We can’t predict much about the Detroit Lions offseason. But we know of some holes on the roster, and can speculate what might happen.
Here we are again, Detroit Lions fans: watching the playoffs. We all know that Jim Caldwell met the axe a few weeks ago, and that it looks like Matt Patricia is going to be the Lions’ next head coach. The questions leading into the off-season are too numerous to list, due to the unknowns of a coaching.
There are some questions out there that we can address, though, regardless of who Patricia wants to bring in. And those questions center on the holes on the roster, and, the holes are most glaring on the defensive side of the ball.
The most glaring weakness, roster-wise, is the defensive line. Yes, the offensive line was a dumpster fire for most of the season, but some of that was caused by injury. The defensive line was just brutal after defensive tackle Haloti Ngata’s season-ending injury. You’ve seen the stats—the Lions went from one of the stingiest running defenses in the league to one of the worst. That translated to a lack of depth. Couple that with a pretty anemic pass rush, and the Lions have a mess up front.
The easiest solutions to both problems are already on the roster. First, get defensive end Ezekiel Ansah back in Honolulu Blue and Silver. If he won’t re-up for a short term, low-risk, high-reward contract, the Lions have to slap him with a Franchise Tag, and give him the opportunity for a show-me type season.
Ansah was completely dominant in three games this year—racking up nine sacks in those three games. However, in the other 13 games, he virtually disappeared, netting only three more. If the drop off was due to injury, then getting Ziggy back healthy on the Franchise Tag will be a bargain. If he remains hurt, it’s only a one-year deal, and there are no long-term issues with bidding him adieu. The other pass-rushers available won’t come cheap.
The second spot is Haloti Ngata. After spending most of the season on the sidelines acting as a coach, Ngata said he’d like to suit up for one more season. Yes, he might be a year older, and he didn’t make a ton of splash plays, but the stats are clear—the Lions need the big fella plugging up running lanes in the middle. Again—make it a friendly one-year deal, so there is little long-term risk—and get him in camp in the fall.
The next hole on the roster is at linebacker. Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow are both on expired contracts. After watching Worrilow flounder around, I can’t imagine there will be suitors banging down his door, so he could re-signed for cheap to provide some depth and some special teams muscle. If he wants more than that, we let him hop on I-75 Southbound on the road out of town. Whitehead is a little more interesting, because he has some valuable experience and is, at his worst, at least serviceable. He’d be worth bringing back, even at some cost.
In the defensive backfield, the Lions are looking at losing Tavon Wilson, D.J. Hayden, and Don Carey. Carey is a special teams ace, who should come back. Hayden did a nice job in spot duty and nickel and dime packages as the season wore on, but I think corners like him are fairly common. He should only stick if he’s willing to come cheaply.
Wilson is the toughest choice of the three. He’s played well, but the coming of age (and position switch) of Quandre Diggs made Wilson feel expendable. I say Wilson walks on, and the Lions hope for the best from the young safety Miles Killebrew, who all but disappeared towards the end of the year.
The offensive side of the ball is much more clear-cut. The only offensive player of note whose contract is up is “Tackle” Greg Robinson. I use quotes, because his role often seemed to be to allow other teams to tackle whichever Lion they wanted. As the kids say, “He gone.”
Tight end Darren Fells’ contract has also expired, but he will be a cheap re-sign, and I expect him back.
There are loads of other questions, to be sure, and they won’t be answered for quite some time. The roster questions, though, can help us get an idea of what kind of off-season the Lions are looking at.