The Detroit Lions have 28 of their players headed toward some sort of free agency designation this offseason and it's up to general manager Brad Holmes to decide which of those players he'll try to bring back.
Among those names is veteran defensive lineman Isaiah Buggs, who not only was a productive player in the middle of Detroit's defensive line, but along with linebacker Alex Anzalone, became one of the vocal leaders and respected veterans on defense.
After spending his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers in a reserve role, Buggs was signed by the Lions right before the start of training camp. He ended up playing in all 17 games (13 starts) with a career-high 46 tackles, 10 quarterback hits and a forced fumble. He played 755 snaps on defense, or 67 percent of the snaps. His career high before that in Pittsburgh was just 227 snaps (15 percent).
"I don't know what's going to happen, but I hope to God that I'll be back here," Buggs said after the season of his pending free agency. "All the defensive staff here gave me an opportunity and it was just a blessing to be here."
Buggs may not top any free agent lists in the NFL this offseason, but he's one of those veteran players who is a glue guy for this roster. He fits the culture and brand of play head coach Dan Campbell is trying to establish as a foundation.
"Once you get a group of guys that are all buying in to the game plan and the system and they want to win and want to work and put in the work and time to win that's always a blessing and always a good feeling to be around," Buggs said.
"And the thing I like about this team is no one is selfish. Everybody buys in and works together. Everybody congratulates one another when they make a big play. There's no selfishness here and that's what I like being around."
Playing alongside youngsters upfront like Aidan Hutchinson, Alim McNeill, James Houston and Josh Paschal, Buggs thinks the future of the Detroit defensive line is bright, and he wants to be a part of it. He's become a good mentor to the young players upfront.
Holmes will certainly look to add talent and depth to the defensive front this offseason, particularly in the middle, but that doesn't bother Buggs. He's been in the league long enough to know competition breeds success, and he showed this season he can be a solid contributor both on and off the field.
View photos of the Detroit Lions defensive line from the 2022 NFL season.
"If you want to be wanted, you have to put in the work to be wanted," Buggs said. "They don't owe anybody nothing. You have to put in the time and earn your respect and that was my main goal this year. Putting in the time and the work to earn my respect and be wanted."
Buggs certainly left a good last impression on Holmes and this coaching staff going into the offseason. He had seven tackles from the interior in Detroit's season finale win in Green Bay, including a couple goal-line stops.