Detroit still has to deal with this offseason, but for the first time in a long time, the Lions have stability in multiple positions. So where does Brad Holmes need to improve this team in the offseason?
Each offseason presents an opportunity for teams to refresh and reinvent their team for the upcoming season. For some teams, it’s about making wholesale changes to try to move in the right direction. For others, the changes are more subtle and focused – an adjustment here and an adjustment there in hopes of getting the formula. just right for the championship.
It’s been a while since the Detroit Lions have come this close to challenging for a division title and playoff success, and general manager Brad Holmes deserves a lot of credit for putting this team in this position. . Heading into his third offseason, Holmes has made hay in the draft with top picks like Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson, and he’s chained an impressive array of Day 3 finds to Amon-Ra St. Brown, Malcolm Rodriguez and James Houston. . In free agency, Holmes sticks to short-term contracts for players looking to earn a payday on their next trade. While results on the pitch have been mixed in terms of player performance, Holmes’ shrewd decisions have at least allowed him to retain flexibility and maneuverability.
After trading Matthew Stafford in 2021 and TJ Hockenson at the trade deadline last year, the Lions have five picks from the top 81 picks in this year’s NFL Draft, including picks No. 6 and 18 in the total. Michael Brockers was recently fired by the team, offering them $10 million in cap relief this offseason and bringing their total cap space to around $26 million. There will likely be other measures taken internally to see this number increase, whether it’s more victims of caps like Brockers or restructuring deals to provide cap space here and now. , paving the way for the Lions to make a few moves once. free agency starts in a few weeks.
This brings us to today’s question…
What is the Detroit Lions’ biggest needy position this offseason?
Offense is clearly the Detroit Lions’ strength as they head into this offseason. In 2022, the Lions offense ranked fifth in the Football Outsiders DVOA metric and posted the fifth best run for average (26.6) despite being shut out in Week 5 against New England.
Despite the offensive trend in the right direction, especially with offensive coordinator Ben Johnson remaining in Detroit, the Lions still have a few things to solidify offensively, namely the right guard position. Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed the entire 2022 season due to a back injury that required surgery, and for a player who turns 30 before the start of the 2023 season, Vaitai could very well end up being cut. with the aim of releasing more than $6. million in ceiling space. Evan Brown has provided replacement-level play at best in Vaitai’s absence, but he looks best suited to be a reliable depth piece down the middle.
But for a team that ranked 28th in DVOA team defense and gave up the fifth-highest points per game (25.1) a season ago, the Lions’ greatest needs are definitely on the defensive end. of the ball.
Erik Schlitt reminded me last Saturday that the Lions signed the following inside defensive linemen on their roster: Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike and Demetrius Taylor. Isaiah Buggs appears to be a priority free agent for the Lions, given that only McNeill has a significant NFL track record for one of the currently signed defensive linemen. To add to that, Buggs not only emerged as a leader for this defense, but his steady play coincided with the Lions’ defensive improvement in the second half. But even if the team re-signs Buggs, the Lions shouldn’t hesitate to improve the spot next to McNeill. Buggs playing in a rotational role as the first lineman off the bench would be a way to raise the level of talent on the pitch for more plays every game.
The linebacker position was launched by the surprising play of Malcolm Rodriguez who plateaued slightly — in part due to injury — midway through the season, but the strengths of his rookie season seem to indicate where his ceiling is. Alex Anzalone has made notable progress in his second year with Detroit, and the veteran linebacker confirmed there have already been talks with the team about a 2023 reunion. the situation with Buggs, Anzalone would be a useful depth/situational piece for this defense, but an improvement there would be huge for a defense that struggled powerfully against the run (t-second worst, 5.2 YPC), and was porous against even slightly mobile quarterbacks.
The place the Lions absolutely need to improve this offseason is at cornerback, and it’s easy to see why. Detroit has a tough decision to make with Jeff Okudah and his player option for the 2024 season. Last season, Okudah looked like one of the best cornerbacks to defend the run in the NFL, and sometimes sounded in coverage, but lapses in the stretch, including a second-half benching against the Carolina Panthers, could leave the team with Chase Lucas as the only cornerback signed beyond 2023.
Cornerback is a favored position in the NFL, and the quality of play on the perimeter is what can really set a defense apart in today’s league. Detroit’s current starters – Okudah and Jerry Jacobs – on the outside aren’t signed beyond this year, and both could be seriously upgraded, so it’s no surprise to hear people linking Jalen Ramsey to the Lions, or seeing so many fictional drafts using either 6 or 18 picks to sign Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, or Joey Porter Jr.