The Detroit Lions are in good shape for the future, with 12 potential picks in next year’s NFL draft.
The Lions have an extra first-round choice in 2022 (and another in 2023) from the Matthew Stafford trade, and could potentially get the maximum four compensatory picks next spring from their 2021 free agent departures.
Compensatory selections are not determined until after the season and are based on the size and length of free agent contracts, and how that player performs in his first season with his new team. The Lions could net a fourth comp pick for the loss of another free agent.
But while the future is bright in Detroit, the Lions could be in for lean times in the present.
They have made significant changes to their roster already, but many of their moves have been short-term downgrades as they try to lay the foundation for success.
The Lions have more roster moves coming, both in free agency and the draft. And there is an argument to be made the upgrade they made in coaching (and the resulting chemistry it should produce) is enough to offset what they’ve lost on the field.
But with the first wave of free agency passed, here is one man’s early spring assessment of how and where the Lions have improved and regressed on their roster.
In: Jared Goff, Tim Boyle.
Out: Matthew Stafford, Chase Daniel.
The skinny: Goff, acquired as part of that Stafford trade, said he does not consider the Lions to be a rebuilding team. “I think the pieces are there. I think I’m a big part of that,” he said. Goff certainly is a big part of the Lions’ plans, in the short-term, at least, and how he performs this fall will go a long way towards determining how the Lions do on the field. But most NFL people agree that, on paper, the Lions downgraded at the most important position on the field this offseason. It is up to Goff to prove them wrong this fall.
Better or worse: Worse.
In: Jamaal Williams.
Out: Adrian Peterson (unsigned).
The skinny: The Lions subbed one backup running back for another, signing Williams away from the divisional rival Green Bay Packers to be their No. 2 back. Williams won’t put up huge numbers playing behind D’Andre Swift, but he is a solid No. 2 who is good in pass protection and adds a physical element to the backfield. Peterson may be the bigger name, but he is not the better back, and if Swift takes a step forward this fall, the Lions will be in good shape at running back.
Better or worse: Better.
Wide receiver/tight end
In: Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Josh Hill.
Out: Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Jamal Agnew, Danny Amendola (unsigned), Mohamed Sanu (unsigned), Jesse James.
The skinny: The Lions made their biggest downgrades this spring on offense, and nowhere more so than at the receiver position. Golladay and Jones were a respected 1-2 punch, and Golladay is a borderline top-10 receiver in the NFL. Williams and Perriman are depth signings, and neither is a difference maker on the level of Golladay. It’s possible the Lions find that player in the draft, but even if they do, he will encounter a learning curve as a rookie. Trading Hill for James is a wash at tight end.
Better or worse: Worse, significantly.
Out: Oday Aboushi, Joe Dahl.
The skinny: The Lions, rightfully, felt strong about their offensive line heading into free agency and have not made any moves at the position yet. They still need to add a swing tackle, maybe a young one in case they do not sign Tyrell Crosby to an extension this summer. But they have not suffered any significant losses to their core, either. Halapoulivaati Vaitai projects as a starting guard for now, so the Lions could use a depth piece on the interior line, too.
Better or worse: Worse, due to the current lack of depth.
In: Michael Brockers, Charles Harris.
Out: Danny Shelton, Everson Griffen (unsigned).
The skinny: As part of their new-look defense, the Lions had to reshape their defensive line this spring. Brockers played well for the Los Angeles Rams last season and is a better fit for what new coordinator Aaron Glenn wants to do than the one-dimensional Shelton. Harris has never made good on his draft status, but can be useful as a situational pass rusher. The Lions’ biggest move of free agency was re-signing Romeo Okwara, their leader with 10 sacks in 2020. If Trey Flowers returns healthy and with John Penisini at nose tackle, the Lions could be decent up front.
Better or worse: Better, slightly.
Out: Jarrad Davis, Christian Jones, Reggie Ragland, Miles Killebrew.
The skinny: There has to be another move (or two) coming because the Lions are thin at linebacker. None of Davis, Jones, Ragland or special teams ace Killebrew is a significant defensive loss, and there is an addition-by-subtraction element at play. But if the Lions lined up to play a game tomorrow, their starting linebackers would be Jamie Collins, Jalen Reeves-Maybin and … Julian Okwara? It feels like the Lions are counting on adding the draft to address this position.
Better or worse: Worse, but subject to change.
Out: Desmond Trufant, Justin Coleman, Duron Harmon (unsigned), Darryl Roberts (unsigned), Tony McRae (unsigned).
The skinny: See above. The Lions willingly parted ways with two expensive cornerbacks at the start of free agency and have not re-signed any of their depth players. I expect Jeff Okudah to be much improved under Glenn and secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant, but that is a speculative play at this point. The Lions did not get in the bidding for safety John Johnson or any of the other top defensive backs in free agency. They reportedly will host Damontae Kazee on a free agent visit, but he is another stopgap, leaving the Lions with much work to do in the draft.
Better or worse: Worse, with no discernible plan to upgrade.
In: Randy Bullock.
Out: Matt Prater.
The skinny: The Lions let Prater and Agnew, their longtime return man, walk in free agency, and while it is hard to argue those decisions financially, both departures left holes in their wake. The Lions signed Bullock to compete for the kicking job, but he does not have Prater’s strong leg or clutch history. Return duties are completely up for grabs, and the Lions need to replace core special-teamers Killebrew and McRae.
Better or worse: Worse.