Free Agency begins on Wednesday and with it, the season of hopes and dreams. This is the time when you get to imagine all the amazing things your team can accomplish in the offseason. I usually have a wish list of sorts for all the things that I hope my beloved Detroit Lions will do during free agency and the draft. This time of the league year is pretty much a crap shoot and most of what I hope for never comes to pass.
There are just too many variables. Too many other teams willing to be reckless with their spending and too many other top notch destinations for free agents. Let’s face it, Detroit isn’t exactly the ideal spot to relocate for work. That doesn’t mean that the Lions can’t have a successful offseason, they just shouldn’t expect to land any marquee free agents. In fact, while everyone loves an over-hyped free agent acquisition, I don’t really want them to overspend. The recipe for a successful franchise involves finding value in free agency and building your roster through the draft, just look at the Patriots and Packers. If I was GM, here are a few things I’d like to see this offseason.
Football games are won in the trenches and for that reason the Lions have got to make some major improvements along both the defensive and offensive lines. If they can add a few pieces to the foundation they have then there is a chance the defensive line can be as dominant as they have been in recent years. The offensive line is going to need a little more love though and the team should not be shy about spending serious money there if necessary.
The offensive line is the weakest part of the team in my opinion, so let’s start there. Matthew Stafford has been getting his ass kicked for the last couple of seasons and if they don’t want to absolutely ruin their (relatively) young franchise QB then they’ve got to make figuring out the o-line priority one. The line already has three solid, if not remarkable, pieces in place. Last year’s first round pick, Laken Tomlinson, wasn’t jaw dropping in his rookie campaign at left guard but he showed some flashes of what he can be capable of once he fully adjusts to the pro game. At right guard is former third round pick, Larry Warford, who was one of the best interior linemen in the league during his rookie season. He followed it up with a much less impressive showing last season, but I think that he improved once the zone blocking scheme was ditched along with Joe Lomardi. His future remains bright. Currently sitting at left guard is the much maligned, Riley Reiff. A lot of people inside and outside of Detroit love to trash him but the reality is that he is serviceable at worst. I personally would love to see him slide over to right tackle so that a more athletic tackle could cover Stafford’s backside, but franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees so that might not be so easy.
Anyway you slice it, the Lions are in dire need of a tackle who can protect their quarterback. The last two seasons have seen them start undrafted free agents at right tackle, and the reasons for them going undrafted were evident in the game film. While I do think that it is important for them to draft someone this year, I don’t like the idea of counting on them to develop in their rookie season. Tackle is the one position I would love to see them spend some money on if the right player is out there. As far as center goes, we could give Travis Swanson another chance to show he can cut it in the NFL, but I definitely want to add some depth as insurance.
The defensive line is in pretty good shape with Ziggy Ansah leading the charge but there are still a couple unplugged holes. The team already made a good move in getting Tyrunn Walker back on a cheap one year deal. He showed some very good potential in four games last year before a dirty play by the Seahawks defense ended his season. If the injury hasn’t set him back too much, he should be one of the starters at defensive tackle. For the other d tackle position I would love to see Haloti Ngata come back, but not for too much money. The draft is also pretty deep at that position so that should be an option too. We also need to decide if we want to bring Jason Jones back at the defensive end position opposite Ansah. I like him as a player but he is also getting a little long in the tooth, so I wouldn’t be too upset if they let him walk and got someone just as good who might be a little younger.
Someone to catch the ball
By the time you read this article there is a very good chance the Calvin Johnson will have announced his retirement from the NFL. That makes me sad but the truth hurts sometimes. My dream scenario is that he comes back for one more year, but it would have to be at a reduced rate because his cap hit of $24 million is pretty hard to swallow. Even if that happens, the Lions need some help at receiver because after Megatron and Golden Tate, that position group doesn’t have a whole lot of talent and I’m not comfortable with counting too much on Eric Ebron.
I would like to see the team add someone in both free agency and the draft. A deep threat is the real need in my opinion so I hope it’s someone with some speed who can take the top off opposing defenses and take some pressure off of Tate and Ebron over the middle. Some deep speed at receiver combined with improvements on the offensive line to keep Stafford upright will make the Lions’ offense great again and strike fear into the hearts of NFL defenses.
Levy…… and who else?
In just two seasons the Linebacker position has gone from serious strength to serious question mark. DeAndre Levy is a stud, who missed all of last season with a hip injury. That’s scary for someone whose strength is lateral movement, but I’m going to pray he fully recovers. The other two spots next to him are up in the air. Stephen Tulloch is no longer with us because it’s obvious that he can’t be a three down middle linebacker anymore. He’s still strong against the run but is regularly exposed in the pass game, and our defense can’t live with that. Tahir Whitehead is a free agent who I would like to see the team re-sign so that he can continue to fill the other outside linebacker position. Kyle Van Noy was drafted a couple of seasons ago to eventually fill that role but he hasn’t looked like anything other than lost during most of his NFL game action.
I’m kind of torn on if I want the Lions to add a Linebacker through the draft or through free agency. I’ve heard the idea of the them going after a guy like Alabama’s Reggie Ragland in the draft and I wouldn’t be mad about that but I have my eye on Danny Trevathan. He won a Super Bowl last year with the Broncos and led the team with 109 tackles. He was a big part of that defense and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the 10th best linebacker in the league. With him and DeAndre Levy, the Lions defense would have two very athletic linebackers who can play the run and the pass.
I could see the Lions adding another mid level starter at corner through free agency but I was pretty impressed with how Nevin Lawson handled himself across from Darius Slay last season. With Quandre Diggs in the slot and Alex Carter’s development, I don’t see the Lions acquiring any big name cornerbacks but they do need some help at safety. Glover Quin has been great since the Lions signed him a few years back, but the other spot needs some attention.
The team has decided to let James Ihedigbo walk after it became evident that age is beginning to catch up with him when it comes to his coverage skills. Isa Abdul-Guddus took over for him halfway through last season and showed some very good stuff. He is a free agent and I really want the team to bring him back but the jury is still out on if he can be a full time starter. He is great for depth and special teams but relying on him for 16-plus is a gamble. I’d like to see him come back along with a new addition to the safety position.
There you have it. Without getting too technical, these are the types of things that need to happen for the Detroit Lions to have a successful offseason and get back into playoff contention. The only thing I didn’t mention is that I would look for the Lions to draft a quarterback in a later round to be groomed as the new back up to Matt Stafford. This isn’t really a glaring need though and could easily be put on the back burner until next season. So here’s to a good offseason and a Lions Super Bowl run in 2016-17!