The Detroit Lions had a clear plan for free agency and they executed it. At the end-of-season press conference, general manager Brad Holmes didn’t mince words when it came to their offseason intentions.
“There’s a lot of different areas that we can go, especially with the resources that we’ll have available to us,” Holmes said. “Obviously, our defense was ranked 32nd, so I mean it’s pretty obviously that we’re going to have to utilize some resources to try and improve that defense,”
Mission: Accomplished. In the first week of free agency alone, the Lions added arguably three starters in their secondary: Cameron Sutton, Emmanuel Moseley, and C.J. Gardner Johnson. They also made key re-signings of linebacker Alex Anzalone and defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs.
This week at the owners meetings, Dan Campbell couldn’t hold in his excitement for the defensive improvements on the horizon, and he named pretty much everyone on the entire squad to prove it.
“We’ve got a lot of faith in Alex. That’s why we brought him back. He’s the quarterback of our defense,” Campbell said. “You’ve got (Derrick) Barnes, who’s got another year under his belt. You’ve got (Malcolm) Rodriguez, who’s got another year under his belt. You’ve got (Aidan Hutchinson) Hutch, who’s got another year under his belt. You’ve got Alim McNeill, who’s got another year under his belt. We’re getting Charles (Harris) back. We’re getting Romeo (Okwara) back. (Jeff) Okudah’s got another year under his belt. Jerry (Jacobs) has got another year under his belt. We’ll get Tracy (Walker) back. Kerby (Joseph) is getting another year under his belt. We bring in Sutton, We bring in C.J.—Moseley, hopefully, he’s going to be ready for the season to start Game 1.”
Well, when you put it like that... yeah, that does feel like a pretty optimistic look at the roster. Detroit sported the second-youngest defensive roster in the NFL last season, and if those players can see normal year-to-year growth—and the rest of the team can stay more healthy than they did last year—the future looks bright.
And on top of that, while the Lions may have finished in the bottom five statistically in a lot of categories like total yards (32nd), points allowed (28th), net yards per pass attempt (31st), and rushing yards per carry (30th), but they improved drastically in the last half of the season. They allowed just 20.2 points per game in the last 10 games (11th), and ceded just an 84.3 passer rating over that stretch (10th). They still struggled in run defense (32nd in yards per carry allowed), but the overall improvement was obvious.
Looking ahead, Campbell couldn’t help but feel giddy about the future.
“All of a sudden, man, if (we) don’t do anything else defensively, we’re going to be better,” Campbell said. “And we’re already working on scheme right now. (Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) is back there cooking up all kinds of stuff, because you have the flexibility to do some things now because of what we’ve done on the backend. That alone, we’re going to be better, and we haven’t even hit the draft yet. Gets me fired up.”