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Ranking the Detroit Lions’ 2024 free agents by importance of re-signing

Ranking the Detroit Lions' unrestricted and restricted free agents in order of importance and value to the organization.

Denver Broncos v Detroit Lions Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions ended the 2023 season with 82 players under contract with the organization. Of those players, 53 were on the active roster, 17 were on the practice squad, and 12 were on injured reserve. Heading into the offseason, 43 players remain under contract, 20 are unrestricted free agents, six are street free agents, six are restricted free agents, six are exclusive rights free agents, and one is in the NFL’s international player program.

Let’s take a look at which Lions players fall into each of the four potential free agent categories and rank them in the order we believe Detroit will prioritize them.

Unrestricted free agents (20)

In 2022, the Lions had 13 unrestricted free agents and re-signed six of them with five finishing the season on the roster. Of the Lions 18 unrestricted free agents in 2023, the Lions re-signed nine of them. Of those nine, just five finished the season still on the roster.

So if these patterns hold, that means the Lions, at best, will likely only re-sign half of their pending unrestricted free agents, and not all of them will finish the season on the roster.

With that in mind, let’s rank how we think the Lions will prioritize their unrestricted free agents this offseason.

1. Graham Glasgow, IOL

At 31 years old, Glasgow returned to Detroit to play with his buddies, and while he had to earn a starting role, he ended up having arguably the best season of his career. While he played the majority of the season at right guard, he also played two and a half games at center and one game at left guard.

That versatility makes Glasgow incredibly valuable, as All-Pro center Frank Ragnow’s injury history inevitably catches up with him once or twice a season, and having a starter-level center also playing on the offensive line is an immense luxury.

Both Glasgow and the Lions have mutual interest in re-signing in 2024, so this decision may come down to price, and how much of a raise Detroit is willing to give him.

2. Jonah Jackson, G

Arguably the most talented of the Lions 2024 free agents, Jackson has a Pro Bowl to his credit and could demand a significant price tag on the open market. Unfortunately for Jackson, his injury history will likely impact that overall price tag, as he has missed 10 games over the last two seasons due to multiple injuries, including wrist, ankle, knee, and a concussion.

With a lot of money already tied up in the offensive line, it’s fair to wonder if the Lions would be willing to make a heavy investment in Jackson, knowing his injury history. The Lions will have the next month to hash out that conversation with Jackson’s camp, but if he reaches free agency, he’ll likely receive some big offers on the open market.

3. C.J. Gardner-Johnson, DB

For all Gardner-Johnson’s smack-talking and boisterous confidence, he shares a team-first mentality that the Lions look for in a leader. The biggest questions surrounding Gardner-Johnson this offseason will be price tag and opportunity.

While Gardner-Johnson is a positional versatile talent with Pro Bowl upside, the Lions don’t have a clear path to an open starting role at any of the positions he plays. With the rise of Ifeatu Melifonwu and Kerby Joseph at safety and the emergence of Brian Branch in the slot, the Lions may prefer to keep their homegrown talent in high-contributing roles.

4. Josh Reynolds, WR

There are going to be a lot of Lions fans still bitter at Reynolds for his drops in the NFC Championship, but he has been a very reliable target during his time in Detroit, and his last performance is more of an anomaly than a problematic situation.

When it comes to target distribution, Reynolds finished the season behind Amon-Ra St. Brown, Sam LaPorta, and Jahmyr Gibbs, and next season, he would also likely be behind Jameson Williams as well. But the Lions need a veteran outside receiver capable of contributing at a starter level, willing do the dirty work required in the running game, and won’t demand the ball—which is exactly what Reynolds brings to the table.

5. Jalen Reeves-Maybin, LB

After a brief stint with the Texans, the Lions jumped at the opportunity to bring Reeves-Maybin home this last offseason, and he rewarded them with an All-Pro/Pro Bowl-level season on special teams, while also filling a pass coverage role on defense late in the season.

A multi-year offer should come from the Lions this offseason.

6. Emmanuel Moseley, CB

Originally pegged as a potential starter, Moseley’s recovery from an ACL delayed his ability to contribute early in the year, and a second ACL tear (on the other knee) ended his season after just two snaps.

Health will be the biggest deciding factor here as the Lions have intimate knowledge of his recovery process and will be able to accurately project when they believe he could return to play. Last offseason he got a prove-it deal, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see another one-year prove-it offer with playing-time incentives built into the framework.

7. Kindle Vildor, CB

Vildor originally joined the Lions via the practice squad and was a situational contributor in Weeks 13-15 before winning a starting role for the final two weeks of the regular season and the playoffs. While he looked out of his depth at times, there’s enough upside to justify bringing him back and asking him to compete for a role.

8. Romeo Okwara, EDGE

Near the end of the season, Okwara finally looked to be close to recovering from his 2021 Achilles injury, but was it enough to earn another contract as Aidan Hutchinson’s backup? And is Okwara comfortable in settling for that role? In his 16 games played, he only saw more than 20 defensive snaps four times, with three of those opportunities coming in the first month of the season.

9. Donovan Peoples-Jones, WR

If the Lions and Reynolds can’t come to an agreement, Peoples-Jones offers a lot of the same traits but is four years younger. The Lions never fully tapped into Peoples-Jones’ talent—frankly because they didn’t need to—but he could be an intriguing option because of his wide skill set.

10. Dan Skipper, OL

Used sparingly at the beginning of the season, Skipper stepped in as an injury replacement for the Lions for the second year in a row and performed well. While the majority of his work came as a sixth offensive lineman, his ability to contribute at both tackle and guard makes him a valuable reserve.

