The Detroit Lions did not address the edge rushing role in their new defense in the draft. Bob Quinn said the value just was not there when the Lions picked. Here are their options going forward.
The Detroit Lions still have some holes in their roster after the draft. The biggest and most obvious is on the edge of the front seven. To be frank there were simply not a lot of quality pass rushers in the draft. The healthy pass rushers worthy of a first-round pick fell off the board quickly. Teams reached for players that in years past would have gone a round or even two later than they did.
Harold Landry is rumored to have a back problem. The Lions avoided taking an undersized pass rusher with a history of durability concerns who also now has a problem with his back. That is a good thing. However, the Lions need help on the edge. Undrafted free agents are not going to provide that. There are some veterans who waited until after the draft who might.
None of these players are long-term solutions. None of them are three down starters that fix the Lions defense. These players are band-aids over a wound. They all have a history of being able to provide pressure on the quarterback. None of them have a particularly recent history of doing it at a high level. They are simply players that will be able to take advantage of teams that ignore them. If teams do not ignore them, they will create opportunities for Ziggy Ansah, Devon Kennard, and Kerry Hyder. In a third-down situational role, these players might give the Lions a boost that they desperately need.
Tamba Hali was the number 20 pick in the 2006 draft and has spent his entire career with the Kansas City Chiefs. It has been two years since Hali was a capable starter in Kansas City, and he spent the entire 2017 season injured. Two years ago he rang up 43 QB pressures, but only 3.5 sacks. Hali is not the finisher that he once was, even with the presence of Dee Ford to reduce opposing offenses from becoming too narrowly focused on Hali. At 33 years old, Hali may have an inflated opinion of what he has left in the tank. Throughout the 2016 season, he expressed concerns with his utilization in Kansas City. If he has become comfortable with the fact that he is not the player he once was, he could be a useful piece for the Lions in 2018.
Before he landed on injured reserve with a tricep injury in 2017, Willie Young was on pace for an eight-sack campaign. Prior to that, he averaged just under eight sacks per season as a starting outside linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Young was not cut because of any flagging production, he was a casualty of a youth movement. He is also not a constant injury risk. In three years before 2017, he missed only two games for the Bears. Young will turn 33 as the season opens.
In a situational pass rushing role with the San Francisco 49ers last year, Elvis Dumervil put up 6.5 sacks. He is far from the player that put up 17 sacks in 2014, but he has provided a reasonable level of production consistently since. He had PFF’s number 12 pass rush grade among 3-4 outside linebackers. Dumerville is not an every-down player, but can still provide some pop in passing situations. He told CSN Bay Area “Mentally and physically, I feel great, I know I have a few years left, for sure.” Dumerville is one sack away from 100 on his career and will reach that milestone somewhere. He would be a good fit for a role in Matt Patricia’s defense.
Connor Barwin is a well-rounded football player more than just a situational pass rusher. The Rams made an effort to re-sign Barwin, and Barwin wanted to return to the Rams, but no deal was consummated. That usually means that the player has too high an opinion of his value. Barwin visited the Arizona Cardinals a few weeks ago and left their facility without a deal as well. Barwin may need to adjust his financial expectations going into a season where he will turn 32 years old. The Lions could find a bargain on a very good player as teams quickly look to plug the holes remaining in their rosters after the draft if he waits too long to adjust his expectations.
Erik Walden has the least consistent success among these players. Two seasons ago he was the lone bright spot on a terrible Indianapolis defense. As is typical for that franchise, they immediately let him leave in free agency. Walden went to the Tennesee Titans as a situational pass rusher behind Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo and was third on the team in total quarterback pressures. Walden is 32 years old, and the Titans wanted to get younger at the position. They drafted Harold Landry in the second round, and thus Walden will not be returning to the team.
Those are the five best pass rush free agents available to the Lions after the draft. This was an awful year to need a pass rusher. The free agent class was poor, to begin with, but actually improved when teams started cutting players. The Draft offered nothing but high risk/reward plays early. Later it simply lacked value. The draft is over but Bob Quinn very well may not be done yet.