Analyst has Detroit Lions possibly going all-in for top free agent running back

SideLion Report

Rather than just re-signing Jamaal Williams, one analyst has the Detroit Lions on a list of suitors for a big-name free agent running back. 

For many Detroit Lions fans, in terms of re-signing free agents this offseason, running back Jamaal Williams is No. 1 on the list. And it’s a well-founded though, coming off a 1,000-yard season where he set the single-season franchise record for rushing touchdowns. To say nothing of the team leader has become.

But what if Williams finds a better deal elsewhere? Or, as blasphemous as it may seem, the Lions seek an upgrade over him in free agency and let him leave if he can find that better deal? Yes, it seems like a slim chance. But to dismiss the chance of a pivot away from Williams is ignoring the possible reality.

NFL Free Agency: Could the Detroit Lions go all-in for notable running back?

Ian Wharton of Pro Football Network has listed five potential landing spots for Saquon Barkley. or more specifically, five non-New York Giants landing spots. The Giants can franchise tag Barkley, or agree to a long-term deal with him at any point. Then any talk of other teams would become moot.

You know where this is going, but Wharton has the Lions on his list.

I don’t want to take anything away from Jamaal Williams’ NFL-leading 17 rushing touchdowns, his career high in rushing yards in 2022, or how D’Andre Swift averaged an absurd 5.5 yards per carry. But neither compare to Barkley in terms of talent or effectiveness.

With Williams slated to hit free agency and Swift again missing a significant portion of games throughout 2022, the Lions can swing big at running back this offseason. Barkley can maximize the spacing that Detroit’s offensive coordinator Ben Johnson creates with his scheme and also further enhances one of the league’s best offensive lines.

After being hampered by injuries the previous two seasons, Barkley re-established himself as of the NFL’s best running backs last season. He had 295 carrries for 1,312 yards (fourth in the league) and 10 touchdowns, along with 57 receptions (on 76 targets) for 338 yards. The only game he missed was Week 18, when the Giants rested starters.

The biggest thing with Barkley will be the cost to sign him, for the Giants or another team. Spotrac has his market value at $12.3 million per year, on a four-year deal. He is likely to be seeking more than that, but he has also said he’s not trying to reset the running back market. In terms of average annual value, Christian McCaffrey is currently the highest-paid running back in the NFL at just north of $16 million.

The Lions used Williams as a workhorse/short yardage bruiser and Swift as a more explosive complement pretty well last season (when Swift was healthy of course). Barkley would consolidate most of those same skills into one back, with the ability to take a lot of carries and catch the ball well out of the backfield.

It feels unlikely, should he be available, that the Lions would seriously pursue Barkley. And in that scenario, where he’s on the open market, he may have some big offers on the table. But the idea of Barkley in a Lions’ uniform is interesting, and there’s a non-zero chance it’s somewhere on the radar for the Detroit front office if things break a certain way.

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