The Ultimate Offseason Guide for the Detroit Lions

For the first time in a long time, the Lions aren’t mediocre, and they aren’t a joke. Let’s cool our jets though. Yes, this Lions team ended the season well, and there is reason for sustained momentum into 2023. However, it’s foolish to pretend this roster is airtight, and anyone who says it is has had a little too much of the Kool-Aid. GM Brad Holmes will be charged with adding more talent while minimizing loss in the offseason, and he has a long road of difficult choices ahead of him. Here, I’ve tried to make those decisions for him.

First, it’s important to distinguish how the Lions conduct their player acquisitions in the spring. There are, in my eyes, three facets to how Brad Holmes conducts the offseason. The first is in-house free agency. This involves retaining – or not retaining – most of your guys. Then, simultaneously, you shop market free agency. This involves contract negotiations with players from other teams to fill the holes on your roster. Holmes usually likes to wait until after he’s dealt with all his own guys to finalize these negotiations and get some new guys on the books. Finally, there is the draft. Whether or not Detroit is looking for immediate contributors or high-ceiling development projects remains to be seen, but have no fear. Holmes has captained the Lions to two back-to-back outstanding drafts.

So let’s get into the details. Below, I’ve included a plethora of predictions about who Detroit will bring back, acquire, sign, or draft. As the offseason really hits its stride in March, we’ll have all sorts of coverage about who’s gone and who’s back. For now, here’s the best predictions we have.

Note: I use for all free agent and salary information. For draft scouting/information, I use The Draft Network and Pro Football Network. All three are great sites – anyone who wants to get a little more football literate should check them out.

In House Free Agency – UFAs (Unrestricted Free Agents)
These are your standard free agents. They’ll be in conversation with Holmes and Co, but if another team offers them more, they’re free to take it. It should be noted that most of Holmes’s moves last year were resigning his own guys. I think a decent chunk of these should be back on small contracts. It’s also worth noting that I mention the veteran minimum a few times. It varies with how long a player has been in the league, but next year, it will be 1.165 million dollars max.

1. DJ Chark
a. Chark hit his breakout around midseason, demonstrating some of the chemistry with Goff we saw in the offseason. He’s a good deep threat for this offense. Resign. Chark had a contract for 1 year, $10 million. He should get slightly lower with some incentives to push him over the top if he stays healthy and remains a contributor. Nothing insane – we just need to make sure he stays on the field as much as possible. Contract for 1 year, 9 million – can go as high as 12 million.

2. Jamaal Williams

a. One of Campbell’s “guys”. He’s a hard worker, a newfound Detroit icon and franchise record holder, and the ultimate culture fit. He’s not going anywhere. Resign. Williams won’t be expensive, but he’ll be looking to get a bigger contract. His current AAV is $3 million, and he knows that’s low. However, he wants to stay, so hopefully he’ll take a little bit of a cut. Contract for 2 years, 9.5 million.

3. Mike Hughes
a. Hughes played a lot of places this year – nickel, starting outside, reserve. However, he is capable depth at all those positions and his AAV is very reasonable for what he brings to the table. Resign. Hughes is on a 1 year, 2.25 million deal, and I see them replicating that. Contract for 1 year, 2.25 million.

4. Alex Anzalone
a. Anzalone has started for Detroit the last two seasons, and Lions fans have seen both the best and worst of him. He is trusted by the coaches, though, and he is a dependable leader. Resign. Anzalone may want some more money, but I don’t see Holmes breaking the bank. Contract for 1 year, 3 million.

5. Evan Brown
a. This is my free agency hot take, and to explain it, we have to flash back a little. Halapoulivaati Vaitai was a reserve for Philadelphia who stepped in and played well. At the end of that season, Bob Quinn – Detroit’s public enemy number one – stepped in with a large contract for him, which is still giving Holmes the sweats. There are GMs out there that are as dumb or dumber that Bob Quinn was, and history has a tendency to repeat itself. Someone is going to give Evan Brown a lot of money to come start for them, despite a history as a reserve, albeit a dependable one. The Lions, while they like Brown, aren’t going to overpay for the next man up. Leave in free agency.

6. Chris Board
a. Board is an excellent special teamer. However, Detroit wanted to see more, and they didn’t. He was inconsistent on the field when given the opportunity. I think he’ll leave for another chance elsewhere. Leave in free agency.

7. Josh Woods
a. Woods was a captain, and like Board, excelled on special teams. However, he was also a rotational piece on Aaron Glenn’s defense, and earned a 91.0 PFF grade. He’ll be back. Resign. His current contract is low, at an AAV a little over 1.5 million. He’ll be back on a cheap, multi-year deal. Contract for 3 years, 7.5 million.

