The NFL 2023 free agency tampering period is set to begin on Monday afternoon but the Detroit Lions are taking care of an in-house unrestricted free agent ahead of schedule by re-signing starting nose tackle Isaiah Buggs to a 2-year deal, worth up to $6 million.
The reported terms fell right in the expected range of projections. In our free agent profile of Buggs, we asked fans if they wanted him to return on a deal averaging $2-3 million, and 82% said yes, with another 15% willing to go over the suggested $3 million mark.
When ranking the Lions UFAs this offseason, Buggs checked in fourth on the priority list after developing into a pivotal leader on Detroit’s defense. Originally added during 2022 training camp in an effort to add “a little bit more girth up front”, Buggs quickly elevated his game while other defensive tackles saw their opportunities fizzle.
When the Lions altered their scheme at the bye, they shifted around their interior defensive line, moving Alim McNeill to the 3-technique and elevating Buggs to a starting role. Buggs played more snaps than your typical nose tackle, accounting for 66.5% of the team's defensive snaps, and he registered 46 tackles, 20 pressures, a sack, a forced fumble, and two pass deflections. Over the season, Buggs’ skills seemed to grow stronger every game, and at times, he made a lot of noise inside.
Isaiah Buggs doing some mollywhopping in the trenches yesterday vs MIN. Destroyed the rookie RG— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) December 13, 2022
...this dude has flash plays like this every game pic.twitter.com/mGXqiGtvxy
With Buggs back in the mix, the Lions retain both their starting interior defensive linemen, with their lone game-day reserve, Benito Jones, expected back on an exclusive right free agent tender.
The Lions' three other rostered defensive tackles were not heavy contributors last season, with Michael Brockers a healthy scratch on game days, Levi Onwuzurike on injured reserve, and while Demetrius Taylor started the season on the active roster (where he alternated between the 3-technique and closed defensive end ), he finished on the practice squad. Brockers has already been released, Onwuzurike’s health remains a massive question mark, and Taylor signed a futures deal hoping to crack the 53-man roster once again.
In short, the Lions will likely retain their three contributors from last season, but expecting anything else beyond that is wishful thinking.
While adding Buggs is a terrific re-signing both for the locker room, his on-field contributions, and his ability to keep McNeill position flexible, the Lions will surely want to add to the position this offseason.
In an ideal world, Buggs would not be required to play 66.5% of defensive snaps. If the Lions can add players to the rotation, they can reduce Buggs’ snaps and keep him fresher, and in theory, more impactful. Additionally, playing with just three defensive tackles is risky, as the team is just one injury away from being forced to rely on a defensive end to step into the interior rotation.
The return of Buggs also affords the Lions the opportunity to use patience when adding to the position. Yes, adding a starting-level player in free agency or the draft would be beneficial, but Buggs’ experience allows the Lions to not have to reach or overspend for a player, while also keeping their options open for the style of defensive tackle they wish to add.
In the end, the re-signing of Buggs should allow the Lions' front office and coaching staff to breathe a bit easier because his return to Detroit puts them in a great spot to attack the offseason.