The Detroit Lions are making their offseason plans, and while many are beginning to weigh which free agents should return, another side of the story revolves around those who should not.
Detroit has a ton of tough choices to make after a solid 9-8 season, and with more high draft picks coming and a team now seen as on the cusp of contention, things could get very interesting for the team soon.
Now, there won’t be as many easy choices for the Lions, who are going to be an in-demand destination for the future. As a result, the team could start to get choosy with which free agents they do return.
Which players do the Lions not need to make a major priority once the offseason gets underway? There’s more than a few names that the team’s brass should be remembering at this point in time.
Amani Oruwariye, Cornerback
In terms of obvious names that the Lions are likely to let walk, Amani Oruwariye’s has to be at the top of the pile thanks to his tough season in 2022.
After netting a career-high six interceptions in 2021, many wondered if the Lions could afford Oruwariye on an extension for the future. Instead, his play dropped significantly and he was benched much of the season, only seeing action in certain packages or if the Lions needed a player to come off the bench due to injury. He started just five games in 2022.
This is a disappointment to the Lions, who likely had hoped for a solid season out of Oruwaryie, who has a total of nine career interceptions and 173 tackles. Given that he only put up 44 tackles and three passes defended in 2022, the Lions are likely to look elsewhere for help at a needy position.
Will Harris, Safety/Cornerback
The opposite of Oruwariye this past season was Will Harris, who has played solid football at both cornerback and safety when being asked to switch roles. Mostly, though, Harris has transitioned to corner.
Even though Harris did well to re-invent himself after being moved off safety, it’s hard to make the case that he needs to come back. The Lions could stand to get more help this offseason in the secondary, and Harris not being elite at cornerback could hurt him.
This past season, Harris posted a total of 57 tackles and one interception, the first in his career. It came in the third quarter against Washington in Week 2
There’s an argument to be made that Harris could stay, but it seems like a wise bet for the Lions to move on at the position and go for a complete makeover.
Mike Hughes, Cornerback
The Lions have done well to take some short-term one-year fliers in free agency, but one that didn’t exactly pan out for the best was Mike Hughes.
Though he had a pedigree as a former first-round pick, Hughes didn’t exactly make the most of a major opportunity with the Lions. He wasn’t terrible statistically, but he didn’t make a huge impact on the season with just 51 tackles and one pass defended to go with no interceptions.
Hughes is a stable veteran player at a key position for depth, but the Lions could probably do better if they went cornerback shopping this offseason in terms of young players or veterans, which it seems they will be likely to do.
Austin Bryant, Defensive End
Detroit has seemingly started to renovate their defensive line, and Austin Bryant nearly didn’t make the roster last season. That could make him a player on the outs now.
Bryant struggled to make a big impact last season, posting just nine combined tackles and no sacks on the year. He managed to be outproduced by names such as John Cominsky and James Houston up front, either of whom could be given a larger role come next season.
Coming into 2021, Bryant had put up just 25 total tackles in his time in the NFL. In 2021, he managed to top that with 31 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Health played a role in his resurgence, and he was one of the more important Lions pass rushers in Dan Campbell’s first season. Arguably his biggest play was a blocked punt against Minnesota in 2020:
In spite of the good things Bryant has done, the team added depth up front, and could look to add even more in the draft. With Bryant’s injury history plus sparse production, that could make him a player that is pegged for a fresh start elsewhere.
Trinity Benson, Wide Receiver
The Lions are starting to build a deep wide receiver room, and with plenty of names that are set to come into their own in the future, snaps will start to be at a premium.
Trinity Benson was injured this season, and though he returned to the team after being cut and landing temporarily back in Denver, he hasn’t gotten the job done in terms of being a down the depth chart pass catcher. With just 10 receptions for 103 career yards, Benson hasn’t shown the consistency needed in the NFL.
The Lions have to make a decision on both Benson and Quintez Cephus, but the fact of the matter is, a player like Kalif Raymond has outplayed both of them at the same position with the team. Tom Kennedy has also shown more value.
That means the Lions should look elsewhere at wide receiver than Benson’s way for the third straight year.