The Detroit Lions have to make some difficult and expensive roster choices if they want to be competitive in the 2020 season and beyond.
Among the highlights of the Detroit Lions loss to the Dallas Cowboys last Sunday was a significant but maybe overlooked event. When defensive lineman Mike Daniels sacked quarterback Dak Prescott, it was his first sack of the season. And it was in only Daniels’ third game that he’s actually been healthy enough to play.
After being cut by the Green Bay Packers in late July and signing with the Lions, the highly sought after Daniels is finally paying dividends 11 games into an injury-riddled season. This is an element this defense desperately needs to help the third worst defensive team in the NFL to have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs in 2020.
The signing of Daniels in the spring was a pleasant surprise for Lions fans long accustomed to watching other teams acquire Pro Bowl free agents. This spurred much optimism and high expectations for 2019. Unfortunately, a foot injury early in the season and subsequent aggravations slowed the highly regarded former Packer’s efforts to return to previous form.
The remainder of this season Daniels will need to use to prove his value for next year. The same applies to many of the other 23 players destined to become free agents in 2020. The salary cap inevitably will play a large role in these decisions.
Fox Commentator Charles Davis mentioned on the TV broadcast that he assessed the team was 10 players away from having the kind of talented roster head coach Matt Patricia needs. Assuming he’s correct, general manager Bob Quinn has his work cut out for him. The 2019 signing period saw the greatest investments on high-priced free agents in memory. Despite these aggressive moves, the outcome has certainly not produced the desired results.
If Daniels’ performance returns to original expectations, it is likely that the 31-year-old veteran will command close to his original $7.9 million contract. Extending the contract of cornerback Darius Slay and signing guard Graham Glasgow to a long-term deal are among other major offseason priorities. Both will require hefty contracts as well to avoid free agency.
It’s difficult to dispute that the Lions’ greatest need is on the defensive line, more specifically to pressure the passer. Opposing quarterbacks have been allowed far too much time and have an average passer rating of 102.0, ninth-worst in the league. Top-flight players that fill this specific need are in short supply. Provided such a valued commodity becomes available, he would be quite expensive and would demand significant salary-cap space.
The defense needs Daniels to regain his productivity so that other needs can be filled. There are so many holes at key starting positions and added depth required that Patricia cannot afford to lose very many of his better players.
The upcoming draft with the eight picks they currently have won’t be enough without adding quality replacements in free agency or through trade. Even in good draft years, selecting four or five solid additions would be considered a success. The recent return of talented 2019 4th round pick defensive lineman Austin Bryant off of Injured Reserve is encouraging as he was quite productive with the national champion Clemson Tigers.
First-year offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell’s unit has provided a lead in every game this season. This was achieved without having quarterback Matthew Stafford the last two games or the benefit of a dependable rushing attack for most of the season.
Patricia’s defense has failed to keep that advantage as the 3-6-1 record reflects. But none of his highly touted abilities to get the most out of his players will materialize without the skilled and specific type of athletes that fit his complex schemes.
Building a roster that meets the expectations of Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia’s hiring must produce results in 2020. Detroit Lions fans have been waiting far too long and deserve to finally see the product that’s been promised.