Detroit, Michigan; home of the Lions, the football team we’ve all witnessed play through thick and thin. In my lifetime watching football, the Lions almost always seem like they’re near the bottom of the totem pole. I actually had high hopes for them last year in 2019. I thought Matt Patricia had a good team in front him of, and believed the NFC North was open to anybody. However, things fell apart for Detroit as they finished the year 3-12-1. Despite having one of the worst records this last season, the Lions are in a fantastic spot to turn things around. They currently have the 3rd overall pick in the upcoming draft, they’re looking to trade away Darius Slay and acquire even more picks, and are currently sitting at roughly $50 million in cap space (this can jump up to about $60 million once they trade away Slay). Additionally, the Lions offense is very close to becoming dominant, and they showed some flashes of brilliance at times last year.
Where Detroit fell short though, was their defense. They gave up more passing yards than anyone else at 4,551, and also gave up nearly 2000 rushing yards. They also had a difficult time creating turnovers, as they only forced 18 turnovers all year. Not to mention, teams scored at will agains the Lions, giving up 46 total touchdowns (33 of those through the air). So when it comes to their defense, the Detroit Lions have it cut out for them. The Lions are also in a tough division, where Green Bay finished a game away from the Super Bowl, the Vikings made the playoffs, and the Bears are only a few key pieces away from being a serious contender. With that being said, it’s going to be difficult for the Lions to make the adjustments necessary to win the NFC North. However, there is a real possibility they could sneak into the wildcard. Here are what I think the Lions front office should do to make the playoffs next year.
Trade Darius Slay
Now this shouldn’t come to you as a shocker, as Slay has been on the trading block since the end of the season. Even though Darius is one of the better cornerbacks in the league, Detroit needs to deal him away as soon as possible so they can game plan their draft strategy more effectively. This will be a huge trade, as whoever acquires Slay will have a drastically better secondary. For the Lions, this would clear up some cap space and give them an additional 1-2 picks in the upcoming draft. As much as I like Slay, this could be a great maneuver by the Lions front office, but only if the guys they draft turn into future stars. One team I can see making a play for Slay, is the Miami Dolphins. They have the draft picks necessary to make the deal enticing to the Lions, and they have the cap space necessary to give Darius what he wants – a big contract. Don’t expect a 2020 first rounder in the deal, but whatever the Lions receive should be worth it.
Clean Up the Offense
According to ESPN, the Detroit Lions offense ranked 19th overall. Not the worst, but certainly not the best. The one thing the Lions have going for them though, is the offense is pretty close to becoming dangerous. Stafford’s still got it, and it doesn’t seem like it matters who the receivers are for him to sling it around the field. Kerryon Johnson needs some help, and the offensive line could bulk up too.
Going into free agency, I think the first move for the Lions would be to acquire one of the top offensive tackles available. Now there’s a good amount of options they have, but I think it would come down to either Jack Conklin, Anthony Castonzo, or Bryan Bulaga. Conklin is looking like he may be receiving one of the largest contracts for a tackle in NFL history, so if the Lions are smart, I think they should lean towards Castonzo or Bulaga. Both of these guys are 31, so they still have at least 2-3 (really) good years left before their abilities start declining. For the Lions, I don’t think it matters which of the two they sign, as long as they have one of them on the team. Adding a top tackle to this already pretty good offensive line is only going to help Stafford throw the ball, and Kerryon Johnson run it.
As far as the running back position goes, I feel like the Lions are constantly unlucky with the guys they draft. Don’t get me wrong, I really like Johnson and think he still has potential to be a good back in the league. Even so, he hasn’t really done anything that would make me comfortable to say that he’s the right guy for the job right now. Based off their lack of luck in drafting RB’s, I think Detroit should look towards the free agent market. They definitely shouldn’t break the bank for anybody, but they shouldn’t pick up a chump either. What makes the most sense to me, would be either Melvin Gordon, or Jordan Howard. Considering how the RB market is right now in the NFL (except I’m pretty sure Derrick Henry is going to receive a massive deal), the Lions should be able to acquire Gordon or Howard for a decent price. Sure, they may be a little more expensive than you’d like, but these guys would give Stafford that RB he needs to help him open up the passing game, and control the clock.
Defense! (Clap, Clap) Defense! (Clap, Clap)…
Now that the offense is addressed, the Lions desperately need help on the defensive side of the ball. They cut Damon “Snacks” Harrison, and they’re trading away Darius Slay. So this team is obviously is looking to rebuild. Based off what I’ve said already, it’s pretty realistic for the Lions to still have roughly $30-$35 million of cap space left over after signing their star tackle and running back. The Lions currently don’t have any real threats in their front seven, so I think the first move would be to sign one of the top defensive tackles available. I think DJ Reader would be a fantastic pickup for this Lions defense, or possibly even Arik Armstead, who is finally playing up to his first round pick potential. Either one of these guys would boost the defense incredibly, making a great first step in the rebuilding process.
From there, the Lions should be looking to add depth, and veteran presence. Simply put, use the rest of the free agency to find guys who can come in and compete for a starting spot. This creates an atmosphere of guys all fighting and competing against each other for playing time, which makes for a hungry defense ready to prove itself against their opponents. This would be a perfect scenario for a Lions team that drastically needs help on that side of the ball.
The NFL Draft
The most exciting time of the NFL offseason. This year, the Lions have the 3rd pick overall, which puts them in a great spot to pick up a truly talented player. Now we can only assume what the Bengals and Redskins do with the 1 and 2 picks, but I think there’s one guy that would create havoc from the get-go for this Detroit defense. I think the best option for this Lions defense is to draft Isaiah Simmons, the linebacker out of Clemson. This dude is a freak and will be in the running for defensive rookie of the year. The kid is 6’4″ and 225 pounds, and clocked in one of the most impressive combines we’ve seen to date. Not only that, but he played over 100 snaps for five different positions throughout the 2019 season, wracking up 104 total tackles, 7 sacks, a forced fumble and recovery, as well as 3 picks. According to NFL scouts, he’s a natural born leader, and the guy is just excited to play football. He’s someone I think the Lions could use on defense and build around to create an identity.
After drafting Simmons, the Lions will have 7-9 more picks (depends on what they receive in the Darius Slay trade). Considering their defense still needs some help, I think it would be wise of the front office to go defense heavy in this draft. I’d like to see them draft a CB and/or a safety. I’d like to see them add an edge rusher or even another interior defensive lineman. They should also consider drafting a wide receiver, as it wouldn’t hurt to acquire a prospect for the future years to come.
The Long, Hard Road to the Playoffs
Now the Lions have their roster ready, with a stacked offensive line and a new running back, Detroit’s offense could make the jump from 19th overall, up to the top ten. That offense is ready to attack and could be a scoring machine, which should help them win more games in 2020. In addition to that, the defense found a DT in free agency, and drafted a defensive anchor in Isaiah Simmons. They also acquired a few other rookies and veteran players to create a hungry defense that wants to prove itself. Like I mentioned, this defense last year finished near last in 2019, but with these acquisitions paired with Patricia’s defensive mind, they could make the jump from last, to about 18th-20th. It would be nearly impossible for this defense to flip it around a full 180 degrees, but I think this jump into the top 20 would help this team tremendously. It could be enough for the Lions to be a dangerous wildcard team in the NFC.