8. Deshon Elliot
a. Elliot provided some veteran leadership, and when he was injured, it became clear how much he added to the defense – especially against the run. Injuries are an issue, but he did a good job – compared to the past – staying on the field. Resign. Currently, Elliot has an AAV of 1.1 million. I think he’ll get a bump. Contract for 2 years, 4 million.

9. Nate Sudfeld
a. The Lions need a dependable backup, but how far down the depth chart Sudfeld is depends on if the Lions draft a QB. I think he’ll be back, but if Detroit ends up with a developmental QB, he’ll be taking Tim Boyle’s spot on the practice squad. Resign. Contract for 1 year at the veteran minimum.

10. Justin Jackson
a. Like Sudfeld, Jackson’s position is at the mercy of the draft. I think his position is in jeopardy if the Lions draft a running back, who’ll probably serve as RB3 until Swift is either gone or reevaluated. No matter what, I think he’ll get a cheap deal and face some competition in camp. Resign. Contract for one year at the veteran minimum.

11. Isaiah Buggs
a. Buggs started as a depth signing and played his way up the depth chart. He also is a leader on this defense and takes a lot of leadership along the defensive line. He should be a high priority this offseason. Resign. Buggs is on a minimum contract now, and came to Detroit off of a rookie contract in Pittsburgh. He should expect – and receive – some more money. Contract of 2 years, 7.5 million.

12. Will Harris
a. Harris has been a mixed bag. He’s not a great safety, but he’s been decent as a nickel corner for the Lions. I think he’ll be back, but he is going to have to claw his way up the depth chart if he wants to avoid the cuts. Resign. His job is in danger, probably from a draft pick, so his contract will be low with incentives for playing time. Contract for 1 year 1.5 million, up to 2.5 million.

13. Austin Bryant
a. Bryant’s been in Detroit for what feels like forever, but injuries have kept him off the field. He’s the lowest common denominator at a deep position for the Lions. Leave in free agency.

14. John Cominsky
a. He’s made a big deal out of wanting to come back, and I don’t see why not. He’s versatile on defense and it’s always good to keep good pash rushers in-house. Resign. Cominsky has some nice stats, but his impact isn’t always best summed up in the box score. He’ll get more money than people think is wise, but with some Brad Holmes trickery, it’ll be a small portion of the cap. Contract of 2 years, 11 million.

15. Amani Oruwariye
a. Oruwariye started the year looking to prove himself before contract negotiations and found himself fourth or fifth on the depth chart by the end of the season. A parting of the ways is inevitable. Leave in free agency.

16. Dan Skipper
a. Skipper has proven he can play at guard in a pinch, but his future in Detroit is mostly as a reserve or a 6th lineman in special sets. He’ll be back on a veteran’s minimum – simply because that’s all he’d get elsewhere and I think he’d rather get that in Detroit. Resign. Contract for 1 year at a veteran minimum.

17. Michael Badgley
a. As of now, Badgley is the only reliable kicker Detroit has. They may choose to bring someone in through free agency or through the draft, but they won’t let the offseason pass without some sort of kicker competition. Resign. He’ll probably be on a contract with similar terms to his current one. Contract of 1 year, $1.2 million.

18. CJ Moore
a. Moore plays a reserve role on defense, but he brings a ton of special teams value. He excels at the personal protector role, and has executed two fake punts successfully this season. He wanted to be back in Detroit after being waived in the preseason, and he got his wish. He’s staying. Resign. He’s currently making less than a million, and he can probably count on a slight bump this year. Contract of 1 year, 1.5 million.

RFAs (Restricted Free Agents)
RFAs are not allowed to shop around, but the Lions can match any offer that is made to them. If they don’t do that, they can place a draft tender on the player, and receive a compensatory pick if they leave. It does cost the team various amounts of money to place a tender or a right of first refusal on the player.

1. Matt Nelson
a. Nelson is usually the man brought in for 6-man offensive line sets. He has a lot of value, and he could get a pay bump and still be under the veteran minimum. I like him to be back next season. Resign. Contract for 1 year at veteran minimum.

2. Ross Pierschbacher
a. Pierschbacher is a backup guard who barely saw playing time this season. He’s young, but far down the depth chart. I don’t see a ton of interest in bringing him back. Leave in free agency.

3. Bobby Price
  a. Price spent most of the season on IR with a knee injury from Week 5. He’s another good special teams player. He’ll be back cheap, but is in danger of being cut in camp. Resign. Contract for 1 year at veteran minimum.

ERFA (Exclusive Rights Free Agents)
ERFAs are offered a tender by a team, and then given two choices – take it, or sit out the next season. They don’t have the power to go negotiate with another team. These guys will probably all be back, as they are pretty much forced to take a low salary deal to stay in football. Whether or not they’ll make it through cuts is a different story.

