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Every Detroit Lions free agency move ranked, best to worst

Analysis for all 12 Detroit Lions free agency moves—and a ranking of my favorite to least favorite.

NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals Sam Greene-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have made a flurry of moves in the first week of free agency, and by most accounts, they’ve done a pretty darn good job filling the most pressing needs on the team. Fans are excited about some of the splash free agency signings, but Detroit also made some important moves by retaining their own players.

Overall, I’m personally a big fan of almost everything they’ve done. So in an effort to give my individual thoughts on each signing, but also express which ones I like the most, I have ranked the 12 most significant moves the Lions have made in the first week of the 2023 NFL free agency period.

(Sorry to Matt Nelson, Ross Pierschbacher, and Craig Reynolds for not making the cut)

1. Signing CB Cameron Sutton (three years, $33 million)

Like our own Mike Payton, I was a little concerned by what Dan Campbell said at the NFL Combine. He made it sound like the Lions wouldn’t be heavy competitors in free agency, and would continue their previous ways of making small, incremental upgrades rather than swinging for the fences.

But those worries were quickly put aside when the Lions, just a few hours into free agency’s negotiating period, made an aggressive push to fill their biggest need on the roster: an outside cornerback. Cameron Sutton just feels like a perfect fit in Detroit. He’s a high-character guy whose versatility in the defensive backfield shows just how much he understands the game. The Lions’ young secondary has been missing that type of leadership-player that can quickly and effectively communicate with the rest of the team.

It feels like Sutton, too, is just hitting the prime of his career, so this may not even be the last contract he signs in Detroit.

2. Re-signing EDGE John Cominsky (two years, $8.5 million)

The brilliance in this re-signing is the contract structure. Cominsky was reportedly a pretty hot commodity in free agency, and it’s easy to believe that when eight different teams put in a waiver claim for him last year. There were reports the market could push his value to over $5 million per year.

Instead, the Lions signed him to a glorified one-year, $3.5 million deal. If Cominsky balls out in 2023, guess what? You have a one-year deal remaining at that exact $5 million market value.

Cominsky is a “glue” player that will make everyone on the defensive line around him better, and the Lions got an absolute steal with this contract.

3. Signing DB C.J. Gardner-Johnson (one year, $8 million)

While Sutton brings maturity and smarts to the secondary, Gardner-Johnson brings a little fire and attitude that this defense has been missing. This feels like an opportunity where Lions GM Brad Holmes saw a mildly-disgruntled player who wasn’t getting the deal he wanted, and he made his move. Holmes swooped him, offered him plenty of guaranteed money along with the opportunity to reunite with an influential coach, and it provides Gardner-Johnson an opportunity to springboard himself into a bigger contract next offseason.

In the meantime, the Lions will gladly take another versatile defensive back with a tenacious attitude.

4. Re-signing DT Isaiah Buggs (two years, $4.5 million)

The Lions opened up free agency by announcing they had re-signed Isaiah Buggs, and I don’t think it was a coincidence this was the first deal they got done. Buggs may not be an elite player, but he’s an important part of what the Lions want to do: stop the run and get into obvious passing downs. Buggs can do that, and he’s also among those whose leadership helped propel the defensive turnaround in the second half of the season.

He re-signed on a completely reasonable contract that also suggests they may not be done adding to the defensive tackle position.

5. Signing CB Emmanuel Moseley (one year, $6 million)

Moseley is this year’s patented Brad Holmes move—a calculated-risk signing. In three straight offseasons now, Holmes has taken a shot on a good player coming off an injured season—DJ Chark last year, Tyrell Williams the year before. That has worked to varying degrees, but the risk is always low, and Moseley is the kind of player that if it works out, you could see him playing here long term. He’ll be just 27 years old this season, and his career was just taking off before he suffered a torn ACL last October.

6. Signing iOL Graham Glasgow (one year, up to $4.5 million)

Two critical pieces of information are missing regarding this signing: the full breakdown of Glasgow’s contract and where Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s health currently stands. Without that information, it’s hard for me to give a full analysis of this signing, but the one thing adding Glasgow back to the fold is that it provides options for Detroit.

