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Marcus Williams
Detroit Lions

Lions Should Target These 6 Free Agents

  • Justin Melo
  • February 24, 2022
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The massive rebuild and overhaul continues during the impending offseason for the Detroit Lions. General manager Brad Holmes essentially blew things up when he traded long-time starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for Jared Goff and multiple first and second-round draft picks. It led to a predictably painful season for the Lions, who won just three contests in 2021. The Lions now prepare to enter free agency and the draft with various holes all throughout their roster. Holmes and the Lions own two selections in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, a much-welcomed scenario that should allow them to draft two instant starters in the top 32. The No. 2 overall selection should especially be a franchise-altering playmaker, but the Lions must add proven veterans via free agency as well. The Lions possess north of $20 million in available cap space and could create additional financial freedom by releasing and restructuring the contracts of several veterans. Trey Flowers qualifies as a likely cut candidate, as the former New England Patriot previously signed a lucrative contract in Detroit to fit Matt Patricia's defense. With cap, team needs, pending free agents, and draft selections all put into consideration, here are three offensive and defensive free agents Detroit could target when the signing period begins on March 14.

ALLEN ROBINSON, WR, CHICAGO BEARS

Amon-Ra St. Brown made 31 other franchises look silly in 2021. The 112th selection in the most recent NFL draft took full advantage of a starring role in a below-average pass-catching corps by recording an astounding 90 receptions for 912 yards and six total touchdowns as a rookie. St. Brown has established himself as a top-three receiver in Detroit, but the Lions desperately need to overhaul the position this offseason. Detroit routinely fielded the worst group of pass-catchers in the NFL, and both veteran and rookie help will be required in 2022 should they hope to take the desired step forward as a passing offense. Josh Reynolds should be re-signed as veteran depth after experiencing a nice stint in Detroit after joining the Lions midseason, but he's nothing more than a borderline WR3. Allen Robinson is extremely familiar with the Lions and the division after spending the previous four seasons in Chicago with the Bears. Robinson desperately needs a fresh start after experiencing his worst season as a pro, and the Lions have the money and available targets to help get his career back on track. Robinson deserves the opportunity to be a WR1, and the Lions possess a gaping need at the position.

MIKE REMMERS, OT, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

The Lions are extremely well set up at the offensive tackle position with 2021 first-round selection Penei Sewell at right tackle and Taylor Decker at left tackle. Sewell and Decker should continue to form one of the more formidable starting duos in the league, but a swing tackle could be signed in free agency. Backup protector Tyrell Crosby ended the campaign on injured reserve and will now become a free agent in March, barring an agreement between his representation and the Lions. Crosby could search for more opportunity and money elsewhere, as his chances of developing into a starting tackle in Detroit are slim to none. Should the Lions fail to retain Crosby, a veteran addition will be necessary. Mike Remmers is a versatile swing option whose starting days are likely behind him. Remmers could help Sewell continue acclimating to the league while providing quality depth at the position. He’s an excellent leader that would fit the improving culture. Remmers could also play the guard position if necessary, a fact that makes him an extremely valuable backup that will likely be had on a reasonable, cost-effective short-term contract.

SAMMY WATKINS, WR, BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Lions need to add at least two veteran receivers this offseason, in addition to spending a draft pick on a young pass-catcher. We splurged on a legitimate lead-dog in Robinson earlier, and now we're adding an exciting veteran with the potential to outproduce the contract he'll likely attract in free agency. Sammy Watkins is a proven performer when healthy, although he’s often struggled to stay healthy. Watkins was an afterthought in Baltimore's passing offense a year ago, as he battled through injuries and inconsistency. Watkins recorded just 27 receptions in 13 appearances. The former Clemson standout is still an adequate chain-mover that averaged 14.6 yards per reception in 2021, although the sample size was admittedly rather minuscule. The Ravens will almost certainly move on from Watkins this offseason and the soon-to-be-29-year-old receiver should search for a landing spot that guarantees opportunity and targets. The Lions could represent such a destination after fielding zero proven receivers last season. We reiterate that the Lions should splurge big at receiver while also drafting a high-upside pass-catcher, but another under-the-radar addition such as Watkins could make sense to round out the position room, too.

MARCUS WILLIAMS, S, NEW ORLEANS SAINTS

If the Lions are going to splurge big in their secondary this offseason, Saints free-agent-to-be Marcus Williams makes as much sense as any high-end playmaker. Lions head coach Dan Campbell spent four seasons coaching Williams in New Orleans and is awfully familiar with his do-it-all skill set. Furthermore, Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn spent those same four seasons as Williams' position coach. The connections here are extremely important. Williams is a consistent playmaker that would immediately transform a Lions secondary that badly needs an injection of talent. His familiarity with the coaching staff currently in place lends favorably to the chances of Detroit being willing to pay top dollar to secure his services. Starting free safety Tracy Walker is currently set to test the open market, but his final decision should have little bearing on Detroit's willingness to upgrade the safety position. They must take steps forward on the back end regardless of Walker's outcome. Fellow safety Will Harris struggled immensely opposite Walker all throughout 2021. Change is beyond necessary. Campbell and Glenn would welcome an opportunity to reunite with Williams in Detroit.

LEIGHTON VANDER ESCH, LB, DALLAS COWBOYS

Alex Anzalone, Shaun Dion-Hamilton, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin are set to become free agents and we could see Detroit completely revamp their below-average linebackers corps this offseason. Purdue's Derrick Barnes had a really nice season for a fourth-round rookie in 2021, and the Lions should surround him with adequate running mates as he continues to develop as a sophomore. Leighton Vander Esch has played multiple positions in Dallas' defense and could be ready for a fresh start elsewhere. The Cowboys are facing some salary cap-related issues and Vander Esch is one of the players they'll have a tough time retaining given their priorities. Vander Esch is an ideal fit in Detroit's defensive front. The former Boise State standout plays at his highest level when the defensive line keeps him clean and allows him to flow freely to the football. Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers, and Levi Onwuzurike are excellent building blocks, and the Lions may soon be adding Aidan Hutchinson or Kayvon Thibodeaux to a young and promising front seven. Vander Esch is a tough-natured linebacker that fits the culture coach Campbell is building in the Motor City.

ARDEN KEY, EDGE, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

The Lions will almost certainly draft a blue-chip EDGE rusher with the second overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, but a shrewd veteran addition will be necessary to round out their group of pass rushers. The aforementioned Flowers will likely be released, and Charles Harris is currently set to reach free agency. A former first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, Harris finally broke out in 2021 by recording a career-high 7.5 sacks after signing a one-year "prove-it" deal with the Lions last offseason. Harris will now look to parlay his newfound success into a bright and shiny new payday, and the Lions must decide how much they buy into his unforeseen production. Romeo Okwara suffered an Achilles injury and the Lions must protect themselves in case he struggles to regain health and form. The addition of a rotational pass rusher is necessary, and Arden Key would fit the bill. Key should be cheaper annually than Harris will be after experiencing a similar bounce-back season for the 49ers in 2021. Key is an ideal third pass rusher that could rotate in behind Okwara and a premium draft selection while Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant continue providing depth.