It’s that time of year again: we are in the offseason and already looking forward to watching our favorite teams’ year ahead! But before we get to training camp and the games that follow, we have major changes to happen across the league. One of those changes is Free Agency, where the Lions could be a major factor. According to Spotrac.com, the Lions should have just under $16 million to play with; and that’s before they inevitably release some guys to save some money (Michael Brockers and Romeo Okwara alone would add about $10.5 million). This gives them top 10 cap space with a coaching staff players seem to be interested in playing for. With a big offseason, Dan Campbell could have the Lions atop the NFC North. While they obviously can’t/won’t sign everyone listed below, here are 5 players the Lions should target to help make that jump next season.
Da’Ron Payne, DT, Washington Commanders
One of the biggest weaknesses the Lions have is in the interior of their defensive line, where teams feasted on our 29th ranked run defense. A lot of that has to do with the lack of depth on the inside, where Alim McNeil played pretty well but didn’t have much help. The Lions would probably like to draft Jalen Carter, but he will most likely be gone by the time the 6th pick is up. So something has to be done to fix this problem. Enter Da’Ron Payne. Payne is a stud DT who can shut down the interior rushing lanes as well as push the pocket from the middle. This is the one player Brad Holmes should go after if he’s looking to make a splash signing this offseason. If he doesn’t want to spend that much, he should look at #2 for a cheaper option.
Javon Hargrave, DT, Philadelphia Eagles
Javon Hargrave has been a monster in the middle of the defense for the NFC Champions. If Hargrave wants a chance at more money, Detroit could be just the place for him. An absolute difference maker, Hargrave had easily the best season of his career with 11 sacks and 10 tackles for loss (which both almost doubled his career totals). Him and Alim McNeil could be a real problem for opposing offenses, and would allow the other young stars such as Aidan Hutchinson and Malcolm Rodriguez to face less pressure and make more plays. Whether it’s Hargave, Payne or someone else, the Lions have to improve the Defensive Tackle position.
Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Buffalo Bills
As I said above, the Lions desperately need to fix that brutal run defense. While getting a defensive tackle would go a long way in helping that, why not also get an upgrade at the Linebacker position? With leading tackler Alex Anzalone set to hit Free Agency in a little over a month, why not improve that position while also getting younger? Edmunds is only 25, yet has a bunch of experience in the NFL, including the last few years in the playoffs. Getting someone of Edmunds’ caliber would allow Rodriguez and Derrick Barnes to use their athleticism to their advantage roaming sideline-to-sideline. Edmunds would likely be too expensive if they sign Payne, but Edmunds and Hargave could really solidify this defense, and that idea is almost too hard to pass up.
Jamel Dean, CB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Lions really need to get another corner across from Jeff Okudah, and if they don’t want to draft one early, Dean is a solid option to sign. At only 26, he has a lot of career left, and also has a ton of playoff experience (catching the theme of these players?), including a super bowl championship. Dean is a good corner that may have priced himself out of Tampa, and Detroit should try to capitalize on it. He would help Tracy Walker (and potentially DeShon Elliott) be the veteran leadership in this young secondary. This also allows Jerry Jacobs, Will Harris and all the other young corners (including a likely draft pick or two) to develop and compete for that third corner to play in the slot. If they can get Jamel to sign on the dotted line, this defense could be so much better than expected.
Jamaal Williams, RB, Detroit Lions
From Jamel to Jamaal, this signing is an absolute no-brainer. Williams had by far the best season of his career, surpassing 1,000 yards for the first time in his career to go along with a record-setting 17 rushing TD’s (breaking the Lions’ single season record held by Barry Sanders since 1991. He stole the lead back role away from D’Andre Swift and made it undebatable who the main guy was in the Motor City. Jamaal should be signed, and shouldn’t cost too much. A couple year deal worth about $4 million per year is pretty realistic and is also a steal for the season he just gave us. This should be an absolute priority for both Campbell and Holmes