If Vaitai’s back is way too concerning, or he isn’t willing to take a paycut, Glasgow is more than capable of starting at right guard. If the Lions aren’t in a position to land the guard they want in the draft, Glasgow can start for a year or two.

It’s a bummer to see a promising young player in Evan Brown walk for a relatively low amount (one year, $2.25 million), but Glasgow is probably an upgrade at guard, he’s more than capable at center, and he wants to be here.

7. Re-signing S C.J. Moore (two years, $4.5 million)

Moore has been an underrated aspect of special teams for years now, and his allegiance to the Lions has been noteworthy. You know that if the Patriots come calling for your special teams services, you’re doing something right. And the fact that the Lions were able to swing Moore back to Detroit despite getting an offer from New England shows just how much times have changed.

8. Re-signing LB Alex Anzalone (three years, $18.75 million)

Unlike most, I don’t have much of any problem with this signing. If you think it’s too much money and too many years, perhaps the fact that it could very well be just a two-year, $12 million deal will make you feel better.

But here’s the truth of the matter: Alex Anzalone is drastically important to this defense. No one on the roster knows the scheme better—Anzalone has spent all six years of his professional career alongside Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Having a guy like that quarterbacking the entire defense is drastically important, and there’s no guarantee bringing in an expensive guy like Tremaine Edmunds or even Bobby Wagner could give you that level of expertise in Glenn’s defense.

Beyond that, Anzalone is a player who is getting better. You may not think you can teach a 28-year-old new tricks, but as his surrounding cast gets better, and he develops trust in them, you can see the confidence, quickness, and efficiency improve on the field.

9. Re-signing DB Will Harris (one year, $2.53 million)

Those contract details above are slightly misleading, because the Lions were able to bring back Harris on a “veteran salary benefit” deal, which means he’ll only count $1.3 million against the cap. That’s a more-than-fair number for a versatile defensive back who will provide starting-capable depth at outside corner, nickel, and even potentially safety. Easy re-sign.

10. Signing RB David Montgomery (three years, $18 million)

We’re at No. 10 on our list and I should point out that I still haven’t provided much of any criticism for any moves. That should tell you how impressed I am with these signings.

And while this section is going to sound more critical of the Montgomery signing, I want to point out, too, that I’m nitpicking on purpose. I gave this move a C+ —you can see my more developed thoughts here—which means I still think it’s an above-average move.

Here are some bullet points on my thoughts here:

  • Based on some reports and my own sources, Jamaal Williams very likely had a significant offer better than the one he got in New Orleans from Detroit and turned it down. The Lions were right to move on there.
  • Montgomery’s improvement from Williams is being slightly exaggerated. For example, many call the Bears’ offensive line terrible, noting that Montgomery will thrive behind Detroit’s line. While I won’t argue that the Lions offensive line is an upgrade, the Bears’ offensive line in 2022 ranked fifth in PFF run blocking and fifth in ESPN’s run block rate, and Khalil Herbert managed 5.7 yards per carry behind the same line.
  • I would have preferred the Lions to spend a little less on the position. $6 million a year is by no means breaking the bank, and it won’t get in the way of other signings, but I like the value of Chicago’s one-year, $3 million deal for D’Onta Foreman more.
  • Still, getting younger and better at running back is not a bad thing.

11. Signing LS Jake McQuaide (one year, $1.3 million)

I’m not going to get too excited for signing a 35-year-old long snapper, even if he’s a two-time Pro Bowler. But kudos to Holmes for not being complacent after a concerning season from Scott Daly.

12. Re-signing K Michael Badgley (one year, $1.2 million)

Badgley’s deal—only $350,000 of which is guaranteed—sure makes it look like they’re going to bring in some kicker competition. That’s the right move, because while Badgley has been somewhat reliable, Detroit could use the benefit of a more consistent long-distance kicker.

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