Despite an offseason overhaul, the Detroit Lions may need an injection of talent to their defensive line. Can they find help in the free-agent bargain-bin?
The Detroit Lions’ defensive line was easily its most disappointing position group in 2019, prompting significant changes over the last few months. Still, they may need to scour the dregs of the remaining free agency crop to assure the unit doesn’t fall short again this season.
Gone is disgruntled nose tackle Damon Harrison, who was released in February despite inking a short contract extension last summer. In 2019, he failed to make the same kind of impact that he was able to provide after a mid-season trade in 2018, and both sides decided that a split was necessary.
Ditto for veterans Mike Daniels, who battled injuries all of last season resulting in a lackluster, nine-game campaign, and A’Shawn Robinson, a one-dimensional player who never lived up to his second-round draft stature in four seasons in Detroit.
Holdover Da’Shawn Hand has shown glimpses of promising play over his first two seasons, but injuries have limited him to just 16 games over that span. He is a talented player, but he can’t be counted on to carry the unit at this point.
Free-agent signees Danny Shelton and Nick Williams should be able to help plug some of the holes left by the aforementioned departees, but neither figures to keep opposing offensive coordinators awake at night. Both registered career highs in sacks last year, but they had totaled just 1.5 takedowns between them prior to 2019.
The Lions surrendered the most passing yards in the NFL in 2019, due jointly to a lack of pressure from their defensive front and an underachieving cornerback unit. The secondary would seem to be on the upswing thanks to the drafting of highly-touted first-round corner Jeff Okudah. Is there any hope for a similar upward trend for their front line?
Apart from the players pegged for an edge role, it’s hard to imagine an influx of pass-rushing prowess from the current members of the unit. Are there any lingering free-agent veterans capable of bolstering the unit?
The short answer is probably not. Anyone remaining unsigned at this point is likely still available due to age, injuries, or declining play.
Should they decide to mine the leftovers, they may have an interest in nine-year veteran Marcell Dareus. Once one of the most dominant interior linemen in the NFL, he is currently recovering from core muscle surgery which limited him to six games with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Additionally, the 30-year old Dareus has been suspended multiple times for violation of the NFL’s substance-abuse policy and has totaled just 5.5 sacks over the last three seasons. His best playing days are certainly behind him, but he may be worth examining, whenever the current global health crisis allows the Lions to conduct thorough medical checks on players. He would be a natural fit in the Lions’ defense, should he meet the team’s requirements.
Darius Kilgo may be another option. He signed the Lions last spring but never saw the field, landing on injured reserve prior to the regular season. With experience under head coach Matt Patricia from their days together with the New England Patriots, Kilgo would need little time to get up to speed in what figures to be a truncated offseason program.
Daniels might also still be on the Lions’ radar. He was undoubtedly frustrated with his performance last year and could be heavily motivated to prove that he can still provide some of the interior disruption that helped him reach the Pro Bowl earlier in his career with the Green Bay Packers. As with Dareus and Kilgo, he would likely need to undergo an intensive medical review before the Lions even consider bringing him back.
Expect the Lions to be much more judicious with any contract offers, should they decide to pursue one of these players. The $8.1 million, one-year deal that they gave Daniels last summer seems like a major miscalculation at this point.
None of these three players figures to be transformative additions to the Lions’ defensive front. But, depth is critical in the NFL, as the Lions experienced last year when they struggled to field a healthy roster by the end of the season. Clearly, one of their thinnest units likely still needs attention, despite the options not being optimal.
Which remaining free-agent interior defenders do you think that the Lions should pursue? Let us know in the comments section below.