The Detroit Lions are in a position not many people expected them to be in this soon: just on the outside of the playoff picture after an 8-2 record beginning in November. Things looked bleak in the beginning though, as another slow start with a record of 1-6 had people thinking “Same Old Lions”, and had beloved coach Dan Campbell on the hot seat. Enter Owner Sheila Ford-Hamp with the vote of confidence in this staff and the team began to hit their stride.
With all that being said, the Lions are heading into a critical offseason. With so much change appearing to be ahead in the NFC North, a big offseason could catapult the Lions into the drivers’ seat in the division (remember, this team went 5-1 within the division this season). So with it being such a big offseason, let’s take a look at who I think the team should keep around and who should be sent packing. We will look at this team position by position and I’ll give you my thoughts on everyone on this roster.
Quarterbacks: Jared Goff and Nate Sudfeld
This is pretty clear for Goff: he needs to be the QB1 entering next season. He’s only 28 years old and had one of the best seasons of his career. He’s earned the right to be the man in this offense.
As for Sudfeld, there are better options out there for a backup QB in case something happens to Goff. Look for them to explore the backup QB market in Free Agency/ the Draft with the possibility of bringing Sudfeld back if nothing else entices them.
Running Backs: Jamaal Williams, D’Andre Swift, Justin Jackson, Craig Reynolds, Jermar Jefferson, Jason Cabinda (FB)
This is arguably one of the best RB rooms in the league, but could be up for a lot of change this offseason as Swift is the only one under contract. Williams has to be a priority for the Lions to bring back this offseason, as not only did he have the best season of his career, but he is an influential guy in the locker room. Bring Williams back if at all possible.
Jackson and Reynolds should be brought back too, as they both looked good over the last two seasons when given their opportunities. Both could go elsewhere and be RB2, so hopefully we can talk them into coming back. Jefferson has shown flashes to be a good rotational back, but if these guys all come back, look for him to be back on the practice squad next season or on another roster.
Cabinda will be back as the Fullback
Wide Receivers: Amon-Ra St. Brown, Jameson Williams, DJ Chark, Kalif Raymond, Josh Reynolds, Trinity Benson, Quintez Cephus, Tom Kennedy, Maurice Alexander, Stanley Berryhill
You obviously have a core group of guys in this room, led by St. Brown, Williams, Reynolds and Raymond. I think they should bring back Chark if the price is right, but it should be less than what he made this season.
This group on the practice squad is interesting, as you have a good mix of players here. Tom Kennedy constantly looks like one of the best players every preseason, and performs well when called upon. But with such a strong WR room, it’s been hard for him to crack the top 53. Keep him if possible. As for Alexander and Stanley, these are both intriguing young players that should continue to develop. Keep them on the PS and see if that development continues.
Cephus and Benson are in an interesting spot coming off IR, as they will both be in competition for the last WR spot on the 53 man roster. If they don’t make it, they’ve both likely shown enough to be claimed by another team.
Tight Ends: James Mitchell, Brock Wright, Shane Zylstra, Derrick Deese Jr.
This is another group that is interesting to look at, as while some people think they could stand to add another player to this group, I wouldn’t be shocked for them to stick with the group listed above. Mitchell caught every ball thrown his way and should develop into a solid receiving TE, while Brock Wright took strides towards earning the right to start week 1 of the 2023 season. Zylstra showed potential to be a good TE2/3, and this competition between these three in training camp should be a lot of fun if they’re all brought back. I would bring these three back for camp and maybe draft someone late on day 2 or into day 3 to compete for the roster spots.
Deese needs to develop more before having a shot at the roster in my opinion, so keep him on the practice squad for the time being.
Tackles: Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper, Obinna Eze, Darrin Paulo
Decker and Sewell are obviously the starters here, as they have formed one of the better Tackle combos over the last two seasons. Look for that to continue.
Skipper is likely next in line as he showed his versatility while playing both sides of the line and even starting some games inside at guard. Nelson is a decent depth player, but they could look to bring in some competition for him to make the 53 man roster.
