The Detroit Lions had a quiet first day of free agency, although they came to terms with a plethora of in-house free agents that were set to hit the open market but failed to lure any new faces to Detroit (at the time of this writing).
The day’s biggest news regarding the Detroit Lions was that general manager Brad Holmes successfully retained free safety, Tracy Walker. Walker, a 27-year old, agreed to a three-year extension worth $25 million with $17 million guaranteed.
Detroit also agreed to terms with Tim Boyle, Alex Anzalone, Josh Reynolds, Jason Cabinda, Evan Brown, Josh Woods, C.J. Moore, Jalen Elliott, and Shaun-Dion Hamilton in recent days.
Walker is coming off a career-best season which saw him lead the Detroit Lions with 108 tackles, adding one interception and one sack in 2021. The former third-round pick of the Lions back in 2018 earned an overall grade of 65.1, which also included a coverage mark of 64.2, a significant increase from the 40.8 mark the year prior.
During the 2020 season, former head coach Matt Patricia opted to use Walker out of position playing as a strong safety where he’d be down in the box far more often than he’d been in the past. Walker seemed to struggle matching up man-to-man with the big physical tight ends and quick pass-catching running backs scampering out to the flat.
The move from his usual free safety spot to strong allowed former Patriot Duron Harmon to work as the centerfielder. Harmon had usually served as New England’s third safety and struggled as an every-down free safety during his one year with the Lions.
Walker slid back to his natural position playing as the deep safety this past season in Aaron Glenn’s defense, and the change paid off nicely for both the team and player.
Re-signing Tracy Walker was a priority, but who will the Detroit Lions pair with him on the backend of the defense?
Somehow, Holmes needs to lure free agent Marcus Williams to Detroit. Williams is 25-years old and in the prime of his career, and the only reason he’s on the market is because the New Orleans Saints are in salary cap hell.
If the Detroit Lions could only spend big on one free agent, I’d like it to be Williams. The former second-round pick played five years with the Saints defending 38 passes, making 320 tackles, and hauling in 15 interceptions through 76 games. The combination of Williams and Walker on the backend of the Lions’ defense would be a significant upgrade from Harmon, Will Harris, and Dean Marlowe over the past couple of seasons.
Williams is expected to command upwards of $15 million annually on a long-term deal. Former Detroit Lions safety Quandre Diggs was able to re-up with the Seattle Seahawks signing a three-year extension worth a reported $40 million.
If the Lions are unable to sign Williams, there are alternative options. The Lions can look to draft an impactful starting safety with one of their first three draft choices. Detroit can look to pair Walker with phenom Kyle Hamilton, but that would mean using the no. 2 overall pick on a safety which isn’t ideal. It’s not a knock on Hamilton, but those first handful of picks are generally used on quarterbacks, offensive tackles, and edge-rushers.
Holmes could also target someone like Lewis Cine or Daxton Hill late in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft or with the no. 34 overall pick in the second round. For me, I’d be targeting Cine, who I feel pairs nicely with Walker. Cine can excel down in the box as a strong safety and hits like a sledgehammer.
The final option, and it’s one that I’d feel is premature, but that would be sliding Jeff Okudah from corner to safety. Okudah, the former no. 3 overall pick has been hampered by injuries since joining the Lions and is working his way back from a ruptured Achilles injury that he suffered in Week One of the 2021 season.
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I believe the Lions will plug Okudah back in at corner to begin the year, but if he falters perhaps, he’d be best-suited playing as a safety. The Ohio State product is a tremendous tackler in space and plays with the physicality it takes to play down in the box defending the run.