1. Benito Jones
2. Tommy Kraemer
3. Brock Wright
4. Scott Daly
5. Anthony Pittman
6. Craig Reynolds
7. Shane Zylstra

Market Free Agency
This is not a free agency prediction. We are way too far out for that. Rather, I want to pitch some names. These are guys that could serve Detroit well and fit nicely into the scheme and culture. I think we can expect Brad Holmes to be quiet and precise in free agency like last year. However, if the right catch comes along, Holmes will dive in headfirst.

1. Lamar Jackson, QB
a. It’s a long shot, but a fun dream, right? It’d have to happen fast, so Brad Holmes can get a Jared Goff contract off the books. I’d also have concerns about injuries, as well as the cost and length of the contract. Jackson is unhappy in Baltimore – can he be happy in Detroit?

2. Jessie Bates III, S
a. Bates has expressed his desire for a long-term contract, and playing on the franchise tag has made him frustrated with Cincinnati. He’s in a top tier of safeties, but if we were to bring him to Detroit, we’d almost certainly lose either Tracy Walker or DeShon Elliot, and Kerby Joseph’s playing time would suffer.

3. Cam Sutton, CB
a. Sutton played almost 93% of snaps for Pittsburgh and logged three interceptions. Could he be a good veteran leader in the backfield? Like Peters, who gets bumped off the depth chart down if Sutton gets brought in?

4. Josh Jacobs, RB
a. Jacobs is coming off the best season of his career, and he’s looking for his bag. Nothing wrong with that, but overpaying at a volatile position is a dangerous game. If the Lions want to upgrade in the backfield, they’ll draft, not sign.

5. Tremaine Edmunds, LB
a. He’s young (only 24) and he’s playing like a top 10 linebacker in the NFL right now. He won’t come cheap – probably going to command $11+ million – but he could be a good player to bring in. If he plays well, he could be in for the long haul. I think I like Edmunds best for Detroit out of everyone on the list because of his unique combination of talent and youth.

As always, until after the Senior Bowl and the Combine, these are really premature. However, these guys have some serious game. I’ve spotlighted one player at each position that both shows some real skill and could fit with the Lions in terms of scheme and ADP (average draft position). Keep in mind, the Lions may not draft some of these positions in April. With that in mind, though, it’s good to know some names.

You may notice a recurring theme here – prioritizing athletic upside over pro-readiness. All rookies need development, and it’s my belief that with time and coaching, both of which the Lions have, there’s plenty of reason to take a chance on a guy with potential in spades. You can’t teach athletic ability, but you can teach NFL-level composure. Also, Brad Holmes is very fond of cheap, one year deals. When you draft developmental guys and offer small contracts to proven veterans, you can move onto the next generation whenever you need to with minimum cap hit.

1. Anthony Richardson, Florida a. First thing everyone notices here is how raw Richardson is. He’s not going to be a starter his first year, which is exactly what the Lions are looking for. He has all the physical skills you can ask for, with the ability to throw deep balls with ease and scramble like there’s no tomorrow. However, he hasn’t quite adjusted to life in the fast lane. His decision making leaves a little to be desired, as he likes to live on the edge. His mechanics and accuracy also need work – two things that could be improved by letting him sit behind Goff for a year. Due to how overvalued the QB position is, he’ll probably go higher than he should – but he is still the only QB in the first or second round I like for Detroit.

Running Back
1. Sean Tucker, Syracuse

a. Speed is the name of the game with Tucker. He’s a track sprinter who becomes tons more dangerous the second he finds some open field. He can cut and dodge with ease – he has dominant footwork and balance. He’s tiny, but it’s hardly a problem. He may be boom or bust, but he booms more often than not. I’d like to see more things from him in the pass game – he’s not a great receiver or pass blocker. Like several players I’ve highlighted here, he’s got elite physical upside, but he needs development.

Wide Receiver
1. Puka Nacua, BYU

a. I need to preface this with the fact that I don’t think the Lions will draft a receiver. That being said, if they were going to, Nacua would be a steal. He’s a contested catch receiver, getting some separation from the receiver. He can block like nobody’s business and plays relentlessly. He’s gonna nail the high jump at the combine. I have some concerns about his YAC ability, but it’s assuaged by his intangibles. I think his ceiling for Detroit would be filling the Josh Reynolds role.

Tight End
1. Darnell Washington, Georgia

a. This guy is HUGE. A mountain of a man. He’s built like an offensive tackle, but he also somehow has athleticism for days. He’s a willing blocker, and good at it too, but that never takes away from his catch abilities. There are concerns about his level of production, but he has been overshadowed by Brock Bowers at Georgia. His physical gifts raise his draft stock, and he can add another aspect to any offense.

