Roman Bruno, Sports Editor
HC Dan Campbell is consulting with QB Jared Goff on the sideline during a game. Photo//Getty Images
The 2021-2022 NFL season has concluded, and now the league turns to the offseason where there is no shortage of drama and anxiousness as free agency is right around the corner.
The Detroit Lions are coming off a disappointing 3-13-1 record, but, with key victories late in the season against the Cardinals and Packers along with plenty of flashes from young talent, fans are feeling optimistic for the upcoming season.
This sense of optimism means nothing if the Lions brass and front office cannot improve the roster at multiple weak spots. However, an accumulation of draft picks (10 total) and around 23 million dollars in cap space means a quick turnaround in year two of the Brad Holmes-Dan Campbell era may be a possibility. There was a lot to like from this duo in year one of the “retool,” but now it is time to start seeing the change instead of just talking about it.
Holmes and Campbell will have their hands full trying to acquire new talent across the board. Here are five moves the Lions NEED to make this offseason as they head into the 2022 season:
WRs Amon-Ra St. Brown and Josh Reynolds celebrate after a touchdown. Photo//Duane Burleson/AP
1. Acquire multiple wide receivers
Detroit’s wide receiver core went from atrocious to interesting over the course of the season, notably due to the emergence of fourth-round rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown and the steady consistency of mid-season free agent acquisition Josh Reynolds. St. Brown racked up nearly 1,000 yards, along with 90 receptions and five touchdowns over the 2021 campaign. Reynolds, who was one of QB Jared Goff’s favorite targets when they played for the Los Angeles Rams, tallied 300 yards and two touchdowns in only seven games with Detroit after being released by the Tennessee Titans.
While St. Brown will be a mainstay for the Lions in the future, Reynolds will be a free agent along with WRs Kalif Raymond and KhaDarel Hodge. The only other notable receiver left on the roster is Quintez Cephus, who only played five games this past season before a season-ending broken collarbone injury. Cephus still has a lot to prove, so it is uncertain what his future will look like with the team.
With this in mind, it is fairly certain that the Lions will dip into the WR market once again, whether through free agency or the draft. Holmes whiffed on two signings last offseason in Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman, but this class of FAs looks to be more promising if the Lions can land any of them.
Holmes will need to be smart about navigating the receiver market, but a few names that make sense for this team would be Michael Gallup or Mike Williams. Both players were not the top targets on their respective teams and would get an increased target share on the Lions.
It would also be smart of Holmes to bring back Reynolds on a one-year deal as his debut with the team was the catalyst of increased confidence for Goff. Maintaining that chemistry into next season would be beneficial for the Lions offense.
The NFL Draft once again provides a deep WR class, and the Lions can certainly take advantage of it. Detroit selects at 2 and 32 overall in the first round, in addition to the second pick of the second round, so they will be able to potentially make a move for a top tier talent.
Arkansas’ Treylon Burks and USC’s Drake London would be nice fits on the Lions due to the fact they can be a WR1 on a team in dire need of one. Adding London would add even more intrigue since he was college teammates with St. Brown.
Regardless, Holmes can spot talent in any round, so Lions fans should trust him in making the right decisions when it comes to additions for the 2022 WR group.
New Orleans safety Marcus Williams will have plenty of interest this offseason as a free agent. Photo//Bill Feig/AP
2. Sign a safety
The Lions defense, which was continuously decimated by injuries all season, arguably still overachieved in Aaron Glenn’s first year as defensive coordinator. Nevertheless, they will still need to add plenty of defensive pieces in order to compete at a higher level, most notably at safety.
The team’s best safety, Tracy Walker III, will hit free agency himself, and the Lions will look to bring him back and perhaps another safety alongside him. S Will Harris, a draft pick of the Bob Quinn-Matt Patricia era, has not panned out, so Detroit will look to find a replacement that will also be an upgrade.
Many fans and experts hope the Lions will draft Notre Dame safety Kyle Hamilton second overall in the draft and, while Hamilton may be the best talent out of this year’s class, history shows that safety talent is not worth drafting with that high of a pick. Some of the league’s best safeties are a testament to not taking one so early, such as Tryann Mathieu (69th overall in 2013), Justin Simmons (98th overall in 2016), and Jessie Bates III (54th overall in 2018).
