Free agency is just about a week old, and the Lions have been somewhat calculated in the way they’ve gone about their business. General manager Bob Quinn hasn’t made any really big splashes, but instead targeted and signed specific areas of need.
Here are five things we’ve learned through the first week of free agency:
1. Adding versatile linebackers was a must
If head coach Matt Patricia truly wanted to be multiple from week to week with his defensive scheme, he needed to add some specific skillsets at the linebacker position.
Devon Kennard was a SAM linebacker in the Giants’ 4-3 scheme, but they used him extensively as a blitzer and pass rusher. At 6-foot-3 and 260 pounds, he has the kind of size and strength to be able rush from the edge as a standup rusher in 3-4 looks, but also play off the ball on the strong side.
Christian Jones played both on the outside and inside in Chicago. Again, there’s versatility to his game, and he has the ability to do multiple things from a linebacker standpoint.
Second-year linebacker Jarrad Davis is a thumper inside, and Jalen Reeves-Maybin has the speed and cover skills to be an effective sub-package player with the potential for more.
Patricia was a linebackers coach for five years in New England. He knows how important the position is to the overall success of the defense, and how having players who can do a lot of different things makes it a lot easier to be multiple.
As it stands right now, Detroit has a variety of skillsets at linebacker with the potential for more additions to come via the later stages of free agency and next month’s NFL Draft.
2. Improving the run game was an emphasis
Quinn said after the season that he believed he has good talent upfront along the offensive line. A change to the coaching staff could get the most out of that group.
Adding a veteran player to the running back group was obviously a priority. With quite a few veteran backs available in free agency, the Lions ultimately signed LeGarrett Blount.
In Blount, the Lions have a big, powerful back that runs with attitude and power, which was something seriously lacking from that group the last few seasons.
3. Patricia liked what he saw with Lions secondary
Patricia said during his introductory press conference that he was going to hit the film hard and try to learn as quickly as he could what kind of team he was inheriting. It seems he liked what he saw from the secondary.
The team re-signed safety Tavon Wilson and cornerback Nevin Lawson. One addition to that group via free agency was veteran cornerback DeShawn Shead, who has terrific size, length and starting experience.
Shead’s addition gives Patricia pretty good depth and flexibility on paper at both cornerback and safety. Darius Slay is penciled into one of the outside spots at cornerback, but now Shead, Teez Tabor, Nevin Lawson, Quandre Diggs and Jamal Agnew will all potentially be competing for the other outside spot and at the nickel.
That’s a good mix of talent, youth and experience. Competition breeds success, and that will be an interesting spot to watch and see who steps up in the spring and in training camp.
4. Lions still have a need at tight end.
The tight end position in Detroit currently has just four catches of NFL experience between three players – Michael Roberts, Hakeem Valles and Brandon Barnes.
The Lions released veteran Eric Ebron right before free agency. Whatever the reason, it has left a bit of a void at the position.
Veteran Darren Fells signing with Cleveland in free agency only increased the need at the position.
The expectation should be for last year’s fourth-round pick, Michael Roberts, to take a big leap forward in his development from year one to two. Hakeem Valles is a player the Lions thought highly of last season and wanted to develop.
The problem with drafting a tight end in the first couple days is that the position is so difficult for rookies to learn that oftentimes not much should be expected out of first-year tight ends. It’s rare that a rookie tight end comes into the league and sets it on fire. It’s just too hard of a position to learn, and it takes time.
I wouldn't be shocked if the Lions add a veteran in the remaining free agency period. 5. The interior of the defensive line is still a bit of a question mark
The top four edge rushers on the roster right now are Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder Jr., Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington.
If Hyder comes back off the Achilles tendon injury and is close to the same player he was in 2016, the Lions actually look alright along the edge, if Ansah can stay healthy and Zettel continues to develop.
The top four defensive tackles currently on the roster are A’Shawn Robinson, Akeem Spence, Jeremiah Ledbetter and Christian Ringo.
The bigger question mark is along the interior. The Lions really struggled to stop the run last season after Haloti Ngata was lost for the season after Week 5. With Ngata signing in Philadelphia this offseason, the Lions could still use another big, powerful defender along the interior. Quinn could still look to add to the spot in free agency, but the draft is also strong with interior defenders.