Bringing back Ngata and Tyrunn Walker solidifies the middle of the defensive line for now, but neither player is on a long-term deal. Walker is on a one-year, prove-it deal for the second straight season. Ngata is signing a two-year deal and enters the 2016 season at age 32.
Ngata wanted to remain with the Lions after being traded to Detroit from Baltimore a year ago. And a half-hour before free agency officially kicked off, he got his wish.
This is helpful for the Lions as well, at least in the short term. The team doesn’t have to focus on getting an immediate starter at defensive tackle in the draft and can find a guy who can work into the rotation first before being thrust into a major role. That’s important for a defense that focuses so much on having its linemen attack instead of react, a system that takes time to learn.
Now if the Lions draft a defensive tackle, he will have time to learn behind Ngata before potentially taking over for him. It also keeps the same mentor in place for Walker and the Lions’ other young defensive tackles, Caraun Reid and Gabe Wright.
It is essentially what Detroit tried to do – successfully – with cornerback Rashean Mathis a few years ago. This is a new regime from the one that signed Mathis, but the thought process should be similar. Let Ngata play and help the people who will eventually take over for him.
Ngata showed in the second half of the season that he still had something left to give a franchise after he struggled through injury and then subpar play during the beginning of last season. He made a difference in the middle as a space-eater and run-stopper over the final eight games of the season for the Lions, when the team went 6-2.
The age of Ngata and the continued one-year deals for Walker could mean neither player is guaranteed to be with the Lions for long. For the long-term health of the franchise, drafting an interior defensive lineman is critical.
But in the short term, the Lions have to feel good about what they have in the middle of the defensive line as they try to continue to build Teryl Austin’s defensive scheme.