Detroit Lions Free Agency Outlook: Addressing THREE Key Areas


As the NFL’s free agency negotiation window opens Monday, teams will have the green light to start discussions with soon-to-be unrestricted free agents. This period precedes the official commencement of free agency on Wednesday at 4:00 PM EST. For the Detroit Lions, still reeling from their narrow loss to the 49ers in the NFC Championship, this marks a crucial phase of their long-term decision-making.

With the market set to be flooded with high-caliber free agents aligning with the Lions’ needs, the team finds itself with a significant amount of cap space, estimated between $45 million and $54 million. Yet, the financial choices General Manager Brad Holmes and his team are faced with carry long-term implications, underscoring the need for a well-thought-out approach to this offseason’s strategy.

The looming questions include whether Holmes will target one or more marquee free agents, opt to secure the team’s core talent by extending contracts for key players like QB Jared Goff, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown, and OT Penei Sewell, or remain focused on bolstering the roster through the 2024 NFL Draft, adhering to a “draft and develop” philosophy.

The strategic direction Holmes and Coach Dan Campbell choose to take is currently known only to them, leaving the rest of us to ponder the possibilities. As we delve into speculation, let’s examine the critical areas the Lions are set to address this offseason:

Free Agency Focus

Despite being among the NFL’s elite, the Lions are not without their deficiencies. The most pressing areas needing attention are predominantly on defense, though improvements on offense are also on the agenda. Heading into the 2024 offseason, the top three priorities for the Lions are:

  1. Cornerback: Reinforcing the secondary to counter the pass-heavy offenses they’ll face.
  2. Defensive Line: Enhancing the pass rush to disrupt opposing quarterbacks more effectively.
  3. Offensive Line: Ensuring the pass-protection and run-blocking remain top-tier to support the offensive scheme.

As we edge closer to the free agency period, these focal points will guide the Lions’ strategy in shaping a roster capable of contending for a Super Bowl.

1. Cornerback: Reinforcing a Key Position

The Lions aimed to revamp their secondary in 2023, injecting new talent with signings like DB C.J. “Ceedy Duce” Gardner-Johnson, CB Cam Sutton, and CB Emmanuel Moseley. Unfortunately, injuries marred their contributions; Ceedy Duce suffered a pectoral tear in Week 2 and missed most of the season. Moseley, already recuperating from one ACL injury, tore his other ACL shortly after returning, ending his season just two plays in. This thrust Sutton into the primary cornerback role, a challenging position that saw him isolated against some of the league’s best receivers.

In response, the Lions have re-signed Moseley for 2024, taking another chance on a healthy return for part of the season. Along with addressing the position in free agency and the draft, the goal is for Sutton to shift back to the CB2 slot, where he is more naturally suited. The only current cornerbacks on the roster are Sutton, Moseley, and Steven Gilmore.

The team faces decisions on several players becoming unrestricted free agents, including CBs Kindle Vildor, Jerry Jacobs, Chase Lucas, Khalil Dorsey and versatile DB Will Harris.

The focus now turns to Ceedy Duce, whose future is clouded by the promising emergence of S Iffy Melifonwu and the development of DB Brian Branch. Although Duce is a versatile DB playing primary safety or nickel, his decision will impact the structure of the entire secondary. While Duce’s talent and swagger is undeniable, his market value and the Lions’ financial flexibility remain pivotal factors in any decision regarding a long-term commitment.

Potential Acquisition

Despite the uncertainties in free agency, it’s highly likely the Lions will draft at least one cornerback, with the specifics of this decision hinging on their free agency moves.

Chiefs CB L’Jarius Sneed has become a focal point of interest in Detroit. After receiving the franchise tag from the Chiefs, Sneed’s acquisition would require a significant investment from the Lions, potentially their first-round pick (29th overall) and a substantial contract extension (estimated 4-years, $75 million). The potential addition of Sneed underscores the Lions’ commitment to bolstering their secondary, but it must be balanced against the cost and the overall strategy for team building as they head into the 2024 season.

Other top unrestricted free agent cornerbacks available:

  • Kendall Fuller (29): 4-years, $55 million
  • Adoree’ Jackson (28 years old): 4-years, $46 million
  • Darious Williams (30): 2-years, $26 million
  • Stephon Gilmore (33): 1-year, $11 million
  • Chidobe Awuzie (28): no estimated contract on spotrac
  • Kenny Moore (28): no estimated contract on spotrac

*all estimated market value from

Defensive Line: Amplifying the Pass Rush

In 2023, the Detroit Lions showcased a stout run defense, ranking among the league’s best. However, the narrative shifted drastically when evaluating their pass rush. Aidan Hutchinson emerged as a beacon of hope, consistently pressuring quarterbacks throughout the season. Despite his efforts, Hutchinson’s lack of support along the defensive line limited his effectiveness in securing sacks. As the Lions gear up for the offseason, fortifying their pass rush stands out as an imperative task.

