NFL News & Analysis

2017 Free Agency Preview: Detroit Lions

DETROIT, MI - OCTOBER 23: Anquan Boldin #80 of the Detroit Lions and his teammates celebrate Boldin's game winning touchdown against the Washington Redskins at Ford Field on October 23, 2016 in Detroit, Michigan. The Lions defeated the Redskins 20-17. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

[Editor’s note: This preview was originally published on March 1, 2017, and updated on March 6 to reflect changes in the market do to franchise tags, re-signings, cuts, etc.]

What you need to know

The Lions must address a razor-thin defensive front-seven. They’ll likely ask OLB DeAndre Levy to take a pay cut, as his $8.225 million cap hit isn’t justified by his 265 combined snaps in 2015 and 2016. They’ll also need a solution at right tackle if Riley Reiff isn’t resigned.

Salary cap room

$31,875,242 (18th in NFL; as of 3/6/2017)

Biggest needs

  • Defensive lineman
  • Linebacker
  • Cornerback
  • Offensive tackle

Notable free agents

  • Larry Warford, OG, 82.0 overall grade in 2016
  • Riley Reiff, OT, 67.5
  • Anquan Boldin, WR, 72.0
  • Rafael Bush, S, 73.7

Must re-sign

Anquan Boldin, WR, 72.0 overall grade in 2016

Boldin was a reliable chain-mover and red-zone target for QB Matthew Stafford in 2016, as he tallied 69 catches and eight touchdowns for the Lions. He cost Detroit just $2.75 million against the cap last year, a number he’s unlikely to exceed with a new contract considering his age.

Dream splash

A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston Texans, 90.9

Bouye’s 90.9 overall grade was fourth among CBs in 2016. He had two interceptions and two pass breakups in Houston’s two playoff games, and totaled 17 defended passes for the season. Opposing QBs had a passer rating of just 58.5 against him, compared to 113.5 when targeting Detroit’s Nevin Lawson.

Top 2017 free agency prospects

Brandon Williams, DT, Baltimore, 75.9

Haloti Ngata was Detroit’s only interior defender to post a run-defense grade over 55.0 in 2016. While Williams doesn’t offer much as a pass-rusher, his three-year-average grade of 84.8 against the run would be a welcome addition. Last season Williams posted 30 run stops with just one missed tackle, and finished seventh in run-stop percentage among all defensive tackles.

Dont’a Hightower, LB, New England, 85.1

Expect Hightower to be a priority if he doesn’t resign with New England. Hightower is an every-phase player, and Lions’ general manager Bob Quinn will have a comfort level with him dating back to their time together with the Patriots. Coverage production was a major issue for the Lions in 2016, and Hightower’s average of 7.1 yards per reception allowed was the lowest mark among all linebackers with at least 15 targets against.

Kelvin Beachum, OT, Jacksonville, 44.3 (86.7 in 2014 with Pittsburgh)

Beachum’s 2016 tape clearly shows he wasn’t over the ACL injury that ended his 2015 campaign early. Because of this, he could be set for a rebound year, and could be the answer for Detroit at right tackle. In 2014 with Pittsburgh he gave up just 19 total pressures, and in six games in 2015 he yielded just six before succumbing to his injury.

2017 Free Agency Rankings
Top 50 free agents
Every 2017 free agent ranked by 2016 overall grade
10 free agents who can make an immediate impact
10 veteran free agents worth a one-year contract
10 sleeper free agents who could bring surprise upside
10 splash free-agent signings we’d like to see
Quarterback rankings
Running back rankings
Wide receiver rankings
Tight end rankings
Offensive linemen rankings
Edge defender rankings
Interior defender rankings
Cornerback rankings
Safety rankings
Linebacker rankings

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