The Detroit Lions are restocking a defense that was among the lower-third of most statistical and metric rankings last year, during the 2019-2020 season. Through the first wave of free agency, they’ve added help across the defensive line, in the middle at linebacker, and in the secondary with a handful of former New England Patriots players.
With roughly $30M remaining in cap space, the Lions’ front office is expected to spend an additional $12-15M during the market’s second wave of signings. This would put them in contention to be a serious player in the defensive-player acquisition sector of the top remaining individuals available.
Defensive-Ends Jadaveon Clowney (SEA) and Everson Griffen (MIN) are the top remaining pass-rushers available. However, the first may carry a price-tag (pursuing $20M) that doesn’t mesh well with Detroit’s financial plans, and the latter isn’t necessarily a good scheme fit in what seems to already be a well-stocked front seven.
Still, don’t be surprised if the Lions make a decision to move DE Da’Shawn Hand inside and pursue one of the two. After all, the team has been issued a mandate from ownership where they are expected to compete for a playoff spot this season in Head Coach Matt Patricia’s third year at the helm.
One target that makes sense for the Lions to help fill the void by a recently departed Darius Slay (CB) and their intentions to build a Patriots-Esque culture is former Tennessee Titans CB Logan Ryan.
Ryan, 29, originally made his mark playing for New England under Bill Belichick before signing a 3YR/$30M deal with the Titans prior to the 2017 season. He’s stated that he won’t entertain offers paying him anything less than $10M per year.
At the moment, all signs are pointing to the Lions drafting Jeff Okudah (CB/Ohio State) third overall in April’s upcoming NFL Draft. However, the void left by a departing Christian Jones (LB) establishes a weakness for Detroit that must be filled.
In a perfect world, the Lions would sign Ryan, and either Clowney or Griffen. However, when reality sets in it will be easy to realize this isn’t fiscally possible.
Ryan is a playmaker much like the departed Slay and finished third in the league last season in pass defenses. It makes sense to reward him with a two or three-year deal at his requested $10M. In my opinion, he is approaching age 30 which ultimately is a risk for any team and wouldn’t warrant a raise from his previous contract.
Signing Ryan would diminish the Lions’ need to pursue Okudah, who doesn’t possess top-end speed for a cornerback (4.48/40YD) and according to NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper Jr., “isn’t too handsy” in coverage either.
This paves the way for Detroit to draft Isaiah Simmons (LB/Clemson), who is already being considered as a generation talent. He is bigger, faster (4.39/40YD), and stronger than the OSU corner, who just also happens to play a multitude of positions (LB, Edge, Nickel). The standout player performed well last fall during the College Football Playoff against top-tier opponents Ohio State and eventual champion LSU.
Equipped with a skill-set that allows Simmons to remain on the field for all three downs, the 2019 ACC Defensive Player of the Year and All-American can provide help in coverage (8 PDef/3INT) and in pass-rushing (7 Sacks) situations, which will ultimately be highlighted by his sideline-to-sideline tackling demeanor.
Simmons is a weapon, or jack-of-all-trades capable of mastering every core nuance on the defensive side of the ball. He is a can’t miss prospect with the potential to impact the Detroit Lions in a variety of ways on defense, which would ultimately be the strength of this upcoming season’s team.
The plan is simple and makes sense.
Pay Ryan and fill the big play void left by Slay.
Draft Simmons and breed him in that “Patriot Way” culture we keep hearing about to provide the defense with an identity for the next 10 seasons, while he wreaks havoc all over the field.
For the first time in the Super Bowl era, build a defense that will allow Detroit fans to relish hopes of winning now, and in the future.