After a phenomenal year for the Detroit Lions, we have finally made it to the offseason. It’s time we normally reflect on the year and look towards the future. With numerous breakout players for Detroit, keeping this team together through free agency will be extremely important. Considering player performance, team impact, and cost, here are my five must-re-sign free agents for the Detroit Lions.
No. 5 Isaiah Buggs (DT) Unrestricted Free Agent:
Isaiah Buggs has quickly become a fan favorite in Detroit, and for good reason. Recording 46 tackles, ten quarterback hits, and one sack in seventeen games, Buggs had a solid season for a nose tackle. Where he really contributes, is his ability to create space for other pass rushers. His massive six-foot-three, 300-pound frame helps him draw double teams on nearly two-thirds of his snaps. He isn’t just some big body out there though, as Buggs has an uncanny ability to read line shifts and breakthrough against the run. Since he gained a starting role in Detroit, the run defense has steadily improved as well. With some more help on the line, I am confident Buggs can continue to develop.
At just 26 years old, Buggs will enter his fifth season in the NFL, making him a young veteran. Luckily for the Detroit Lions, Buggs won’t likely draw too much attention in the market. Offering the tackle a multi-year extension worth about one million per year would probably get him to stay. For a free agent, he isn’t expensive, so there is no reason not to pursue the big guy.
No. 4 DJ Chark (WR) Unrestricted Free Agent:
Since the season began, DJ Chark has been vocal about loving Detroit, saying, “This place just checks off all the boxes.” For the Lions, it has also been a great fit, as Chark has been more than productive in every aspect of the game. The former Pro Bowler has tremendous upside but is still putting up solid numbers for a wide receiver two. Recording just over 500 yards and three touchdowns on 30 catches, Chark had a great bounce-back year as a Lion. What people don’t realize, is his contributions outside of the receiving game. Chark, one of the best run-blocking receivers in the NFL this season, consistently topped a 75 PFF grade for run-blocking, a huge factor to consider.
On just a one-year deal worth about ten million, Chark seems pricey, but that was only due to an eight-million-dollar signing bonus. Considering the money Detroit has to play with, giving him around a 22-million-dollar deal split across two seasons would be easy for the Detroit Lions. Chark would get some attention on the market, so extending him before free agency opens up will be important for Brad Holmes and company.
No. 3 John Cominsky (DL) Unrestricted Free Agent:
John Cominsky, the do-it-all defensive lineman, emphatically stated he wanted to be in Detroit come 2023. Cominsky, who isn’t very active on social media, took to Instagram after the final game of the season to say:
“Life is absolutely insane. Sacrifices had to be made and uncertainty was my reality for most of my career. Let this season be a testament to the fact that your “plays” are coming. Keep putting your time and effort into what you want and your big plays in life will come to you naturally. Learned a lot from this game and am excited for what’s next. Thank you to the Lions organization and my family for making this possible. If I haven’t said it already, I WANT TO BE A LION tag @detroitlionsnfl in the comments to make sure the message is loud and clear.”
Cominsky was an unsung hero for Detroit this season, leading by example, on and off the field. His stat line wasn’t too shabby either, recording 30 tackles, four sacks, and a whopping 17 pressures in just 14 games. This was a breakout year for the 27-year old and he dedicated it to the fans and coaching staff that supported him. Cominsky has been very vocal about wanting to be a mentor to this budding defensive line, and with his ability to play each position, he fits that role well. For another player who isn’t too pricey, a three-million-dollar deal for two seasons would be perfect.
No. 2 DeShon Elliot (S) Unrestricted Free Agent:
DeShon Elliot was a huge part of the success that this defense was able to string together in the ladder half of the season. One of the few veterans on that side of the ball, he took command of the secondary and really helped the youth around him. Rookie safety Kirby Joseph and young corner Jerry Jacobs both attributed much of their growth this season to Elliot. He wasn’t just a leader though, Elliot almost had a Pro Bowl-caliber season, recording a massive 96 tackles and one interception in just 14 games. Elliot never let anything get behind him and was one of the best run-stopping safeties in the NFL this season.
Entering his fifth year, the only concern the Lions have surrounding Elliot is playtime. With Kirby Joseph developing so well and Tracy Walker way ahead of schedule on his return from injury, who would the starting pairing be? With Elliot and Walker so close in age they are almost interchangeable for that veteran role. Luckily for the Detroit Lions, Elliot isn’t expensive. Because of that, he can be put into a rotational role and used with a lower snap count, splitting time with a starter. Plus, it never hurts to have a backup like Elliot who can play in any package.
Without question, and three-year, a six-million-dollar deal is perfect for the veteran. It would take him throughout his prime and keep his salary at a solid two million per year. No doubt this looks pricey, for his role, but he could be swept away in free agency, and keeping it with a low average salary would do much better for the Detroit Lions’ cap space down the line.
No. 1 Jamaal Williams (RB) Unrestricted Free Agent:
Of all the Detroit Lions who will be free agents this offseason, Jamaal Williams is the number one priority target. Williams had a breakout year this season, dominating the league and breaking Lions’ records. Gaining attention throughout the NFL, there is no doubt he will be a hot commodity come free agency. Williams didn’t just blossom as a rusher though, as he also developed into the heart and soul of this Detroit team with his passion for the game and love for his teammates taking the front stage.
Breaking Detroit Lions legend, Barry Sanders, rushing touchdown record with 17 touchdowns on the year, Jamaal blew up the stat sheet in 2022. Rushing for over 1,000 yards, the first Lion since 2013 to do so, Williams was one of the best backs in the NFL. With one of the best offensive lines in football coming back in 2023, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this magic can be recreated, especially with someone who runs as hard and physically as Williams.
The upcoming free agent exhibits everything that this current regime wants out of a Detroit Lion, so what will it cost to bring him back? Well, a premium rusher like Williams can cost teams anywhere from 12 to 25 million dollars over a few seasons. With Williams being 27 and entering his seventh season, I only see him getting a two-year deal. With his love for this team and the city of Detroit, he seems open to taking a team-friendly contract as well. His market value is sitting at nine million dollars for two seasons per spotrac.com, but I think he gets ten. A solid ten-by-two deal is easy for Detroit and pays Jamaal what he deserves.
There are a few players left off this list, but it was very tough to limit it to just five. With the open cap that Detroit has this offseason, they can bring almost everyone back if they choose. That wouldn’t leave much wiggle room for newcomers though. Truly, these players will make the most impact if they return in 2023, so focusing another spending on outside players could bode well for the Lions. Time will only tell what this offseason has in store.