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Roster impact of the Lions re-signing LB Alex Anzalone

The Detroit Lions are bring back the quarterback of their defense in Alex Anzalone but does that mean their done adding to the linebacker position?

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have reportedly re-signed starting MIKE linebacker Alex Anzalone to a three-year contract, bringing him back for the third consecutive season.

Anzalone had his fair share of struggles his first season in Detroit, but he seemed to have turned a corner in his second year in Detroit. Anzalone tends to get a bad rap from Lions fans, but the coaching staff trusts him immensely. Not only was he a defensive captain and green-dot helmet wearer (relayer of defensive play calls) for the second year in a row, but in 2022 he led the team with 125 tackles.

Look no further than Week 18 last season, on the Packers’ second drive of the game when they went for it on fourth down. Anzalone diagnosed the end around early, got to the gap, and delivered a form tackle to stop them short of the sticks. That was a tone-setter for the rest of the game.

On game days, the Lions prefer to keep six linebackers active. Three are regular contributors on defense, while the other three are starters on special teams and situational players on defense, rarely seeing double-digit snaps, if any, on any given week.

After starting the last two seasons at the MIKE, Anzalone has to be the favorite to start there again in 2023. Malcolm Rodriguez seems to have the other starting linebacker (WILL) role locked down and Derrick Barnes is the Lions’ third linebacker, a hybrid reserve who backs them up at both spots. Those are the top three options and the expected regular contributors on defense.

Beyond the top three, the only other off-the-ball linebacker on the roster is recently tendered (ERFA) Anthony Pittman. Pittman has more special teams snaps than any other Lions player the last two seasons, has MIKE experience, and was a backup SAM linebacker (pass rushing linebacker in Lions scheme) last season.

So, the Lions surely aren’t done adding depth and competition to the position, but it’s probably important to temper expectations. Don’t expect another big signing re-signing in free agency but adding a special teamer like Josh Woods or Chris Board could be in the cards.

Drafting a starting-level linebacker (Drew Sanders, Arkansas or Jack Campbell, Iowa) is also probably not realistic while adding a matchup athlete (Trenton Simpson, Clemson or DeMarvion Overshown, Texas) or depth on Day 3 (Anfernee Orji, Vanderbilt) capable of being a heavy special teams contributor is a more likely possibility.

Make no mistake, the Lions need depth, but the priority level is much lower than it was before Anzalone re-signed.

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