A lot can happen in 10 days. The NFL Combine was happening not too long ago and the Detroit Lions said all the things they could say to make you think that they were going to head into free agency with a quest to be purposefully quiet. My biggest concern for this team was that the Detroit Lions were too afraid to take some free agency swings.
I feared that the Lions wanted to be like the Packers or Steelers and be way too conservative year after year. That’s exactly what they did in the first two years of the rebuild. But they didn’t do that this year. The Lions went out and took multiple swings. Some were bigger than other. Let’s talk about those swings and the impact they’ll have on the team.
Throwing your money at the corner problem
For starters, the Lions cornerback room was a rough part of their defense in 2022. Rough enough to the point where it seemed like there were zero starting corners for 2023 on the roster. The Lions did not invest significant resources in the position last offseason and it came back to bite them. It looks like general manager Brad Holmes is hellbent on not making that mistake again.
On day one of free agency the Lions went out and grabbed one of the top corners in free agency when they signed Cameron Sutton. There is no doubt that he is a day one starter for the Lions and after listening to Josh Carney of the Steelers Depot explain his communication skills, he could wind up being a leader on defense.
Then the Lions went after 49ers corner Emmanuel Moseley a day later. Moseley was a starter in San Francisco and could probably wind up fighting for a starting spot in Detroit once he’s fully healed up from a torn ACL.
Lastly, in the midst of March Madness, the Lions struck again in the secondary when they landed corner/safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Gardner-Johnson is another big add for the Lions and was considered to be one of the best free agents on the market this year.
These are three swings that show the Lions are not going to be complacent when there’s an issue in one of their departments. I would be shocked if they were done at corner, by the way. Don’t be surprised if the Lions grab another corner in the NFL Draft in April.
The boys are back in town
The Lions did lose some players. Evan Brown, DeShon Elliott and Jamaal Williams are all headed to new destinations in 2023. But the Lions also returned a lot of players that played big roles in the Lions’ success in 2022. John Cominsky was potentially the biggest one. Cominsky was a wanted commodity and now he’s staying in Detroit. Isaiah Buggs was a leader on the Lions defense in 2022 and he’s back too. Don’t forget about Will Harris, Alex Anzalone and C.J. Moore. All of these guys played their roles well in 2022 and could have been lost in free agency, but they weren’t. That’s a big win for the Lions.
There’s still some guys out there. DJ Chark is the big one. The Lions receiving corps could use him back in 2023, as they were much more explosive with him in the lineup than without. Yes, the Lions plan on utilizing Jameson Williams more, but having Chark around will help, and the Lions are apparently still interested in bringing him back.
The biggest swing
Okay, look, I loved Jamaal Williams. I felt he was the heart and soul of this Lions team and I don’t think I was alone in that thought. The Lions seemed to love him too. There’s a lot we don’t fully know about the Lions contract negotiations with the Lions. Williams seemed to have felt that the Lions didn’t want him around anymore and that the contract offer he received from the Lions was “disrespectful.”
I’m not going to get into the disrespectful part of this, but I will talk a bit about the first part. The part where Williams felt that the Lions were ready to move on from him. This is where there’s a big swing and where you learn something about the Lions and their rebuild.
The Lions were not going to let their love of a player get in the way of going for what looks like an upgrade at the position. While Williams was great last season and had one of the best seasons a running back has had in Detroit in the last 20 plus years, David Montgomery is the better player and he’s over two years younger. The Lions seemingly took a swing by letting a great presence on the team go in favor of a more talented player.
This swing just really shows that the Lions want to get better and they’re going to do the things they feel they need to do make sure that betterment can keep going.
At the end of the day, while the Lions did stay somewhat true to their word when they said they weren’t going to chase the blue chip high dollar players, but they still took swings and their free agency period those far has been much more productive than the last two have. What will they do next? Is this team done swinging for now? We’ll see.