Inside linebackers have found tough sledding on the free agent market so far, which presents an opportunity for the Detroit Lions.
The Detroit Lions top two inside linebackers from 2021 were both unrestricted free agents this year. They re-signed Alex Anzalone, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin seemingly found a far better deal from the Houston Texans. Free agents Josh Woods and Shaun Dion Hamilton are back to offer depth, and Derrick Barnes is currently in line for a bigger role next season.
The Lions could very easily take a linebacker in April’s draft. The group they have in place right now is screaming for a talent upgrade and a dose of upside, and the draft looks like the best path. But the free agent market is still an option.
Upon being cut by the Seattle Seahawks, Bobby Wagner became the top inside linebacker available on the open market. He has yet to sign with a team, with a mix of serving as his own agent and not finding the money he expected equally the easy reasons.
The actual position label can be a little wonky on free agent lists (ex: Damien Wilson, now of the Carolina Panthers, and Anzalone). But a glance at Spotrac’s list of free agent inside linebackers shows how few have signed, and the lack of significant contracts. The full list of linebackers, removing edge rushers, shows it even more.
Suppressed inside linebacker market is an opportunity for the Detroit Lions
Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio wrote about it more broadly, after citing a league source confirming free agent inside linebackers just aren’t drawing a lot of interest.
"Currently available inside linebackers include Bobby Wagner, Joe Schobert, Anthony Hitchens, Dont’a Hightower, Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkowski, Kyle Van Noy, Jarrad Davis, Jayon Brown, Kwon Alexander, and Reggie Ragland.Those who have hit the market haven’t gotten gigantic money. Yes, De’Vondre Campbell secured a major contract to stay with the Packers, a five-year $50 million deal (but with only $15 million of it fully guaranteed at signing). Obviously, however, he never became a free agent.Jordan Hicks, who instantly becomes a starting inside linebacker in Minnesota’s new 3-4 system, signed a two-year, $10 million contract, with $4.45 million fully guaranteed at signing. The deal ties $1 million to per-game roster bonuses. If he plays in 34 games over two seasons, he gets an average of $5 million.Myles Jack, cut by the Jaguars, signed an impressive two-year, $16 million deal with the Steelers. It has a guarantee of $6.5 million, with $8 million this year and $8 million next year.Other inside linebackers who have signed in recent days include Christian Kirksey of the Texans (two years, $10 million), Alex Anzalone of the Lions (one year, $2.25 million), Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell (two years, $11 million), and Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin (three years, $10 million)."
With several options out there, even beyond the ones Florio cited, any team with a need at inside linebacker has an opportunity to strike on a suppressed market as the second week of free agency gets going. That list of teams has to include the Lions.
Wagner is not a realistic option for Detroit, and there are some others that don’t look like a great fit. But if the Lions don’t sign a recognizable inside linebacker sometime over the next week, they are ignoring an opportunity to at least add experienced depth to a position of need. Actually, they still find a starter to plug right in.