Now that the 2023 Senior Bowl and the slate of postseason exhibition games have ended, it’s time for the second installment of this year’s Detroit Lions mock offseason.
The mock offseason covers not just a mock draft, but also personnel decisions on existing Lions free agents, potential roster cuts, outside free agent signings and (of course) the draft.
Lions mock offseason v1.0: Kicking off the offseason options
As with last year’s series, each mock offseason represents a potential path Lions GM Brad Holmes and the team can follow, not a recommendation or endorsement of any course of action. It’s not a prediction either, just a look at how the Lions might approach the offseason.
Lions free agents to re-sign
Detroit has 18 unrestricted free agents as the team enters the offseason. There is a fine line between valuing continuity and overvaluing past contributions, one that Holmes and the Lions need to be wary of this year.
That’s especially true with two free agents, RB Jamaal Williams and WR DJ Chark. Both proved to be very effective in 2022, with Williams leading the NFL in rushing TDs and Chark playing great down the stretch once he was fully healthy.
In this scenario, both Williams and Chark get offers from other teams that they cannot refuse, or the Lions simply cannot match with any financial prudence. The same is true with right guard Evan Brown and linebacker Alex Anzalone. Losing four starters is tough but that’s the price of being a successful team, and the Lions are well on their way to that status.
Running back Justin Jackson and linebacker Chris Board also flee for greener pastures in this scenario. Cornerback Amani Oruwariye, quarterback Nate Sudfeld and EDGE Austin Bryant leave as unrestricted free agents as well.
In the “returning” category:
- K Michael Badgley
- S DeShon Elliott
- DT Isaiah Buggs
- DL John Cominsky
- CB Mike Hughes
- OL Dan Skipper
- CB Will Harris
- LB Josh Woods
Players under contract to cut/restructure
Not a lot of change from the first edition; most of these decisions are pretty self-evident and straightforward.
RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, freeing up over $16 million in cap room between 2023 and 2024
DE Michael Brockers, saving $10 million in 2023
DE Charles Harris, saving just over $4 million
New to this version is cutting FB Jason Cabinda. The move saves a little over $2 million for a role that the Lions barely used in 2022.
Free agents to sign
The attitude with free agency in this scenario is filling immediate-need holes. After the free agent losses and roster attrition, the Lions have big openings at CB, DT, RG, inside LB, RB and backup QB.
Eagles CB James Bradberry is an obvious target. I’m a firm believer that the Lions need a veteran CB presence and that definitely influenced my choice here. Bradberry can play either side of the field and works well in both press and off-man, as well as zone shells. Bradberry will likely cost over $12 million a season, and the 29-year-old is not a long-term investment.
The next box on the wishlist gets checked with Vikings DT Dalvin Tomlinson. The big veteran has consistently proven himself to be one of the best nose tackles in the league across multiple teams and schemes. Tomlinson, who will be 29, consistently provides top-10 run defense for his position and 2-3 sacks a year with very impressive durability. Two years and $18 million fully guaranteed should get it done.
It’s a freakishly deep running back class in free agency. With Williams leaving, the Lions need an inside runner who can pass protect and grind out first downs on 3rd-and-3. Enter Dolphins RB Jeff Wilson, one of the best B-gap runners in the league in 2022. With under 500 carries in his five NFL seasons, Wilson still has tread on the tires and has reliably churned out yardage in zone schemes. One year at $2.5 million should get it done in this oversaturated market.
Cowboys QB Cooper Rush gets the nod as the new No. 2 QB. Rush capably handled his business filling in for an injured Dak Prescott in Dallas in each of the last two seasons, showing accuracy and poise in five of those six starts. The one exception, a brutal performance against the Eagles, is why Rush is a career backup and won’t threaten starter Jared Goff. One year at $3.75 million is the price tag.
Finally, we’ll stick with one holdover from the first mock offseason. Bengals LB Germaine Pratt is an instant alpha dog starter in the middle of the defense. The NFL’s best coverage backer in 2022 won’t be cheap, but in this scenario the Lions opt to break character a little and invest at the LB spot.
2023 NFL draft, first round
In this scenario, the Lions build the trenches up. But in an unexpected way…
No. 6 overall: Peter Skoronski, OL, Northwestern
No. 18 overall: Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Skoronski is arguably the top OL prospect in the draft. A left tackle at Northwestern, he would slide into the starting RG spot for at least 2023. Left tackle Taylor Decker is locked in through 2024 but could be a cap casualty after 2023 if the Lions have to pay Jared Goff, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Penei Sewell and others that offseason.
Branch is an optimal replacement for Will Harris as a nickel CB with safety tendencies. Branch has great eyes and quick feet in coverage and he isn’t afraid to get involved against the run. With Bradberry shoring up the outside in free agency, the slot/nickel role is the biggest hole in the secondary. Branch is a Day One starter in that position.
Rest of the draft
Second round, No. 49 overall: Keeanu Benton, DT, Wisconsin
Second round, No. 56 overall: Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
Third round: Daiyan Henley, LB, Washington State
Fifth round: Kenny McIntosh, RB, Georgia
Sixth round, Broncos pick: Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss
Sixth, round, own pick: Cameron Young, DT, Mississippi State
No traded picks in this one. Next time…