With the Lions limping into the playoffs & quickly exiting the playoffs, it is now time for General Manager Bob Quinn & company to move ahead & look to continue to improve the roster.
The Lions have secured the 21st spot in the first round of 2017 NFL Draft, which takes place April 27-29 in Philadelphia, PA. In early mock drafts, Defensive Tackle, Defensive End Cornerback & the occasional Running Back have been the most often choice of experts for the Lions, but this first round pick will be dictated upon what the team is able to do in free agency first.
With the decision being made last week to bring back Jim Caldwell & his coaching staff, there shouldn’t be much focus on anything but signing free agents & evaluating draft talent for the Lions.
The Lions have 19 of their own free agents, some of which should be resigned, most importantly being Larry Warford at RG, coming off his strongest season since his rookie year in 2013 (and healthiest) and Riley Rieff at RT, who was middle of the road at best, but such an important position, the Lions should look to keep him in the fold.
Also, potential re-signings include Anquan Boldin, who had two terrible personal fouls in the playoff loss to Seattle, but does bring a veteran presence & led the team in 1st down catches made on 3rd down, with 20.
The Lions also have some potential depth at Linebacker, if they bring back Jon Bostic & he can actually play in 2017 & Josh Bynes, who did a solid, not great, job in 2016.
Defensive Tackle will be a position of focus in free agency and possibly also in the draft, with Haloti Ngata yet another year older & Stefan Charles, Tyrunn Walker & Khyri Thornton all free agents, there is a large (pun intended) void of depth & talent there.
Defensive End will be a focal point as well, as 2016 breakout Kerry Hyder, 2015 breakout star & 2016 disappointment Devin Taylor are both free agents, the team will need someone to start opposite Ezekial Ansah on the edge.
The Lions also showed how vulnerable they are at Cornerback if Darius Slay is hurt, as the team struggled mightily to stop passing attacks with out their top CB option. A starter opposite Slay as well as some depth improvement is very much needed for this team in 2017.
Looking ahead at possible free agents in 2017, the class is loaded with top-end talent, at positions of need for the Lions. According to overthecap.com the Lions project to have about $40million in cap space for use in free agency.
There are many players at positions that Lions are not interested in, like QB Kirk Cousins, WR Alshon Jeffrey, RB Le’Veon Bell. But A.J. Bouye, Houston Texans soon to be free agent CB and Kawann Short, Carolina Panthers soon to be free agent DT could be seen as potential home run signings for the Lions.
Both Bouye & Short expect to be near the top of the list for largest contracts signed this off-season & that could keep the Lions away, as there is too much need at too many positions to hand out a large, salary cap eating contract to just a single defensive player.
Handing out large contract that would entice either Short or Bouye in the same year the Lions need to re-sign Matthew Stafford may not even be possible, but there are plenty of players that could help the Lions in 2017 with out breaking the bank.
The Lions could draft a DT in the first round, resign one of their own free agents & hope that A’Shawn Robinson continues to improve while Ngata doesn’t see much of a drop off, despite his age.
The Lions could also bring back Kerry Hyder opposite Ansah & sign a player like former Ram & Patriot Chris Long, who could provide experience & depth behind them.
At CB, the Lions could look at a veteran like Terence Newman, who provided solid play for the Vikings this year, similar to what Rashid Mathis has provided the Lions in the past.
Prince Amukamara (Jaguars), Captain Munnerlyn (Vikings) & Morris Claiborne (Cowboys) are higher end Cornerback options at a level below A.J. Bouye, but would still be able to step in & start immediately opposite Slay in the defensive backfield or a veteran still hanging around like Newman or Leon Hall (Giants) could be brought in while the Lions look to develop their own young CBs for another season.
With the coaching staff set for another year (barring Teryl Austin leaving for a head coaching job) the Lions have some work to do to a roster that was not nearly deep enough in 2016 to deal with all of the injuries suffered. Bob Quinn should be up to task & if his 2017 draft is anything like his first draft in 2016 and he’s able to bring in some veterans in key positions that can still contribute, like Anquan Boldin did this year, the Lions could be even better in 2017.