The Lions have bigger needs to absolve with the second overall pick, so it would be wise to spend to get a more experienced and proven player in free agency as there are multiple options. The aforementioned Mathieu will be one of the best available, along with former-Lion Quandre Diggs, Marcus Maye, and Jabrill Peppers.
However, New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams makes the most sense and would be the best fit for the Lions. Williams is only 25 and was recently named second team All-Pro by Pro Football Focus. Williams also has familiarity with Campbell and Glenn (Glenn was the Saints DB Coach for five seasons before coming to Detroit) and could take more money to come to Detroit than accept a lesser deal with the cap-strapped Saints.
Getting Williams to pair with Walker would improve the secondary tremendously, and all signs point to this being a possibility in the near future.
Georgia LBs Nakobe Dean and Quay Walker will be some of the top LBs on the board in the draft. Photo// Brett Davis/USA TODAY SPORTS
3. Draft multiple linebackers
Sticking with the defense, Detroit is going to need to add multiple LBs this offseason to make huge strides on D. Holmes invested draft capital in the trenches last year, but now it is time to find the Devin White or the Micah Parsons of this Lions team.
Detroit drafted a fourth-round LB in Derrick Barnes out of Purdue and his rookie season had many ups and downs. Barnes still has a lot of potential and will hopefully be a part of the future, but the Lions should still focus on adding more talent at that position.
The Lions have not had success drafting LBs in the past, notoriously Jahlani Tavai and Jarrad Davis were early picks that did not work out. Detroit did sign veterans Alex Anzalone and Charles Harris going into 2021, and both were very solid yet will likely not be in the plans for the future.
Like the WR class, this draft is relatively deep at the LB position. Prospects at the top of the class include Georgia’s Nakobe Dean, Utah’s Devin Lloyd, and Alabama’s Christian Harris. The next tier of players includes Georgia’s Quay Walker, Wyoming’s Chad Muma, Penn State’s Brandon Smith, and LSU’s Damone Clark. If the Lions walked away from the draft with one or two of these players, then it would be an absolute win for the up-and-coming franchise.
General Manager Brad Holmes looks to have another solid draft in 2022. Photo//Jeff Nguyen/AP
4. Trade back from two overall FOR THE RIGHT PRICE
Although the Lions did not get the first overall pick of the draft, they are still in a great spot at number two overall. They will theoretically get the chance to draft either Oregon EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux or Michigan EDGE Aidan Hutchinson.
There are no top quarterbacks in this draft, nor is there a clear first overall pick. Draft boards are all over the place in terms of which players will get selected where. Thibodeaux and Hutchinson have question marks of their own, so, as of now, there is still a lot of uncertainty heading into the draft.
Teams have shown to cough up high-value picks to move up, however. If the Lions receive an offer they cannot refuse, they should pull the trigger and trade down.
Two teams that are likely looking at trading up are the New York Jets (selecting 4 and 10 overall) and the New York Giants (selecting 5 and 7 overall). If either of those teams offered both their top-10 selections for second overall, the Lions need to accept. Giving Holmes more draft ammo would help bring more elite talent to the Lions, so it is definitely worth considering.
However, with there still being over two months until the NFL Draft and no clear option yet at first overall, there is still plenty of time for trade options to change for the Lions.
QBs Jared Goff, Tim Boyle, and David Blough converse on the sidelines. Photo//Nic Antaya/Getty Images
5. Improve backup QB situation
Two of three Lions QBs will be upcoming free agents: second stringer Tim Boyle, who signed a one-year deal with the team last offseason, and third stringer David Blough, who has been with the team since 2019 after a trade from the Cleveland Browns.
Boyle, who was formerly the backup to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay, made three starts with the Lions in 2021 in the absence of injured starter Jared Goff, all of which were losses. In those three games, Boyle threw for three touchdowns and six interceptions with a QBR of 26.4. Boyle flew under the radar his whole career as a backup and, when asked to step up in the bright lights, he did not perform.
This is important to note because, despite how bad Goff was at times during the season, the team has even less of a chance to win if Goff goes down with another injury.
Holmes and Campbell should look to bring in a better backup to Goff, whether through free agency or a trade. Notable players that have done well as former starters or in backup roles include Marcus Mariota and Andy Dalton. Another intriguing name is Gardner Minshew, but he would need to be acquired via trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
The backup QB situation is not atop the list of priorities this offseason. However, it should be addressed sometime in the near future in case Goff should unfortunately go down again with another injury.