The Detroit Lions have been busy in free agency, but have they been doing the right work? Many are split on that fact, and aren’t sure if the team has done the best possible job they could to add players.
Recently, Pro Football Focus took a look at grading every team’s haul, and when writer Anthony Treash put the Lions under the microscope, he found that the team has done in his estimation a below average job as it relates to filling out their roster.
The reason? Mostly the trade of Darius Slay. Other than that, the Lions did decently well in other areas. Here’s a look:
“Signing Desmond Trufant was a good move on Detroit’s part, but trading away Darius Slay was not. Slay had a down year from a grading perspective, but he’s been one of the NFL’s best cornerbacks since 2014. Instead of paying him, they paid tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai a whopping $50 million over five years. Vaitai wasn’t a bad run-blocker on his 209 run-block snaps in 2019, having posted a 76.2 run-block grade, but he’s been wildly inconsistent during his four-year career and a rather poor pass-protector. In his two years prior to 2019, Vaitai performed below a replacement-player level.
On the bright side of their week, the Lions made a great move in acquiring Duron Harmon, who has been great in coverage throughout the entirety of his career. He’s totaled up 31 pass breakups and interceptions and has been responsible for only 47 catches allowed. He has produced an above-average coverage in every single one of his seven seasons.
Jamie Collins is a high-risk, high-reward type of acquisition for Detroit. After playing fairly well with the Patriots during the first three and a half years of his career from 2013 to mid-2016, Collins move on to Cleveland where his career spiraled a bit. He spent the first eight weeks of 2016 in New England and had an 82.9 overall grade before being traded to Cleveland for the remainder of the season. There, his grade dropped to 54.2, and he subsequently posted the worst marks of his career in his two full seasons with the Browns in 2017-18. Collins then returned to New England in 2019 and got back to form, ranking as the 12th most valuable linebacker in the league. Hopefully, playing in a near-mirror defense with Matt Patricia’s Lions helps Collins remain that same great player.”
The proof will be in the pudding if these moves end up benefitting the team. Some could pay off for the Lions in the long run.
Lions Called NFC North Free Agency Winner
Not everyone shares this take. Bleacher Report revealed its winners of free agency from every division, and the Lions were the choice for the NFC North. Writer Maurice Moton likes what the Lions have been able to do thus far. Here’s a look at what he wrote:
“The Detroit Lions became the New England Patriots of the Midwest this week. The team signed linebacker Jamie Collins and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who will likely replace Devon Kennard and A’Shawn Robinson, respectively. The front office also acquired Duron Harmon via trade.
Lions head coach Matt Patricia coached two of those players when he served as the defensive coordinator in New England. Clearly, the 45-year-old lead skipper will attempt to recreate what the Patriots had during his tenure with the club.
Collins can match Kennard’s impact near the pocket and provide more to the pass defense. In addition to seven sacks, he logged seven pass breakups and three interceptions during the 2019 term.
Shelton didn’t play under Patricia in New England, but he had his best season last term, registering career highs in sacks (three) and tackles (61) as a solid run-stopper with an occasional flash near the pocket. The 26-year-old should bolster the Lions’ 21st-ranked run defense.
Harmon has developed into a versatile safety with above-average ball skills in center field. Over the last three seasons, he’s recorded 10 interceptions in primarily a reserve role, though the 29-year-old has played at least 61 percent of the defensive snaps in each of those campaigns.
At safety, Harmon could alternate snaps with Will Harris alongside Tracy Walker.
Detroit lost multiple players in free agency and replaced them with guys who know Patricia’s scheme, which is crucial for a defense that ranked 26th in scoring and allowed the second-most yards last year.
The Lions released right tackle Rick Wagner and saved $6.1 million against the cap. The front office put that cash toward Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s five-year, $50 million deal. That’s a risky investment for a four-year veteran with just 20 starts, but the 6’6″, 320-pound tackle could seal the edge for outside runs and engulf edge-rushers on his side of the line.”
Detroit has been busy in free agency thus far, and obviously, the most active of all the teams in the division. This action helps the team be able to claim themselves as the best of the best through this point of the offseason in at least one publication.
Lions Free Agency Signings
The Lions have reached reported free agency agreements with offensive lineman Halapoulivaati Vaitai, linebacker Jamie Collins, quarterback Chase Daniel and defensive lineman Nick Williams. Additionally, they’ve added Danny Shelton, Desmond Trufant and Jayron Kearse. Duron Harmon is coming in via trade. The group upgrades some important spots on the team, and will help the Lions boost the spots that are most needed for 2020. The Lions have managed to get things going quickly and effectively this offseason in free agency to be able to try and reshape their team.
It’s true the defense has been the biggest positive in terms of a remake at the spot, and that might help the team get better as a whole.
Lions Defense Named Free Agency Winner
One side of the ball that needed the most change was the defense. After a horrible pair of seasons under Matt Patricia, there’s already been some big changes on that side of the ball. How will that impact the team when all is said and done? The returns will be very positive if this new piece is to be right.
In a piece breaking down some winners and losers of free agency, Pro Football Focus and writer Ben Linsey took a closer look at what the Lions have done, and found them to be a winner. Here’s a look at what he wrote on that:
“The spotlight is on Darius Slay, particularly after he publicly acknowledged last night that he wants out of Detroit, and as of Thursday morning, a deal has been put in place to send Slay to the Eagles. That is not ideal for the Lions. Despite the down year from a grading standpoint in 2019 (56.4 PFF grade), Slay remains one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL. During the five-year stretch from 2014 to 2018, he ranked eighth among qualifying cornerbacks in overall grade, and he routinely draws shadow assignments against the opposing team’s best wide receiver, making those results all-the-more impressive.
As all that trade speculation took place, the Lions went about improving their coverage to soften the blow of his inevitable loss. They signed former New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, a player who has been outstanding in coverage and as a blitzer for New England over his career but struggled when traded to the Cleveland Browns. He’s an intriguing option for a Lions team that needed an injection of talent into their linebacking corps. The hope is that the transition to Matt Patricia’s defense is smoother than the one Collins made four seasons ago in Cleveland.
Detroit then addressed the secondary with two more moves, trading for Patriots safety Duron Harmon (shocker, I know) and signing former Atlanta Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant. Both players were drafted in 2013, and neither has recorded an overall grade of 65.0 or lower over the course of their NFL careers, rarely dipping below 70.0.
Harmon has been a rangy playmaker on the back end of the Patriots’ defense at free safety. He is one of just eight safeties with 10 or more regular-season interceptions over the past three seasons. Trufant is a 6-foot cornerback who came into the NFL with sub-4.4 speed, and he figures to fit well into a Lions defense that plays a lot of press-man coverage. He’s not quite the same player as Slay, but he has shown in Atlanta that he is fully capable of being the No. 1 guy on the outside. Both players, along with Collins, should improve the Lions coverage in 2020 despite the loss of their top player.”
The Lions still theoretically have a hole at pass rusher and could need another cornerback. All those issues can be straightened out in the draft, which could help the Lions over the top in terms of getting their most important side of the ball turned around.
Even though it’s early on in the offseason, the Lions could be huge winners as it relates to remaking their roster in a key way. That could be true even if many folks think they have done below average work.
READ NEXT: Lions Lose Key Special Teams Player