You’ll need more than two hands to count the disappointments from the Detroit Lions’ 2020 season, but if you were to rank them, the team’s linebackers would have to be near the top of the list.
Despite former general manager Bob Quinn pouring significant resources into the group during his tenure, the team consistently failed to get a return on the investment. So this offseason’s overhaul at the position hardly comes as a surprise.
And even through there’s been more subtraction than addition, coach Dan Campbell likes where things are heading. That starts with Jamie Collins, the best of last year’s bunch, who was always a lock to stick given the structure of the three-year, $30 million contract he signed a year ago.
“Jamie is a versatile guy,” Campbell said. “He really gives us a guy that can do a little bit of everything. I mean, he can cover, he can rush, he can play in the stack, he can be a green dot making all the calls. He does give us versatility in that regard.”
The Lions parted with their other primary starter, Christian Jones, who played more than 1,700 uninspiring snaps for the Lions the past three seasons. Additionally, the team let Reggie Ragland and former first-rounder Jarrad Davis walk in free agency without much of a fight.
There was some interest in retaining Davis. The coaching staff saw potential when reviewing his tape, but not enough to match the New York Jets’ one-year, $5.5-million offer. Instead, the team brought in Alex Anzalone, Davis’ former college teammate who Campbell knows well after spending the past four years in New Orleans together.
“When you add Anzalone to that, we know what he is,” Campbell said. “He’s an athletic, big, long linebacker that can run. He’s a smart guy, he’s a steady guy.”
The Lions also re-signed Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a special teams standout who will get an opportunity to work his way back into a more prominent defensive role with the new coaching staff.
“Man, that guy, there again, we were excited to get him back because we know what he can do from a level on special teams for us. He’s really a four-quarter guy,” Campbell said. “He plays hard, he’s smart. You can watch him on tape. I mean, we went back and watched him in 2019 when he played at linebacker quite a bit. So he comes in, there’s no telling. You never know what you have in this player.”
The group is rounded out by offseason waiver claim Shaun Dion Hamilton, a move Campbell called a pleasant surprise, as well as former second-round pick Jahlani Tavai, who has been a disappointment through two seasons.
“You know, we’ll see where these guys play out, how they do,” Campbell said. “But does that mean we’re done? No, it doesn’t mean we’re done. I’ve said it all along, you’d like to go into this draft and not draft off need. You’d like to draft off best player available or the guy that when you’re sitting there and it’s your pick, man, do we all love this guy? Where does he fit? What’s the role? What’s the vision? But I would say signing Anzalone is a step in the right direction.”
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