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TWENTYMAN: Why all phases of free agency are important

It happens every year a few days after the start of free agency, when the first wave of big name, big contract players are signed. We see the articles start to come out on which teams won and lost free agency, and teams are even distributed grades based on their first few days of the free agent signing period.

To me, when looking at free agency, it's shortsighted to view it in the scope of the first couple days and disregard some of the moves made later on.

When looking at the Detroit Lions in particular, they were active early in free agency, and it's expected that defensive lineman Trey Flowers, cornerback Justin Coleman and tight end Jesse James, Detroit's three big free agent signings, will have a huge impact on the 2019 season.

But so could cornerback Rashaan Melvin, a player signed much later in free agency to less fanfare. Melvin could compete for a starting spot opposite Darius Slay.

Last year, defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois wasn't signed until July 26. He ended up playing a role upfront along Detroit's defense with 11 starts. He was also instrumental in the development of some of Detroit's younger players at the position, especially rookie Da'Shawn Hand.

Defensive end Romeo Okwara was signed as a free agent off waivers on September 3. He led Detroit with 7.5 sacks a season ago, and earned himself a new contract with the team during this free agency cycle.

There will be players added in free agency in the coming months and after training camp who will have an impact on the 2019 Lions.

Lions head coach Matt Patricia would argue that free agency isn't won in the first week at all, but rather in its second, third and later stages.

"We're always just going to try to keep finding good players, and there's still good players out there now in free agency," Patricia said. "That's the part of it that's great. There's guys that are always signed – free agency isn't won in the first couple days.

"That's really not where it's won. It's won later, it's won after the draft, it's won during training camp or you find those guys that are out on the street that need jobs and come out and compete and something just clicks, or they just fit maybe better with you than where they were before and you can find some really good players from that standpoint."

Okwara is a great example of that.

Look for the Lions to continue to put an emphasis on searching for those players this spring and into the summer.

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