2021 NFL free agency preview: Detroit Lions need a whole lot of work at linebacker

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
| Detroit Free Press

The free agent negotiating period opens March 15 and the Detroit Lions have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Here is the fifth in a series of position-by-position breakdowns on the top players available in free agency and what the Lions might do at each position.


On the Lions’ roster for 2021: Jamie Collins, Jahlani Tavai, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Anthony Pittman.

Pending Lions free agents: Jarrad Davis, Reggie Ragland, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Miles Killebrew.

Top free agents: Lavonte David, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Matt Milano, Buffalo Bills; Jayon Brown, Tennessee Titans.

TRENDING: Why Lions fans shouldn’t expect Brad Holmes to splurge on D-linemen

DIG DEEP: How Brad Holmes can reshape entire Lions WR corps this offseason

Others who may interest Lions: Kamu Grugier-Hill, Miami Dolphins; Kevin Pierre-Louis, Washington; Samson Ebukam, Los Angeles Rams.

Market watch: After receiver, no position needs more work on the Lions’ roster than linebacker. They released veteran Christian Jones on Monday and have two other members of last year’s playing rotation (Davis and Ragland) headed for unrestricted free agency. Collins can fill a variety of roles in the linebacking corps, but had an up-and-down first season in Detroit and who starts alongside him in 2021 is a mystery.

Things never quite clicked for Davis in four seasons in Detroit, but new Lions coach Dan Campbell was complimentary of the 2017 first-round pick after he was hired. Even if Davis or Ragland return – Ragland played two seasons for new Lions linebackers coach Mark DeLeone with the Kansas City Chiefs – the Lions need to add at least one starting-caliber linebacker in free agency. David likely will be too expensive and might be headed back to Tampa anyway to chase another Super Bowl. Milano and Brown are both good coverage linebackers, something the Lions have lacked in recent seasons.

RUNNING BACK: It’s Aaron Jones and everyone else

RECEIVER: Kenny Golladay, Allen Robinson lead loaded class

DEFENSIVE LINE: Where does Romeo Okwara fit after 10-sack season?

Beyond the top three free agent linebackers, there are several options with ties to the Lions’ new staff. Grugier-Hill is another strong coverage linebacker who was a special teams captain with the Philadelphia Eagles under Lions assistant Dave Fipp. Both Pierre-Louis and Leonard Floyd played for DeLeone. Ebukam was a fourth-round pick by the Rams in 2017, when Lions GM Brad Holmes was college scouting director. And Denzel Perryman was a starter most of the past four seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers for Lions OC Anthony Lynn.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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