried third-year guard Logan Stenberg at right guard a handful of times, before pulling him in favor of Brown during the Lions’ Week 5 loss to the New England Patriots.

Long term, I believe Brown’s best position as a professional is going to be center. He has been with Detroit since the 2020 season and has had all of that time to soak up as much knowledge as possible from one of the best in the game in Ragnow. He rarely misses an assignment or has a mental error, and did fine in terms of pre-snap changes and checks as the starting center in 2021.

With that said, Brown lacks the athleticism and play strength to consistently win at guard in the NFL. Despite being sandwiched between the two aforementioned Pro Bowlers, he would routinely show up as the weak link in both pass protection and run blocking. Furthermore, teams would often roll one of their better pass rushers to lineup over Brown, while avoiding 2022 Pro Bowl left guard Jonah Jackson.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Brown enters the offseason an unrestricted free agent, and like last offseason, both he and general manager Brad Holmes have some things to think about. For Brown, is it time to cash in on two consecutive seasons of production? There may be several teams out there willing to pay Brown more than the Lions, plus give him a legitimate shot to be their starting center.

And if you are Holmes, are you planning to keep Vaitai? How much are you willing to pay a backup center with so much capital already invested in the offensive line? Should you use a 2023 draft pick on a guard of the future? All of this will factor into the calculus for Brown.

How do you think the Lions should approach Evan Brown this offseason?


What should the Lions do with Mike Hughes?

This poll is closed

  • 13%
    Let him test free agency
    (557 votes)
  • 22%
    Try to sign him to a short, small deal
    (906 votes)
  • 63%
    Try to sign him to an affordable multi-year deal
    (2588 votes)
  • 0%
    Other (explain in the comments)
    (20 votes)
4071 votes total Vote Now

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