Lions Urged to Sign $42 Million Defensive End in Edge Rush ‘Overhaul’

Cleveland Browns Za'Darius Smith

Getty Cleveland Browns DE Za'Darius Smith celebrates a sack.

The Detroit Lions made some significant improvements to their defense in 2023, though their pass rush was often a point of inconsistency.

With the Lions likely headed to an overhaul of their edge-rushing group this offseason, USA Today’s Jeff Risdon believes a three-time Pro Bowler could be a logical addition as a counterpart to standout Aidan Hutchinson. Risdon noted that former Cleveland Browns edge rusher Za’Darius Smith could be an “under-the-radar” addition to provide some of the veteran leadership that the Lions will be losing this offseason.

Lions Tapped to Add ‘Productive’ Veteran

Risdon noted that the Lions will likely see some significant changes to their pass-rushing group this offseason, with some veterans expected to depart in free agency.

“With the Lions overhauling the EDGE position —Julian Okwara is already in Philadelphia, and both his brother Romeo Okwara and Charles Harris are free agents — the Lions could be in the market for a more productive veteran looking for one last shot at a Super Bowl. That’s Smith,” Risdon wrote.

Risdon noted that Smith appears to be getting little attention ahead of the start of free agency in March, especially for a player who has 15.5 sacks over the last two seasons. That could be in part because of his dropoff in 2023, when Smith had just 5.5 sacks and 27 total tackles while playing alongside the more productive Myles Garrett.

But Smith could still be a strong addition to a team that struggled to find a consistent pass rusher opposite Hutchinson. The second-year Hutchinson had 11.5 sacks — close to 30% of the team’s total. No other player had more than 5 sacks on the year.

Smith could bring the consistency that the rest of the unit outside of Hutchinson lacked, Risdon wrote.

“Smith, now 33, is no longer the Pro Bowler from the Packers a few years ago that Lions fans might recall,” he wrote. “However, he’s still an effective outside-in pass rusher who can finish in the backfield and plays with positional discipline.”

Smith is two years removed from signing a three-year, $42-million deal with the Minnesota Vikings, but could be a more affordable addition for the Lions after signing with the Browns last year on a one-year, $10.5-million contract.

Lions Making Additions to Defense

The Lions have already started making some moves on defense, signing Canadian Football League standout Mathieu Betts to a contract. The CFL’s former Most Outstanding Defensive Player recorded 18 sacks in 18 games for the B.C. Lions last year, picking the Lions over other NFL suitors.

“He had offers in both leagues and ultimately the fit in Detroit, they’ve had continued interest in him ever since he worked out for them,” Betts’ agent, Sasha Ghavami, told the Detroit Free Press.

“There’s a really good fit. I think he fits the type of player they look for in terms of high-energy, high-motor, going to give it his all. And I think for him it was another opportunity to go in the NFL and make your way through it. He’s confident in his abilities and I think he just wants the opportunity.”

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