2024 NFL Offseason Primer: Detroit Lions

Detroit Lions

Projected Cap Space: $46.3 million

Draft Picks: 7

  • 1st (No. 29)
  • 2nd (No. 61)
  • 3rd (No. 73, MIN)
  • 3rd (No. 92)
  • 5th (No. 163)
  • 6th (No. 207)
  • 7th (No. 247)

Notable Free Agents: 

Top Three Needs

1 – Cornerback

The Lions had their most successful season in decades, returning to the NFC Championship for the first time since 1991 and only the second time since the NFL merger. Detroit won 12 games despite a leaky secondary, and for the Lions to advance even further this is the biggest need that has to be addressed. 

Last year, the Lions took a step in the right direction. While CB Cameron Sutton proved overmatched as a No. 1 corner, he still provided an upgrade over the players the Lions trotted out the year before. Second-round DB Brian Branch was an instant impact player at nickel corner. The team has made incremental progress, but now the Lions need to find a true No. 1 corner to keep everyone in roles that best suit their talent. 

Of course, that’s easier said than done. Cornerback is a notoriously hard position to transition from the college game to the pros, and the Lions won’t have access to a top prospect picking at No. 29. Good corners also seldom make it to free agency, although some temporary solutions could be available who might be good enough. Detroit might need to get creative — and with ample cap space and four picks in the top 100, the Lions have the ammunition to be big-game hunters for a potential blockbuster trade at the position. 

2 – Edge Rusher

2023 proved to be a coming out party for Lions DE Aidan Hutchinson, who earned his first career Pro Bowl honors. While he only improved from 9.5 sacks as a rookie to 11.5 in his second season, Hutchinson was literally twice as disruptive. Pro Football Focus charted him with 53 total pressures as a rookie. That number rose to 101 last year. Pro Football Reference told a similar story, with Hutchinson going from 15 QB hits to 33. 

Now the Lions have to make it so Hutchinson isn’t a one-man band up front. Veteran DL John Cominsky is a solid role player who can play the run on early downs and kick inside to rush the passer on third down. Injuries prevented DE James Houston from following up his astounding eight sacks in 92 pass-rushing snaps as a rookie, but he could be a weapon as a designated pass rusher. If the Lions got one more player capable of 8-10 sacks, it could help their defense take a major step forward. 

3 – Guard

One of the biggest keys to Detroit’s success on offense — besides the innovative hand of OC Ben Johnson who’s guided back-to-back top-five offense in both points and yards — is a rock-solid offensive line. From left to right, Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow, Graham Glasgow and Penei Sewell were the keys to the Lions’ success, paving the way for an effective ground game that was vital in two areas in particular. The threat of the run set up the entire play-action passing game where QB Jared Goff has found a second life as a professional.

It also meant 3rd-and-mediums, which most teams treated as passing downs, could still be running downs for the Lions because of how aggressive HC Dan Campbell and Johnson were willing to be on fourth down. Keeping the offensive line as a strength is imperative for the Lions to remain a good team. 

So it’s notable that both starting guards as well as top backup/former starter Halapoulivaati Vaitai are set for free agency. Vaitai has had serious injury issues and it seems like retirement could be a possibility. Glasgow started his career in Detroit, left for a big paycheck in free agency, then returned after being cut. He likely would be open to a reasonable deal to stay and his ability to play center gives him some extra value for the Lions since Ragnow has been beaten half to death throughout his career and has been playing through an inoperable toe condition for some time. 

Jackson could look to make high-end money at the guard position, especially since he’ll be 27 and still have some prime years left. While he’s a solid player, I could see the Lions balking at going too high to retain him, particularly with several other players like Goff and WR Amon-Ra St. Brown eligible for new contracts. If both Jackson and Glasgow are back, depth is still needed. If one or both walk, the Lions will need to put a lot of effort into ensuring there’s no dropoff. 

One Big Question

Can Detroit sustain its success?

Ever since appearing on Hard Knocks in Campbell’s second season, the Lions have been the plucky underdogs a wide cross-section of NFL fanbases love to root for. The team fought through a rough first year and a half before hitting their stride late in the 2022 season, entering 2023 as a popular pick to win the NFC North, albeit as an alternative to the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers. 

The Lions then went out and showed they’re more than just a fun story or the best team remaining in a mediocre division. Detroit was legitimately one of the top teams in the NFC, and for about a half of football they out-49ered the 49ers. San Francisco stormed back with an epic rally to secure the win and represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but had one or two plays gone a different way in the second half in Santa Clara, the Lions would have gone to their first Super Bowl. It literally slipped through their fingers. 

Afterward, Campbell soberly pointed out there’s nothing that guarantees the Lions will be here to stay, contrary to what young upstart teams like them in the past have said to coax a moral victory out of a playoff exit. His messaging was that the Lions will have to climb all the way back to the top of the mountain from the bottom again, and it’s a long and brutal journey. 

That kind of awareness is part of what makes Campbell such a great coach, however, and it’s part of why the Lions should once again be in the mix. They have a strong coaching staff, particularly with both coordinators coming back. They have a quarterback in Goff who’s playing well enough to win a lot of games. There’s tons of talent on the roster and the Lions have the resources to add more. 

Truthfully what the Lions might need the most is a little bit of luck to survive yet another long season just a little longer. 

Looking for the latest NFL Insider News & Rumors?

Be sure to follow NFL Trade Rumors on TWITTER and FACEBOOK for breaking NFL News and Rumors for all 32 teams!

Leave a Reply