With the very recent blockbuster trade that see’s Jared Goff land in Detroit along with a tonne of picks, I thought it would be worth taking a look at how the Lions might rebuild during this upcoming season. They have their work cut out, and they’re looking at a multi year rebuild, but you have to start somewhere…
Split into three part, just as we did with the Saints. Roster management, free agency, and the draft. Dan Campbell and his coaches will have plenty to assess in the offseason, and a lot of decisions to make.
To quickly recap the salary cap situation, it’s currently at $198,000,000, and the experts believe it could come down to around $176,000,000, meaning teams will need to ‘trim the fat’ to meet the demands of the league.
The Lions predicted cap pre Stafford Goff trade sat at around $187,000,000. Goff and Staffords contracts for this season will technically off set each other, so the trade man for man doesn’t make a drastic change to the salary cap.
With work to do, let’s get it started.
Let’s start with Trey Flowers. Because that contract needs restructuring. The Lions can save up to $9,000,000 by reworking his deal and should absolutely do so to allow themselves the freedom to pay some of the talent they’re about to lose. I think the Lions should keep Flowers, he’s a great cornerstone for a rebuilding defence, and he’s only 27 years old. So keep him around, but rework the deal so you can untie yourselves.
You also really need to do something with the contract for, hold on let me check the spelling, Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Great name, horrific contract. The Lions paid Vaitai as a starting franchise tackle, despite the fact he’d never been a starter before in the league. He backed up Lane Johnson at right tackle for the Eagles, and he wasn’t great when he played. But alas, the Lions gave him $50,000,000 to start, which he just about managed for half a season until they moved him inside to guard for poor performance. If you can rework this deal, you should, and it’d save anywhere up to $6,000,000. You can’t cut or trade him. Cutting would cost you money, and if you try to trade him you’re going to get offered peanuts if anything at all because he’s a non starter on starter money.
These are the only restructures I’d really worry about for now.
- Trey Flowers: +$9,000,000
- Halapoulivaati Vaitai: +$6,000,000
Cap situation: $172,000,000
It’s time for a turn around for the Lions. Which means they need to trim back the bushes before they allow them to grow again. There’s a few guys I feel we’re unlikely to see return for the 2021 season. Dan Campbell and his newly assembled ensemble of coaches will be analysing their team throughout the off season, but need to know what they’re working with prior to free agency and the draft.
First on the list is defensive tackle Nick Williams. The cut will save the Lions $5,000,000, and only leave around $1,000,000 in dead money. Production was minimal for Williams this season, he’s only got one year left on his deal, and I’d imagine he’ll be moved on.
Desmond Trufant i’d also expect to be cut. The Lions signed Trufant in free agency to replace Darius Slay. After an injury troubled season kept him sidelined for Atlanta the previous year, Trufant struggled on the field, and struggled to stay there. He missed a chunk of time for the Lions with a hamstring issue in 2020. Now halfway through his two year deal, the Lions might look for a trade partner, and likely won’t find one, so Trufant will be cut and resign elsewhere to a vet deal. He’s still a capable corner, but not currently worth the money the Lions are paying him. Cutting him will save slightly less than a trade would, but still up to $6,000,000 made available.
Other potential cuts include linebacker Christian Jones, back up QB Chase Daniel and tight end Jesse James, which would accumulate another $7-10,000,000 in cap space.
There’s a chance maybe Justin Coleman gets cut too, as he’s also on a large contract, and Amani Oruwariye played almost every snap in 2020. Oruwariye was drafted in 2019 and slowly made his way up the depth chart. But Coleman gives them experience and means they don’t need to be so worried about corners in the off season. They can instead turn their attention to safeties on the back end.
- Cut Nick Williams – +$5,000,000
- Cut Desmond Trufant – $6,000,000
- Cut Jones, Daniel and James – +$8,000,000
*All figures are estimates based on max potential savings.
Only one real trade I can imagine here, and that’s Jamie Collins. Again, he’s on a lot of money, and I’m not sure it warrants the value. If the Lions can grab a pick in exchange for him, it might be something worth considering. Collins is due to earn over $11,000,000 this season, and a late round pick might warrant another team taking him off the Lions hands. Now 31 years old, maybe they keep him for the experience and to create some leadership on defence, but if it was me, in this situation, i’d look to move him, and in doing so save over $6,000,000
- Trade Jamie Collins: +$6,000,000
A nice position to be in allowing you the space to negotiate with some of your free agents, and add a couple of extras if need be during the off season. The Lions are in full rebuild right now, and it’ll likely take a couple of years, so start here, and rebuild from a strong position with some cap room, and not too many large contracts. Vaitai will still haunt them though.
