Detroit has entered full rebuild mode, again. The departure of Matthew Stafford ushered in a new era in Lions football with the arrival of head coach Dan Campbell and Jared Goff, who was sent to Detroit from Los Angeles in the Stafford deal. For Lions fans, a “rebuild” is as common now as a brutal midwest winter in the Motor City.
The Lions have failed to show relevance for decades, and now, they are again attempting to retool a lackluster roster. For new general manager Brad Holmes, his cap is tight, but Detroit has roster flexibility (they could restructure Trey Flowers or Goff’s contracts to free up significant cap space and have a handful of other cut or trade candidates) to add much-needed pieces within one of 2020’s worst defenses.
We’ll save the potential offensive additions for another time, but for now, let’s focus on three potential adds to Detroit’s defense that should be at the top of Holmes’ wish-list when free agency opens.
John Johnson III, Safety, Los Angeles Rams
Detroit spent their third overall pick last spring on Jeff Okudah to provide life into a depleted Lions secondary. His 2020 rookie campaign was one to forget, appearing in just nine games due to a nagging groin injury (he also dealt with a shoulder ailment). He’ll be back this fall, with expectations through the roof for the former standout corner from Ohio State.
Johnson would be a much-welcomed addition that would provide veteran leadership and durability to a Detroit back end in need of new faces. Duron Harmon is a free agent and looks on his way out with new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn taking over the reins.
“The No. 1 thing we’re going to do as a staff, we’re going to make sure that it’s not scheme then players,” Glenn said last week during his introductory presser. “It’s players and making sure we fit them to a scheme. And that’s our No.1 goal, that you put the players in position to be successful.”
It’s an unfortunate statement to process for former Lions Darius Slay, Quandre Diggs, and Damon Harrison, who all were shipped out of town under Matt Patricia’s reign due to scheme fit.
But, for Johnson, a 54-game starter in his four-year NFL career, Detroit would offer the opportunity to work in an increased role patrolling the third level of the Lions defense.
Lavonte David, LB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Bruce Arians made it clear during his speech at the Buccaneers boat parade that he wants David in Pewter next year. Is it likely he returns to Tampa, yes, but this is the NFL and money talks. The Buccaneers will do everything to re-sign Chris Godwin, which could minimize David’s offer from Tampa general manager Jason Licht.
If Detroit is going to spend up, this is the spot to do so. David is everything you look for in a “green dot” linebacker. He’s an anchor, he’s as durable as they come, and he’s got his ring. David is still in the prime of his career and would offer Glenn a true leader in the core of his defense. A pure sideline-to-sideline defender, David is still in his prime and would be the perfect addition for Campbell’s team who is in desperate need of an identity.
Ronald Darby, CB, Washington Football Team
Okudah is the poster child for Detroit’s defense and will be looked upon to have multiple All-Pro selections and Pro Bowl appearances before he’s all said and done, but one man alone can’t stop an offense. Von Miller and his Super Bowl 50 performance would disagree, but I digress.
Okudah needs help, and Darby would offer a cheap solution. Following his departure from Philadelphia, Darby enjoyed a successful campaign in Washington serving as the primary CB2 within the burgundy and gold’s second-ranked defense in total yards allowed. Not only is Darby cheap, but he would slot nicely—again—into the CB2 role, moving Amani Oruwariye into a subpackage corner or into the slot.