Don’t fret another ho-hum start to free agency, Detroit Lions doing things right

Detroit Free Press

Wash, rinse, repeat.

When it comes to free agency, Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes is nothing if not a creature of habit.

On Monday, the Lions agreed to a three-year contract with cornerback Cam Sutton less than 90 minutes into the free agent negotiating period and re-signed two of their top defensive players, nose tackle Isaiah Buggs and linebacker Alex Anzalone.

On Tuesday, Holmes added another cornerback to patch the Lions’ dilapidated defensive backfield, Emmanuel Moseley, and brought back two more of his top defensive free agents, John Cominsky and Will Harris.

Later that night, the Lions added veteran running back David Montgomery on a three-year, $18 million deal; the ex-Chicago Bear presumably slots in as Jamaal Williams’ replacement.

The Lions are not done with their free agent shopping. They’ve been public about wanting to add a backup quarterback. And DJ Chark is still waiting for the receiver market to unfold.

But as the Bears throw money at anyone who can pass a physical and the New York Jets try and bring all of Aaron Rodgers’ yogis to town, it’s important to appreciate Holmes’ free agent approach for what it is.

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Too many people fall into the FOMO trap when free agency opens every year. Like when your kids’ friends show up to school with new kicks and a trendy T-shirt, it’s natural they’d want a wardrobe upgrade, too. The “fear of missing out” is real.

But those clothes will be out of style by fall, just as some free agents will be back in the discount bin next year.

I like the Sutton signing. The Lions were in desperate need of a new No. 1 cornerback, and Sutton was one of the three or four best available — a versatile, upward-trending defensive back who came at a reasonable price.

Moseley seems like a roll of the dice worth taking, too — a solid player throughout his time in San Francisco but one with injury concerns who comes on a one-year deal.

Had defensive lineman Daron Payne made it to free agency, he would have been the rare difference-maker worth shelling out big bucks for, and there are other free agents who would have looked good in Honolulu blue. Cornerback Jamel Dean re-signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for less than I would have guessed. Linebacker David Long will be an impact three-down player with the Miami Dolphins. And Jakobi Meyers could turn out to be a bargain given the way receiver money has exploded.

Most of the top 50 free agents already have deals in place for 2023, and the Lions don’t seem to be in the market for many of those left unsigned.

But no matter where they go from here, free agency won’t go down as a failure this year.

More:Detroit Lions using voidable years to keep new CB Cam Sutton’s cap hit down in 2023

Some teams use free agency to infuse their roster with talent. Others embrace it to keep in compliance with the collective bargaining agreement (because their roster is otherwise devoid of top-shelf talent they want to pay). A few ignore it altogether, often to their detriment.

Good teams use free agency to fill holes, make a splash in it only when the water is deep and otherwise stick to the draft-and-develop (and sometimes trade) route to build themselves into contenders.

The Lions did stray slightly from the path they’ve taken in free agency the past two years, inking Anzalone, Montgomery and Sutton to three-year deals. There’s a mild danger to that; if they underperform or are lost to injury, there will be contractual ramifications to deal with.

But mostly, the Lions have stuck with the same approach Holmes and Dan Campbell fashioned when they came to Detroit (and promised they would stay true to coming off last year’s 9-8 season).

If the Lions re-sign Chark and offensive lineman Evan Brown, or bring in reasonable facsimiles of them — as they did with Montgomery for Williams at running back — they should enter the 2023 season as the favorites to win the NFC North.

The Bears will be the most improved team in the division — and significantly so — but they entered the offseason with the most ground to make up. The Green Bay Packers are a complete unknown with Rodgers on his way out and Jordan Love taking over at quarterback. And the Minnesota Vikings should be competitive again, but they’re in the process of turning over their aging roster and don’t strike fear in anyone as an elite team.

So, no, the Lions haven’t crushed free agency the way some would like. They didn’t overhaul their league-worst defense and they won’t be making a run at Lamar Jackson.

But they haven’t been crushed by it, either.

Their most important moves of the offseason will come in next month’s draft, when they have two first-round picks and five of the first 81 choices overall. And if they take care of business there, they’ll be right back in the same boat next year, making ho-hum free agent moves that quietly improve them as a team.

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

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