The Lions core issue is the fact that somehow they’ve allowed their entire receiving cores contracts to expire all at the same time. Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr, Jamal Agnew, Mohamed Sanu and Danny Amendola are all currently free agents. Clearing cap space is absolutely pivotal to allow yourselves to resign at least one of either Golladay or Marvin Jones Jr. I’d imagine it’ll be Golladay they look to offer, now 27 years old, you can offer him a 3 or 4 year deal without too many concerns. Marvin Jones is 30, so a little less reliable for the long term. Agnew is young, they might keep him on a fairly team friendly deal as a contributor, but I’d be surprised if they bring back either Amendola or Sanu. Sanu only signed late in the year to help bolster the depth at the position.
Then I wonder if they’ll also bring back Adrain Peterson. I thought about looking to move Kerryon Johnson, as D’Andre Swift had such a great rookie season. But Johnson’s deal is a small price to pay, so why not keep him around in 2021. As for Peterson, the ageless wonder… having him on your roster doesn’t hurt. If he wants to stay, keep him!
Other notable free agents it’s looking likely that’ll resign include linebacker Jarrad Davis, who’ll contribute but is unlikely to be the main starter at inside linebacker.
If Duron Harmon is not to resign, then there’s a hole at safety the Lions will definitely need to address. Harmon played the majority of safety snaps with a combination of Tracy Walker and Jayron Kearse in 2020, but the vet is now a free agent and might attract offers from elsewhere.
As for Everson Griffen, i’d resign him too for a small deal if you can. The 33 year old had 3.5 sacks in 7 games for the Lions in 2020 after switching from the Cowboys mid season. He provides veteran pass rush and likely wouldn’t cost too much. No longer an every down contributor, but you can work him in on rotation.
So to summarise, key resignings:
- Resign Kenny Golladay
- Resign Jamal Agnew
- Resign Jarrad Davis
- Resign Adrian Peterson
- Resign Everson Griffen
There will of course be added depth players too, but these are the key re-signings as I see it right now.
When you’re rebuilding, it’s difficult to go after the top free agents, and if you do, you’ll have to pay them top dollar to beat out the teams who are in immediate contention for a playoff spot. I’m not sure that’s the Lions this season. I don’t think we should expect that, so any top free agent is going to warrant a premium. Look at the Jets signing Leveon Bell and CJ Mosley last year, both huge contracts, neither worked out. Be careful with your money in free agency. This is exactly how the Lions ended up with very heavy contracts for Jamie Collins, Trey Flowers and. of course, Vaitai. I’d expect them to be fairly sensible but here’s a couple of potential signings I like the idea of.
You need safety help, especially if Harmon is leaving. Of course, this speculation will depend on whether current free agents resign with their respective teams, but if they don’t, i’d look at Malik Hooker or Keanu Neal. Both have had some injury issues and struggled to stay healthy, but still have good talent when they’re playing. If you get a full season out of one of these two, they’re good players. The injury history will reduce the contract fees and should mean they’re not too expensive to add to a depleted safety roster. Hooker is still only 25, and Keanu Neal 26. Other options include vets such as DJ Swearinger, Jahleel Addae and Tavon Wilson. Maybe you replace Harmon with another vet who can offer some guidance. I’d definitely expect the position to be addressed though.
I wouldn’t push for much more in FA. I’d imagine the Lions will be fairly quiet. They could do with a franchise middle linebacker to build their defence around, but the available market is very limited, which will also be a contributing factor in the signing of Jarrad Davis.
Sign Malik Hooker – $6,000,000 a year deal.
With the draft scenarios, i run them live on the Mock Draft Machine. So let’s see who’s available to the Lions… We’ll attack the first three rounds and I think here the priority should be defence. However, the Lions could also do with a stud receiver to compliment Golladay, and a tackle. Outside of that, their offence isn’t bad at all.
Round 1 – Pick 7
Penei Sewell – OT Oregon
This is a very real scenario the Lions could find themselves in. Interestingly, the Bengals pass on Penei Sewell and go with Devonta Smith. Chase went off the board at 3 to the Dolphins, which leaves Jaylen Waddle top of the receiver board. I love Waddle, but there’s absolutely no way you can pass on Penei Sewell here. He can drop right in at right tackle, and you can keep Vaitai inside to limit any exposure to him getting dominated by edge rushers. It’s unlikely the Bengals go for a receiver if Sewell is available, but here we find ourselves!
Round 2 – Pick 33 (trade with the Jags from 39)
Rondale Moore – WR Purdue
There’s a slight panic trade going on here. The problem is all the receivers who warrant a first round pick or very early second round pick are starting to disappear and the only one left at this point is Rondale Moore out of Purdue. So the Lions bunch together a couple of picks, jump up a few spots and steal him from under the nose of any other teams thinking they’ll nab him. I’d be happy with this as a Lions fan, after the likes of Toney, Moore and Terrance Marshall, there’s a bit of a drop off before receivers start to be mentioned again.
Round 3 – Pick 71
Jabril Cox – LB LSU
Cox is a cover linebacker, who needs to improve against the run, but i think it would make sense here to add some young, fresh linebacker blood to the position room. Cox could be a very good cover linebacker in the NFL, with a high motor. He might just bring the energy to that defence and take it up a notch. I like the prospect of Cox a lot.
All hypothetical of course…