11. Matt Nelson, OL

The man who originally won the role Skipper contributed was Matt Nelson, who was lost for the season after an injury in the Lions' third game. Nelson has been solid if unspectacular in his time in Detroit but the coaches know what he brings to the table. It’s possible the Lions attempt to upgrade their reserve tackle spot this offseason, but even if they bring in more competition, Nelson could also be brought back to compete.

12. Michael Badgley, K

When given the opportunity to kick, Badgley has been very solid for the Lions, and mid-season, he earned the right to win back the job with that consistency. And while the ability to make the field goals that are in front of you is valuable, it’s also clear the Lions believe Badgley has a ceiling to what distance he can hit from. If he is brought back, expect another training camp kicking battle.

13. Will Harris, DB

A multi-positional player who can contribute in a variety of roles in the defensive secondary and on special teams, Harris has always been a favorite of Lions coaches. But for as much praise as Harris gets, his usage this season speaks volumes. Of his 192 defensive snaps played, 175 of them came before the bye week, meaning, over the back half of the season, Harris saw the field on defense just 17 times.

14. Anthony Firkser, TE

After LaPorta, the Lions' next three tight ends on the depth chart all finished the season on injured reserve, forcing Firkser into a TE2 role for the playoffs. With LaPorta and James Mitchell under contract, Brock Wright a restricted free agent, and Shane Zylstra an exclusive rights free agent, Firkser could have an uphill battle to make next season's roster.

15. Tyson Alualu, DT

A solid contributor down the stretch for the Lions, but the soon-to-be 37-year-old looks more like a temporary solution in 2023 as opposed to someone who could give the Lions meaningful snaps in 2024.

16. Nate Sudfeld, QB

After starting out training camp on fire, Sudfeld took a step back in the preseason before suffering a knee injury and being placed on injured reserve. With Hendon Hooker poised to take over the QB2 role moving forward, Sudfeld could opt to settle to compete for a potential QB3 spot, but he may also find better opportunities elsewhere.

17. Charles Harris, EDGE

After looking like he had locked down a starting role in training camp, Harris saw his role quickly decline. By Week 6 he was seeing less than 20 defensive snaps a game, and by Week 14 he was a healthy scratch. If he couldn’t get on the field with this year's roster, making what will likely be a deeper roster in 2024 seems unlikely.

18. Jake McQuaide, LS

After losing the long snapper job to Scott Daly in training camp, McQuaide was brought back as an injury replacement midseason. At 36 years old, it’s possible to bring him back again for another camp battle, but he was clearly not the preferred option to Daly.

19. Halapoulivaati Vaitai, G

Originally I had Vaitai much higher on this list but I can’t shake the gut feeling that he could be hanging up his cleats after a second brutal back injury—especially after considering retirement last offseason. Even if he is able to return healthy, can the Lions trust his back to hold up? It’s a tough spot for a veteran who previously played a key role.

20. Teddy Bridgewater, QB

It’s no secret that Bridgewater is retiring, and he has already accepted a job as a high school coach, so it’s basically all over but the paperwork.

Street free agents (6)

The main difference between street free agents and unrestricted free agents is that street free agents can begin negotiating with other organizations immediately. All six of these street free agents ended the season on the Lions' practice squad but did not receive a futures contract with the team.

1. FB Jason Cabinda

After returning from injury, the Lions came to the realization that their offense could efficiently operate without a fullback and Cabinda was released and re-signed to the practice squad. While he was elevated multiple times, his primary usage was on special teams. On the plus side, Cabinda is so good on special teams that he will find a roster by training camp this fall and quite possibly even Detroit’s.

2. RB Mohamed Ibrahim

A tremendous college runner, a lot of people in Detroit had high expectations for Ibrahim, but he was simply too far down the depth chart to get many opportunities to prove himself. When he was called up for the Week 6 game against the Bucs, a hip dislocation ended his season. His health status could play a role in determining a potential return to the Lions' depth competition.

3. EDGE Julian Okwara

With a plethora of options on the edge, the Lions needed space on the roster once James Houston returned from injury, and Julian got squeezed out. While he flashed at times throughout his career in Detroit, lack of consistency was his eventual downfall.

4. OL Michael Schofield

A solid veteran option, Schofield was used in emergency situations this season but was never really in the mix to challenge for offensive snaps. It’s possible he returns to challenge for a depth role, but at 33 years old, it’s an uphill battle.

5. TE Zach Ertz

Ertz asked for his release from the Cardinals in order to join a contender but he didn’t find a home until Detroit called him the week of the NFC Championship. If Ertz does re-join an NFL team in 2024, he may not make that decision until training camp.

6. QB David Blough

After a QB4 role on the practice squad in 2023, Blough offers the Lions some things coaches desire, but a clearer path to snaps can be found in places outside of Detroit.

Restricted free agents (6)

While the Lions have a few restricted free agents they will surely like to bring back, the likelihood of any of them receiving a tender is low. According to projections from OverTheCap.com, tagging a player with a restricted free agent tender would cost a minimum of $2.8 million in 2024 and could go as high as $6.4 million for a higher-level tender.

Here’s the rough order in which the Lions would likely prefer to address these players:

  1. TE Brock Wright
  2. DT Benito Jones
  3. LB Anthony Pittman
  4. CB Khalil Dorsey
  5. CB Jerry Jacobs
  6. LS Scott Daly

While the Lions may not tender any of these players, it’s still possible to negotiate a contract with them, and a separate new contract could be reached with several of them.

Exclusive rights free agents (6)

For exclusive right free agents, they are only allowed to receive offers from the Lions unless Detroit allows them to pursue other offers. Meaning, it’s very likely most, if not all of these players return in 2024.

  • RB Craig Reynolds
  • RB Zonovan Knight
  • TE Shane Zylstra
  • OG Kayode Awosika
  • EDGE James Houston
  • NB Chase Lucas

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