The Detroit Lions may have fielded the NFL’s worst linebacker corps in the NFL last season under former head coach Matt Patricia. Let’s not forget, Patricia was touted defensive guru who helped the New England Patriots win Super Bowls during his time there as defensive coordinator.
But former Pats in Patricia and Lions’ former general manager, Bob Quinn, failed to reproduce the results of the legendary head coach Bill Belichick and Patriots during their near three-year stint together in the Motor City. The duo was fired last November after the Lions posted season-ending records of 6-10, 3-12-1, and last year, a disappointing 5-11.
As for the defense in 2020. the Lions were among the NFL’s worst. Detroit ranked dead last in yards allowed (6,716), points allowed (519), and had the fifth-worst rushing defense in the league (2,158).
Needless to say, the Lions’ defense needed an overhaul. And the work to rebuild the team’s porous linebacker corps has already begun. The new regime in Detroit quickly moved on from linebacker Christian Jones, releasing him earlier this month.
They also allowed former first-round selection Jarrad Davis and fellow linebacker Reggie Ragland to leave via free agency. Davis has since inked a one-year deal with the New York Jets. While Ragland joined the New York Giants.
Linebacker Jamie Collins is set to return to Detroit after restructuring his contract this offseason. And the team also decided to re-sign fan favorite Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who played a career-high 378 snaps on special teams last season (and only 38 total snaps on defense).
The Lions clearly have voids to fill at linebacker. And on Wednesday, the team turned to new head coach Dan Campbell and new defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn’s old stomping grounds to find themselves some help.
According to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo, the Lions are signing free-agent linebacker Alex Anzalone on a one-year deal worth $1.75 million. Anzalone has played the last four seasons with the New Orleans Saints after being their third-round selection in the 2017 NFL Draft out of Flordia.
Coming out of college, the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Anzalone projected to be a potential triple-digit tackling machine after he posted 53 tackles, 4.0 tackles for loss, and 3.0 sacks in eight games as a junior in 2016.
Unfortunately, injuries plagued Anzalone’s college career including some reoccurring shoulder issues. Those problems followed him into the NFL as he’d miss 14 games in 2019 due to a shoulder injury. He was also placed on Injured Reserve as a rookie after requiring shoulder surgery.
But last season, the 26-year old Anzalone was able to play all 16 games for the Saints for only the second time in his four-year NFL career, starting nine games at middle linebacker. He racked up 41 combined tackles along with three tackles for loss in 2020.
With a change of scenery and supported by some familiar faces, the hope has to be that the fifth-year veteran linebacker will be able to stay healthy and reach his full potential in the Motor City. If so, Alex Anzalone could be the stabilizing force that this Detroit Lions’ defense desperately needs.