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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Max Gerber

4 upcoming free agents to watch in the conference championship games

The Detroit Lions’ season may be over, but now the team has the chance to do some extra scouting as they watch the conference championships play out.

Each of the four teams playing has players whose contracts will expire when the new league year begins in March, meaning those plays will be free to sign with other teams if they are not re-signed.

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With that, here is one player from each of the remaining playoff teams that could be a good fit for Detroit in 2023:

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, San Francisco 49ers

As of now, the Detroit Lions only have two off-ball linebackers under contract heading into the 2023 offseason: Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez.

Detroit is in desperate need of linebacker depth, and Al-Shaair would be a good option that could come at a lower cost than some of the bigger-name free agent linebackers.

Al-Shaair signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and has started 31 games for them over the past four seasons.

He has had an impressive career for San Francisco, recording 199 total tackles and two sacks. His biggest accomplishment was his ability to turn the ball over, as he has notched two interceptions, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries throughout his NFL career.

Rodriguez will surely start for Detroit next season, and Barnes has shown much improvement. The defense generally plays two off-ball linebackers in their scheme but starters are rotated in and out often, meaning Al-Shaair would get significant playing time if he signed with the Lions.

CB James Bradberry, Philadelphia Eagles

Things are looking bleak in Detroit’s cornerback room. Jerry Jacobs played well enough to be considered for a starting role, though the job isn’t his just yet. Jeff Okudah, a former first-round pick, was benched for the last two games of the season. The Lions need to spend big money on a cornerback if they want to be competitive in 2023.

Philadelphia’s James Bradberry will be one of the top cornerbacks on the market this offseason and despite the price tag that is sure to come with him, he would be a guaranteed starter for the Lions.

This season alone, counting the postseason, Bradberry has defended against 19 passes, four of which he came away with an interception on.

Detroit has a young group of cornerbacks at the moment with Jacobs, Okudah, rookie Chase Lucas, backup Bobby Price, and futures deal signees Khalil Dorsey and Jarren Williams. Bradberry, at 29 years old, would be a much-needed veteran presence in that locker room.

TE Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

The Detroit Lions had one of the most productive seasons from their tight end group in team history, yet the tight end position is still a need for them heading into the offseason.

Rookie James Mitchell is the only player under contract right now. Breakout players Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra, who each found the endzone four times in 2022, are exclusive-rights free agents. This means that while it’s likely that the Lions will retain their rights, there’s still a chance that they could let them walk.

The Lions need a receiving option as well as a veteran presence to help their young group of tight ends develop, and Cincinatti’s Hayden Hurst could be a proper fit.

Hurst was a first-round pick in 2018 by the Baltimore Ravens and has also spent time with the Atlanta Falcons before signing with the Bengals.

While he hasn’t lived up to his draft status, he proved this season that he’s still an asset to have on offense. Counting the postseason, Hurst has caught 61 of 80 targets for 518 yards and three touchdowns. Balls security hasn’t been an issue for him either, only dropping six passes and fumbling once in his five-year career.

Hurst would nicely compliment the blocking skills of Wright and Zylstra with his ability to be a deep threat as a receiver when needed.

DL Derrick Nnadi, Kansas City Chiefs

With very few options on the interior defensive line, the Lions are going to need to find all the help that they can get this offseason. While there will surely be better-known options on the market, Derrick Nnadi might be the best value for Detroit.

Nnadi was a third-round pick by the Chiefs in 2018 and has been with them for his whole career. Over that span, he has appeared in all but one game for Kansas City as a nose tackle and 3-technique.

This versatility on the defensive line is just what the Lions are looking for in their four-man front. With one speed rusher and one big-bodied defensive end, the other two spots go to defensive tackles who can be disruptive against both the pass and run.

Nnadi has logged 193 tackles, six tackles-for-loss, and a forced fumble in his career. He has also proved himself as a solid defender against the pass, recording one interception, four sacks, and seven quarterback hits for the Chiefs.

The Lions currently have just Alim McNeill, Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike, and Demetrius Taylor under contract while Benito Jones is an exclusive-rights free agent. Brockers is likely to be let go in the coming months and Onwuzurike has spent most of his career on injured reserve. This means that the Lions need a dependable starting tackle to pair with McNeill, and Nnadi is a perfect fit.


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