Paulo is a good PS player to have, as he’s another guy that has shown the versatility to play both Tackle spots as well as some guard too. He should be an important project to bring back. Eze, on the other hand, is a guy that needs to show drastic improvement if he wants a shot again next year, as he was awful in camp last year. I hope he makes the best of the opportunity, but his chances look bleak given the state of this Offensive Line.
Guards/Centers: Frank Ragnow, Evan Brown, Jonah Jackson, Kayode Awosika, Logan Stenberg, Ross Pierschbacher, Tommy Kraemer, Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Ragnow, Brown, Jackson and Kraemer all seem to be locked in on the roster for next year (as long as Brown gets re-signed). The other two spots really hinge on the health of Vaitai, as the Lions could get out the contract without hurting themselves too badly ($6.5 million saved with a dead cap hit of just under $6 million). If they keep him, look for Vaitai and Stenberg to get the last couple spots, as they have the experience with this roster and Vaitai will be a starter. If they move on from Vaitai, look for Awosika to take his place on the roster, as they liked him enough to keep him on the 53 man roster after stealing him from the Eagles.
As I stated above, Awosika’s fate likely rests in Vaitai’s hands. If he stays, look for Awosika to be a practice squad player again. Pierschbacher is likely headed to the PS too if everyone is healthy.
Defensive Ends: Aidan Hutchinson, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, Charles Harris, Josh Pascal, John Cominsky, Austin Bryant, James Houston
Hutchinson, Pascal and Houston will all definitely be back, as they were all key contributors on cheap rookie contracts.
I think only one of Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris makes the roster next season due to their big cap hits and the young talent around them. I’ll take Romeo to stay given that he produced after returning from injury.
Julian Okwara, John Cominsky and Austin Bryant (if Cominsky and Bryant are re-signed) are all going to be fighting for one or two roster spots in training camp. I think they are all brought back for camp with Cominsky and Okwara making the final 53. Bryant becomes a fairly hot commodity on the waiver wire but hopefully he ends up on the PS.
Defensive Tackles: Michael Brockers, Alim McNeil, Isaiah Buggs, Benito Jones, Demetrius Taylor, Levi Onwuzurike
Look for Buggs to be brought back to compete for the starting spot alongside Alim McNeil. He will compete with Onwuzurike and likely a day 2 draft pick for the starting spot.
Brockers will likely be cut this offseason, as he lost his playing time to the younger talent around him. Jones and Taylor are PS players that could be decent depth on the roster should someone get hurt.
Linebackers: Alex Anzalone, Chris Board, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, Anthony Pittman, Josh Woods
A lot of what happens with this group depends on if they bring Anzalone back with a new contract. I think if the price is right, they’ll bring back the leading tackler from the 2022 squad.
Barnes and Rodriguez are locks in my opinion to be on this roster, and Board will likely make the roster due to his special teams contributions and versatility. Pittman and Woods will likely compete with a Free Agent addition as well as a day 2 draft pick for the final 2 spots.
Cornerbacks: Jeff Okudah, Will Harris, Mike Hughes, Jerry Jacobs, Amani Oruwariye, Khalil Dorsey, Jarren Williams, Chase Lucas, Bobby Price
Okudah is a lock to be the starting corner on one side due to the best season of his career.
Jacobs, Harris, Lucas, Price and Oruwariye (depending on if Harris, Oruwariye, Hughes and Price get re-signed) will fight with likely a couple draft picks and other free agents for the remaining 4 spots on the roster.
I wouldn’t bring back Oruwariye but would consider bringing the rest back on team-friendly deals.
Safeties: Tracy Walker, DeShon Elliott, Kerby Joseph, Ifeatu Melifonwu, CJ Moore, Brady Breeze
Walker and Joseph are locks to make this roster, and if Elliott isn’t re-signed, those are your two starters. I think Elliott is brought back and competes with those two for the starting spots (if Walker is ready to go in time for training camp).
I think Melifonwu is safe due to his versatility in the secondary and Moore will likely make it for his Special Teams ability. Look for Breeze to be back on the practice squad or released altogether.
Special Teams: Scott Daly, Jack Fox, Michael Badgley
I think all 3 of these guys will be back next season, as they were all solid for the entire season.