Offensive Tackle
1. Broderick Jones, Georgia

a. Since the Lions aren’t necessarily looking for an OT, it makes sense to use this spot to highlight one of the top performers in the draft this year. Jones is in competition for OT1, starting at left tackle for the national champion Bulldogs. He has some moves he needs to work on, but those will come with time and work with coaches at the pro level. Essentially, Jones uses his length and mass to box out edge rushers, pushing them off the line of scrimmage. He’s not great at turning those defenders away from their point of attack though, and that’s frequently where he gets beat.

IOL 1. Cooper Beebe, Kansas State

a. Beebe plays left tackle for Kansas State, but there’s a general consensus he’ll be better at guard. Watching his film, Beebe pushes defenders away from his offense. If you look back at Deuce Vaughn’s massive TD run against Alabama, you’ll see Beebe is responsible for the hole Vaughn takes. He’s not super athletic, and edge rushers can take advantage of that – especially since he can’t really swivel to meet a challenge. He’s a mauler, though, and I think Hank Fraley can bring out the best of him.

Defensive Tackle
1. Mazi Smith, Michigan

a. Smith is a run stuffer, first and foremost. He can maul opposing running backs back off the line. He is also an athletic freak. He moves way faster than you’d expect a 337 pound man to be able to. He’s going to light up the combine. The main knock on Smith is that as he enters the league, he’s going to be a situational player against the run until he develops some pass rush skills. He hasn’t quite figured out the skillset to get past the line and sack the QB, which will knock him down – perhaps more than he should be.

1. Felix Anudike-Uzomah, Kansas State

a. My hot take in this draft is that Detroit doesn’t draft an edge. They have several pieces to work with at the position, and everyone that has them taking EDGE at pick 6 annoys me to an unreasonable degree. THAT BEING SAID – if they fall in love with a prospect, there’s some depth in this class that can get you a high level guy in later rounds. Anudike-Uzomah is a Big 12 Co-Defensive Player of the Year, and has some athletic skills similar to what the Lions are cultivating in James Houston. In fact, there’s a lot of similarities between the two. They both have a good launch off the line of scrimmage and try to get to the QB by going under or around the tackle.

1. Trenton Simpson, Clemson

a. This LB class is deep, but not top heavy. Simpson is definitely LB1 though, and for good reason. This guy can bring the boom. He’s explosive and moves all around the field to make plays. Clemson played him in the Isaiah Simmons role after he left, and he excelled at it. The problem is that his production reduced drastically when they moved him out of that role and played him more traditionally. The Draft Network compares him to Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a guy I was really high on. Simpson may oscillate between the early second round and the late first, but I almost guarantee that some team is just going to fall in love with him.

1. Devon Witherspoon, Illinois

a. Witherspoon has found himself drifting further up into the first round lately, and while he’s small, it’s not hard to see the talent. He’s physical, competitive, and played strong special teams for Illinois. He is great at forcing contested catches, but with that, he is much better at playing man schemes, rather than zone. I think Witherspoon is the last player in the first tier of cornerbacks in this draft (Gonzalez, Ringo, Smith, and Porter Jr).

2. Christian Gonzalez, Oregon

a. Another first round CB represented here, since I personally think at least one of the first two round picks that Detroit has will be spent on the secondary. Gonzalez is going to go closer to Detroit’s first pick, but they shouldn’t be deterred. With some development, he can go against top receivers sooner rather than later. He can become a lockdown guy fast, and he is quickly separating himself as CB1 in this draft class.

3. Garrett Williams, Syracuse

a. Another souped-up former track star playing for the Orange. He is disruptive and feisty against receivers, but he doesn’t always come down with the ball. He reminds me of Jerry Jacobs when he’s pressing a wideout, in that he always plays on the edge of a pass interference penalty. He uses his body against the receivers and goes through their hands to knock the ball out. However, he is rehabbing a torn ACL, so there are questions about his condition when he returns to 100%.

1. Brandon Joseph, Notre Dame

a. I predicted above that DeShon Elliot would resign, and when coupled with Tracy Walker, Detroit has two safeties that play well at the line of scrimmage, but there is a hole behind Kerby Joseph for players in a high-safety scheme. Joseph may share a name with the Lions star rookie, but he also shares his ballhawk sensibilities. He’s got an incredible football IQ (as well as normal IQ – he was courted by the Ivy League) and can sniff out any route. He doesn’t have the same skill as Elliot or Walker at the LOS, but his play in the backfield makes up for it. The Draft Network compares him to Jessie Bates III, and he’ll come cheaper. Joseph and Joseph could run a lethal 2-high safety scheme.

2. Brian Branch, Alabama

a. I’ve mentioned him before in articles, and since then, his draft stock has only risen. Branch is versatile, shifting up to play nickel and dropping down to play free safety. Size could be an issue, but I don’t see it being a big enough problem to drop him far down draft boards. I’d be okay with taking two safeties, provided one of them is Branch – specifically, I’d love to see him playing nickel as a Will Harris replacement.
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Zalman stein
Zalman stein
8 months ago

This is a masterpiece

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