The strategic dilemma lies in determining the optimal approach to enhance this aspect of their defense. Should the Lions invest in a premier edge rusher to complement Hutchinson, or should they delve into the defensive tackle market to disrupt the interior line, thereby aiding both Hutchinson and Alim McNeill? Alternatively, the team could opt for a more economical strategy, focusing on acquiring a depth of talent to maximize rotational effectiveness.

Detroit’s defensive tackle positions are particularly pressing, with Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzuruike, Brodric Martin, and Chris Smith secured for 2024 (yet only Martin is under contract beyond this season).

Although Chris Jones’ historic deal with the Chiefs has removed a top talent from availability, the market still presents viable options.

Potential Acquisitions

Among them, DT Christian Wilkins stands out as a prime target. The 28-year-old Wilkins, known for his dual capabilities in halting the run and pressuring the quarterback, could significantly bolster Detroit’s front seven. Following a standout season with 9.0 sacks and 23 quarterback hits, Wilkins is projected to command a hefty contract, possibly influenced by the market-setting Chris Jones deal. The estimate is around 4-years, $81 million, according to Spotrac. 

Another potential acquisition is OLB Danielle Hunter, the former Vikings linebacker known for his disruptive play. Adapting Hunter’s skills to fit Detroit’s defensive scheme might pose challenges, yet his proven track record suggests he could be a transformative addition. Market estimates suggest a potential three-year, $60 million deal for Hunter.

Other top unrestricted free agent pass rushers:

  • DE Leonard Williams (29): 3-years, $50 million
  • DT D.J. Reader (29): 3-years, $45 million
  • DE Chase Young (25): 1-year, $13 million
  • OLB Za’Darius Smith (31): 2-years, $25 million
  • DT Sheldon Rankins (30): 3-years, $30 million
  • OLB Bryce Huff (26): 4-years, $37 million
  • OLB Leonard Floyd (31): 2-years, $16 million

*all estimated market value from

Offensive Line: Fortifying the Foundation

The Detroit Lions identity is epitomized by their offensive line, recognized as one of the league’s premier units. This line is the lifeblood of the Lions’ offense, with Penei Sewell and Frank Ragnow earning national recognition for their outstanding play. Though Taylor Decker may not garner as much attention, his integral role in maintaining the line’s unity and effectiveness is undeniable. This offseason presents General Manager Brad Holmes with challenging decisions, particularly regarding the futures of G Jonah Jackson and G/C Graham Glasgow.

Facing financial constraints, it appears improbable for Detroit to retain both linemen. The decision then pivots to evaluating their value versus cost. Jackson, likely commanding a higher salary, poses a significant financial decision, whereas Glasgow offers cost-efficiency and versatility, capable of playing multiple interior positions and serving as a backup to Ragnow.

With the 29th pick in the forthcoming NFL Draft, Detroit is positioned to select a standout offensive lineman. However, drafting talent is just one piece of the puzzle. The consensus suggests that Detroit should not only invest in youth but also in experienced free-agent linemen.

Potential Acquisition

One intriguing possibility is re-engaging with former Lion G/C Evan Brown. Brown’s adaptability, capable of filling any interior line role, mirrors the flexibility that Glasgow provided. His potential return would offer a sense of familiarity and continuity. Financially, securing Brown would likely cost the Lions between $5-7 million annually. This option aims to reinforce their offensive line while maintaining fiscal balance.

Other top unrestricted free agent interior offensive lineman:

  • G/T Mike Onwenu (26): 4-years, $55 million
  • G Robert Hunt (27): 4-years, $48 million
  • G Damien Lewis (27): 2-years, $15 million
  • G/C Aaron Brewer (26): 3-years, $16 million
  • G/C Connor Williams (26): 5-years, $68 million
  • G Kevin Zeitler (34): no estimated contract on spotrac
  • G Dalton Risner (28): no estimated contract on spotrac

*all estimated market value from

Strategic Moves Ahead for the Detroit Lions

As the free agency period approaches, the pivotal question remains: Where will Brad Holmes prioritize his efforts? The Detroit Lions stand in front of an opportunity to enhance their roster substantially. Their approach will likely intertwine extending contracts of their developed stars and judiciously selecting free agents to fill critical gaps. Subsequently, the NFL Draft in April will offer additional opportunities to infuse young talent, complementing their strategic free agency acquisitions. 


For more from our Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers beat writer, Matt Broder, check him out on Twitter here: @mattbro21


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Original Photo Credit: © Kirby Lee – USA TODAY Sports