By: Will Burchfield
GM Bob Quinn certainly hasn’t ruled that out, telling reporters last week, “We need more playmakers, bottom line,” and, “I think there are some of those top-end guys that we would like to take a shot at.”
In that regard, here’s a quick look at some of the best players available at the Lions’ key positions of need.
Summary: Detroit had trouble generating a pass rush throughout last season, finishing second to last in the NFL with 26 sacks. It was better against the run, yielding 106.3 yards per game, which was about league-average.
Target 1: Nick Perry, 26, GB
Perry tallied 11 sacks last season, and could team up with Ziggy Ansah to give the Lions’ a great one-two punch of edge rushers.
Target 2: Brandon Williams, 28, BAL
A durable nose tackle who hasn’t missed a game in three seasons, Williams would add some brawn and power to the interior of the defensive line.
Summary: The Lions struggled to defend the middle of the field last season, due in large part to a compromised linebacker corps. Between DeAndre Levy’s uncertain future and Tahir Whitehead’s up-and-down play, it’s a unit desperate for new faces.
Target 1: Dont’a Hightower, 26, NE
Hightower is the cream of the linebacker crop and will be paid as such. But he might be worth it for the Lions, who would benefit greatly from his sideline-to-sideline capabilities.
Target 2: Lawrence Timmons, 30, PIT
With Timmons’ age also comes a long history of success with the Steelers. His leadership could help Detroit’s linebackers turn a new leaf, and he still possesses the physical tools to make a difference on his own.
Summary: Teams had no trouble attacking Detroit’s secondary last season. The Lions surrendered 33 touchdowns through the air, the second most in the NFL, and a league-worst 106.5 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks.
Target 1: A.J. Bouye, 25, HOU
Bouye enjoyed a breakout year in 2016, totaling 63 tackles and 15 passes defended. He is an emerging star and, alongside Darius Slay, would give the Lions two at a critically important position in today’s NFL.
Target 2: Stephon Gilmore, 25, BUF
The Lions had just ten interceptions as a team last season; Gilmore had five on his own. His ball-hawking skills would be a great addition to a defense looking to create more turnovers in 2017.
Summary: If tackle Riley Reiff and guard Larry Warford both sign elsewhere – a distinct possibility – the Lions will have two gaping holes on the right side of their O-line. Neither Joe Dahl nor Laken Tomlinson inspire much confidence as in-house replacements.
Target 1: Ricky Wagner, 27, BAL
In terms of pass blocking, Wagner is arguably the best right tackle available. An offensive line bookended by he and Taylor Decker would be much to Matthew Stafford’s liking.
Target 2: T.J. Lang, 29, GB
Lang, like Wanger, would cost the Lions a pretty penny, but he’d be a boon to their dismal running game.
Summary: Outside of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones, the Lions are short on talent at wide receiver. They could desperately use a big red-zone target, especially if Anquan Boldin decides to retire.
Target 1: Alshon Jeffery, 27, CHI
Jeffery had a down year in 2016, but there’s no doubt he can go up and get it with the best of them. He’d offer Stafford a weapon in the vein of Calvin Johnson.
Target 2: Kenny Britt, 28, STL
Unlike Jeffrey, Britt is coming off a career year, posting personal bests in both receptions (68) and yards (1,002). Like Jeffrey, he’s a big-bodied receiver who can make plays in the air.
Summary: Only two teams were less efficient running the ball last season than the Lions, who averaged 3.7 yards per carry. The RB corps was severely hampered by injury, of course, and looking for reinforcements in free agency can be dicey. Nevertheless…
Target 1: Latavius Murray, 27 , OAK
Much has been made this offseason about the Lions’ need for a ‘banger’ at the running back position, and Murray certainly fits that mold. He’s a strong downhill runner who can be a bear to take down.
Target 2: Adrian Peterson, 31, MIN
It isn’t often that a player of Peterson’s caliber hits the open market. He’s on the backside of his prime and questions persist about his health, but there’s no doubt he’s still one of the best backs in the business.
Keep an eye on Quinn and the Lions when free agency kicks off later this week. The second-year GM proved last year he wasn’t averse to the splash signing when he landed Marvin Jones, and he has money to work with this year, too.
Whether that results in a couple big moves or several minor ones remains to be seen. But one thing’s for sure — change is on the horizon.
“Inevitably the team’s going to be different,” Quinn said last week. “That’s the thing in the National Football League, nowadays, that 30 to 35 percent of your team’s going to be different from year to year.
“I can’t tell you right now who’s going to be on our team, but I know we’re going to do a great job of improving the team and getting better than last year.”