Detroit Lions trying to keep OL intact; re-sign Matt Nelson, await word on Evan Brown

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions kept another one of their own free agents off the market Tuesday, re-signing backup offensive tackle Matt Nelson.

Nelson has been a key reserve for a Lions offensive line that’s ranked among the best in the NFL the past two years.

He started 11 games in 2021, playing both left and right tackle, and made 11 appearances as the team’s swing tackle last season.

Nelson was eligible for restricted free agency this week, but the Lions declined to tender him a right of first refusal offer of $2.627 million. Absent a new contract, he would have been an unrestricted free agent at 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Originally signed as an undrafted free agent out of Iowa in 2019, Nelson spent a year transitioning from defensive line to offensive tackle on the Lions practice squad before playing as a sixth lineman in 2020.

The Lions will return at least four of their five offensive line starters this fall: Left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow and right tackle Penei Sewell.

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Evan Brown, who started 24 games the past two seasons at center and right guard, is one of the top interior linemen scheduled to hit the market Wednesday, while Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s future is uncertain after he missed all of last season following back surgery and given his $9.4 million contract for 2023.

On Monday, the Lions re-signed two of their top unrestricted free agents, linebacker Alex Anzalone and nosetackle Isaiah Buggs, tendered contracts to five exclusive rights free agents and re-signed running back Craig Reynolds on a one-year deal. They also agreed to a three-year deal with Pittsburgh Steelers free agent cornerback Cam Sutton.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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