For the second straight season, the Detroit Lions are in a potential overhaul situation when it comes to defensive tackle.
A year ago, with the Lions old front office misjudging the Ndamukong Suh negotiation, Detroit lost its top four defensive tackles from 2014 heading into 2015: Suh, Nick Fairley, C.J. Mosley and Andre Fluellen.
The change might not be as dramatic this season -- Caraun Reid, Gabe Wright, C.J. Wilson and Khyri Thornton remain under contract -- but the Lions have decisions to make at defensive tackle with two of their main rotational players.
Haloti Ngata, the player the Lions traded for to replace Suh, and Tyrunn Walker are free agents. The question is whether Detroit should try to re-sign either player, and there are arguments for and against each.
The Lions were in a pinch last season after losing the Suh sweepstakes to Miami. Minutes before free agency started, the Lions traded a pair of mid-round draft picks for Ngata, who was a perennial All-Pro but was coming off a four-game suspension for a violation of the league's performance-enhancing substance policy.
His 2015 season didn’t start out strong -- he missed training camp because of injury and had 10 tackles with one sack over the first eight games, including two more games missed because of injury. Ngata played much better in the second half of the season with 14 tackles and 1.5 sacks, but also showed his ability as a space-eater in the middle of the defensive line. And he does provide a veteran presence Detroit could use in the defensive line room.
His 24 tackles were still a career-low, and whether the Lions should pursue him in free agency will come down to money. Ngata made $8.5 million last season, and if he’s looking for a payday even close to that, it should not happen with the Lions.
Ngata told the Detroit Free Press he would like to stay with the Lions, but that he isn’t sure how many years he has left to play. That could be the opening Detroit needs if it wants to keep Ngata at value.
A mid-level, short-term contract should be the only way the Lions bring back the 32-year-old defensive tackle. He is not the player he once was, and though the Lions' coaching staff has an attachment to him (he played for Teryl Austin and Jim Caldwell in Baltimore), the new front office does not.
Walker took a shot, signing a one-year deal with the Lions that essentially could have set him up for a big payday this offseason. Then he broke his left leg and dislocated his ankle in Week 4 against Seattle, ending his season and potentially putting him in prove-it territory again this season.
Prior to his injury, he had been putting together a strong season with nine tackles over four games. He also showed flashes of being able to really attack in Austin's defensive scheme. He had beaten out Caraun Reid for the starting spot opposite Ngata and had been improving each game.
He is still clearly in the rehab process -- he recently posted video of him riding a bike -- and questions about his injury could drive down his price. The Lions should try to take advantage of this. At age 25, he is still entering the prime of his career and should have shown enough to the coaching staff that they could push for him before free agency even starts.
If the Lions can get him on another one-year prove-it deal or even a two-year deal, it might be worth making the move to keep him at a reasonable price. He shouldn’t be in a position to push for a big deal yet because of the injury he suffered.
A second year in Austin’s scheme -- he admitted it took a little while to adjust to the attacking style the Lions play -- should benefit him as well. He’s a guy the Lions should make a priority among their own free agents.