We’re coming to a close with our 2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile series. With all of the unrestricted free agents and restricted free agents covered, it’s time to finish the series with the exclusive rights free agents (ERFAs). As a reminder, the Lions can offer ERFAs one-year, minimum-salary deals which the player either has to accept or sit out the entire season. So it should come as no surprise when the Lions decide to bring back most—if not all—of their ERFAs.
Today, let’s talk about defensive tackle Benito Jones. But before we do, catch up on our series below.
Unrestricted free agents: QB Nate Sudfeld, WR DJ Chark, RB Jamaal Williams, RB Justin Jackson, IOL Evan Brown, OT Dan Skipper, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Austin Bryant, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, LB Chris Board, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF DeShon Elliott, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley
Restricted free agents: OT Matt Nelson, C/G Ross Pierschbacher, CB Bobby Price
Exclusive rights free agents: RB Craig Reynolds, TE Shane Zylstra, TE Brock Wright, OL Tommy Kraemer, LS Scott Daly,
Expectations heading into 2022
The Detroit Lions were in a bit of a defensive tackle crisis before the season even started. Their 2021 second-round pick Levi Onwuzuruike aggravated his back injury, and the Lions were shuffling around Alim McNeill’s role in an effort to figure out a combination that worked with their short-handed crew.
After adding Isaiah Buggs at the start of training camp, the Lions were still feeling tight at the position, so they claimed Benito Jones in their effort to add more girth after the Dolphins waived him in their final round of cuts.
Jones only came with six games of NFL experience and spent the entire 2021 season on the Dolphins practice squad. So expectations were relatively low, but with the Lions claiming Jones to their 53-man roster—with only really Buggs, McNeill, and Michael Brockers ahead of him—it was clear he was going to get some playing time.
Actual role in 2022
Participation: 17 games (0 starts) — 311 defensive snaps, 67 special teams snaps
Stats: 16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 4 QB hits, 2 passes defended
PFF grades: 53.3 defensive grade, 5.76 special teams grade
Jones immediately was the Lions’ DT4, beating out undrafted rookie Demetrius Taylor, and that amounted to about 15-20 snaps per game for the first half of the season. However, the Lions run game struggled mightily early in the season, so the Lions decided to make some serious changes. Brockers went to the bench, but instead of giving that extra time to Jones, they essentially relied on Buggs and McNeill to carry the extra load.
Jones, at 6-foot-1, 329 pounds, was part of the reason Detroit was able to get their run defense under control. Playing almost exclusively between the guards, Jones’ primary goal was to not give up any ground over the middle. He was inconsistent in his success, earning just a 46.3 run defense PFF grade.
Surprisingly, he brought a little more to the team’s pass defense than expected. He batted down a couple balls in 2022, tallied 1.5 sacks, and generated 16 pressures—good for seventh on the team and just a few behind Buggs (20) despite playing half the snaps.
Outlook for 2023
Contract status: Exclusive rights free agent
Right now, the Lions only have McNeill, Onwuzurike, and Taylor under contract for 2023, so it almost seems like the Lions have to bring back Jones on an easy ERFA contract. However, defensive tackle is one of the team’s biggest needs going into 2023, so the Lions would be best served to bring Jones back, then bring enough competition to put Jones on the roster bubble before camp even starts.
The Lions likely aren’t going to be able to rely on Onwuzurike, and while Taylor was a popular UDFA last year, he remains an unknown commodity. At the very least, Jones provides an emergency option that knows the defense well and has some build-in chemistry with McNeill and Buggs (if Detroit re-signs him). At basically no cap cost to the team, he’s an easy player to retain.
Should the Lions re-sign Benito Jones?
This poll is closed