The free agent negotiating period opens Monday and the Detroit Lions have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Here is the seventh 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: Tackle: Taylor Decker, Tyrell Crosby, Matt Nelson, Dan Skipper. Guard/center: Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Joe Dahl, Logan Stenberg, Evan Brown.
Pending Lions free agents: Oday Aboushi.
Top free agents: Tackle: Trent Williams, San Francisco 49ers; Daryl Williams, Buffalo Bills; Alejandro Villanueva, Pittsburgh Steelers. Guard/center: Joe Thuney, New England Patriots; Corey Linsley, Green Bay Packers; David Andrews, New England Patriots; John Feliciano, Buffalo Bills.
Others who may interest Lions: Tackle: Sam Tevi, Los Angeles Chargers; James Hurst, New Orleans Saints; Michael Schofield, Carolina Panthers. Guard/center: Dan Feeney, Los Angeles Chargers.
Market watch: NFL teams usually lock their best offensive linemen up long before they hit free agency, but there are three good ones set to reach the market next week. Trent Williams might be the best pending free agent regardless of position, at least among those who avoided the franchise tag. He has hinted at a return to San Francisco, and could command $18 million a year. Thuney, a left guard, played last year on the tag, but likely is headed elsewhere this spring. Linsley, the Packers’ starting center the past seven seasons, edged Frank Ragnow for first-team All-Pro honors last season.
The Lions return most of their offensive line from last season and will not be in on any of the top free agent linemen. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said in February depth at offensive tackle is a need, however, so the Lions could look to add a veteran backup. That might indicate Vaitai, one of the Lions’ big offseason additions in 2020, is a guard going forward, and that Crosby is ticketed for right tackle. Decker and Ragnow are two of the top players at their positions in the NFL, Jackson is locked into one of the starting guard spots after a solid rookie season and Nelson has shown promise as a backup.
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After Williams, Thuney and Linsley, the pickings get slim in free agency for teams looking for offensive line help. Villanueva had a rough 2020, but he, Daryl Williams and Kelvin Beachum are good bets to land short-term deals as stopgap starters. Two offensive tackles, the Carolina Panthers’ Taylor Moton and Jacksonville Jaguars’ Cam Robinson, will stick with their current teams as franchise players. And Tevi, Schofield and Hurst have starting experience, but project best as sixth linemen.