Remaining Players On The Open Market That Could Fit The Lions Post-Draft Needs.
In Lions general manager Bob Quinn’s recent post-draft press conference, he had an interesting comment about the Lions turning their attention towards remaining veteran free agents, now that the draft if over. As a matter of fact, he even stated that the Lions are actively in talks with some veteran free agents. Here is a list of who these mystery free agents could possibly be.
Johnathan Hankins, Interior Defensive Lineman
2017 stats: 44 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 passes defended
Hankins spent the 2017 season with the Indianapolis Colts after signing a big three year, $30 million contract with them last offseason. However, due to scheme changes this offseason, the Colts decided to cut Hankins a few weeks ago.
Hankins doesn’t offer a ton as a pass rusher (just 12 sacks in five seasons), but he is a decent at pushing the pocket. His real value comes in the run game, where he helped the Colts become the 8th best rushing defense by yards per carry. He also received a high quality grade from Pro Football Focus and was their 20th ranked defensive lineman of the 2017 season. He could help the Lions greatly in this area if Bob Quinn was to sign him.
Tamba Hali, Outside Linebacker
2017 stats: 1 tackle
Tamba Hali is a long time NFL vet. Drafted in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft, he has made 89.5 career sacks along with 33 forced fumbles. He also made the pro bowl five times in his career.
However, Hali’s play has declined over the last few seasons, with just 3.5 sacks in 2016 and one a single tackle in 2017. It is possible that he still has something left as a situational pass rusher, but I would be surprised to see Detroit, or really any team sign him given his massive dip in production.
Robert Ayers, Defensive End
2017 stats: 31 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
Robert Ayers is another veteran player, although he likely has more left in the tank than Hali. He averages just under five sacks per season over the last seven years, and is also a very solid player in run defense.
From the 2013-2016 seasons, Ayers had at least five sacks each year. However, in 2017, his production dropped to only two sacks in 10 games. Despite this, Pro Football Focus was remarkably high on him, ranking him as the 10th best defensive end in the entire NFL.
Ayers could be a very good signing for the Lions. He has potential to still be an alright defensive end/outside linebacker, and could be great depth if current Lions Kerry Hyder and Anthony Zettel out perform expectations and hold onto starting roles.
Willie Young, Edge
2017 stats: 7 tackles, 2 sacks
Detroit fans may remember Willie Young from when he was a member of the Lions from 2010-2013. Since then, he has played for the Chicago Bears and had a career renaissance, averaging eight sacks per season from 2014-2016.
Last seasons, Willie Young only played in four games before a triceps injury forced him to miss the remainder of the season. In those four games, he was still productive, making two sacks.
Returning to Detroit could make sense for Young. The Lions need help in the pass rushing department, and their new multiple defensive scheme under coach Matt Patricia could be a much better fit for Young than the 4-3 defense they ran in Young’s first stint here under Jim Schwartz.
Shea McClellin, Linebacker
2017 stats: N/A
Shea McClellin is a former first round pick for the Chicago Bears who never lived up to expectations. However, when he signed with the Patriots in the 2016 season, he played the best football of his career, with 39 tackles and one sack in four starts. The Patriots defensive coordinator that season was new Lions head coach Matt Patricia. McClellin is a highly athletic linebacker with pass rushing ability.
McClellin sat out all of the 2017 season with supposed concussion issues. If that is indeed the case, it would likely be best for McClellin to retire from football altogether. However, if he is medically cleared and does want to continue playing, reuniting with Matt Patricia could make sense for both sides.
Jared Crick, Interior Defensive Lineman
2017 stats: N/A
Jared Crick is an interior defensive lineman with some upside as a pass rusher. Over his last three seasons, he had 8.5 sacks while starting 46 games. Crick is also a good player against the run, totaling 157 tackles in that time. Like the Lions own A’Shawn Robinson, Crick has a knack for deflecting passes at the line of scrimmage, with 14 in that same period.
Crick sat out all of the 2017 season due to a back injury. Because of this, nobody could really say how productive Crick could be if the Lions were to sign him. He was still a very solid player in 2016 though, and could absolutely be worth taking a shot on with Detroit’s lack of interior defensive depth.
Lamarr Houston, Defensive Lineman
2017 stats: 17 tackles, 5 sacks, 1 forced fumble, 1 defensive touchdown
Over Houston’s eight NFL seasons, he has managed to sack opposing quarterback’s 30.5 times. Perhaps his biggest strength is his versatility: he has gone through many scheme changes in his career and has played anywhere from outside linebacker, to defensive end, to defensive tackle.
At this point in his career, Houston seems like he may just be a worse version of Devon Kennard, a player the Lions signed earlier this offseason. Houston could be good depth, but he really doesn’t bring a lot to the table at this point in his career.
Connor Barwin, Edge
2017 stats: 34 tackles, 5 sacks
Barwin has also had a long, productive NFL career. His best seasons came with the Texans in 2011 and Eagles in 2014 when he had 11.5 and 14.5 sacks. Outside of those two years, he has also had five or more sacks in four other seasons.
Last season, Barwin started 13 games for the Rams, and had pretty average statistics. However, Pro Football Focus was much lower on him, giving him a poor grade of just 42.6 and calling ranking him the 103rd edge player in the NFL. Barwin could be good depth for the Lions in 2018, but is likely not an upgrade over what they already have.
Ricky Jean-Francois, Defensive Lineman
2017 stats: 12 tackles
Jean-Francois is the definition of a journeyman defensive lineman. He has played for five teams in his nine year career, with his longest stint being four years with the 49ers. Jean-Francois spent last season with the Patriots, where he was good depth and played in the Superbowl. Jean-Francois even made a sack in the playoffs against the Tennessee Titans.
Earlier this offseason, their were rumors of Jean-Francois signing with the Lions, but nothing ever actually came of them. Jean-Francois is by no means a world beater, but he could be a solid addition to the Lions defensive front. Last season, Pro Football Focus gave him an average grade of 76.9.
Antonio Gates, Tight End
2017 stats: 30 receptions, 316 yards, 3 touchdowns
Gates is a 15 year NFL veteran who has made eight Pro Bowl’s and been named a first team all pro three times. At this point in his career, he doesn’t offer a lot in terms of blocking, but can still be an effective receiving tight end.
While the Lions signed tight ends Luke Willson and Levine Toilolo this offseason, Gates is still a better player than either of them. Gates was born in Detroit, and the Chargers recently informed him that they do not intend to re-sign him. This could make the Lions an excellent fit for Gates if they are willing to cut one of Toilolo or second year tight end Michael Roberts.