Detroit Lions ahead of division rivals in free agency

ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 28: Desmond Trufant #21 of the Atlanta Falcons is introduced prior to an NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GA - NOVEMBER 28: Desmond Trufant #21 of the Atlanta Falcons is introduced prior to an NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on November 28, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

Despite not making the same kind of splashy signings from 2019, the Detroit Lions have made the shrewdest offseason moves of the NFC North squads.

Games aren’t won in March, and the draft generally is the biggest player acquisition factor in determining an NFL team’s fate for an upcoming season. Still, with a series of understated transactions, the Detroit Lions may have won this part of the offseason when compared to the rest of their division.

A year ago, the Lions turned some heads by quickly coming to terms with some high profile free agents, including defensive end Trey Flowers, tight end Jesse James and cornerback Justin Coleman. Those lucrative deals almost guaranteed that Detroit would likely be on the sidelines when it came to 2020’s biggest names looking for new contracts. That hasn’t kept them, though, from acquiring some solid pieces that could help them improve on last year’s messy three-win campaign.

Yes, starting guard Graham Glasgow and Pro Bowl cornerback Darius Slay have moved on, and those losses will be felt. The acquisitions of right tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, veteran defensive backs Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon, nose tackle Danny Shelton and linebacker Jamie Collins are not seismic. But, they are moves that make the rest of the division’s offseason dealings look rather non-inspiring.

For years under former general manager Ted Thompson, the Green Bay Packers were content to essentially sit out free agency, in favor of re-signing their own draft picks. After signing edge rushers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith to large deals last year, the Packers may have reverted to their old form. Their low-key signings of linebacker Christian Kirksey and former Lion right tackle Rick Wagner to modest, short term deals, seem like lateral moves at best.

The Chicago Bears, who entered the offseason heavily limited by their salary cap constraints, made the curious move of signing veteran tight end Jimmy Graham, who was recently let go by the Packers. The Bears have spent what seems like forever trying to find an alpha-type player at the tight end spot, with little success. Do they really think that the 33-year-old Graham is the answer there?

In addition, the Bears made the move to apply some pressure to underwhelming fourth-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, by acquiring veteran signal-caller Nick Foles after his lone, injury-plagued season with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Credit the Bears for bringing in some competition for the former second overall selection.

Foles will always be revered by Philadelphia Eagles fans for helping bring the team its first-ever Super Bowl victory in 2018 in his second stint with the squad. But he has scuffled everywhere else he has played, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 13-12 and less than 200 passing yards per game in 16 starts when not wearing midnight green. Would he be much of an upgrade should he be tasked with supplanting Trubisky?

Finally, the cap-strapped Minnesota Vikings offloaded star receiver Stefon Diggs to the Buffalo Bills for a slew of draft picks. They also eschewed re-signing veteran edge rusher Everson Griffen and replaced incumbent starting defensive tackle Linval Joseph with former Baltimore Raven Michael Pierce. None of that makes the Vikings better right now.

Count on them attempting to replace Diggs with one of the many talented wideouts in this year’s draft class. However, relying on a rookie to replicate Diggs’ hefty production immediately is a lofty goal.

For the Lions to become a threat in 2020, they obviously must improve their play within their division. Divisional games basically count doubly during the season; Detroit lost all six of its games against their NFC North rivals last year and must win its share of them to remain relevant.

Next month’s draft will likely be the critical offseason factor in determining whether or not the Lions will have a shot at consistently upending their divisional foes this fall. But they’ve gotten off to a solid start, outdoing the other three teams with smart, yet safe player acquisitions. We’ll find out in a matter of months if it was enough to get them out of the division’s cellar.

Next. Ranking the Lions’ first round picks since 2010. dark

How would you compare the Lions’ offseason so far with the rest of the NFC North? Let us know in the comments section below.