Having All-Pro defensive end Dwight Freeney on the Detroit Lions roster seemed destined to happen for months now -- before the 2017 season even started. The Lions needed help along the defensive line -- the one area the club didn't do much to address this offseason.
Freeney, a potential Hall of Famer with connections to Jim Caldwell, was a free agent. His relationship to Caldwell goes back almost two decades -- first, when Caldwell tried to recruit Freeney to Wake Forest, and then, with the Indianapolis Colts, where Caldwell coached and Freeney starred.
It made all the sense in the world, even more so after the Lions lost defensive end Kerry Hyder and linebacker/defensive end Brandon Copeland for the season in the preseason opener against Indianapolis.
Yet the Lions did nothing. Even as Detroit struggled to find much of a pass rush early in the season while Freeney was still available, Detroit didn't sign him. Eventually, the Seattle Seahawks chose to pick up Freeney. He played four games for the Seahawks, had three sacks, which is more than all but two Lions players, and it seemed like he would be staying with the Seahawks in a limited, but effective, role.
Then, on Tuesday, Seattle surprisingly waived him. And the Lions -- now desperate for any pass-rush help considering Ezekiel Ansah has been injured all season -- didn't let him pass by again. They claimed him Wednesday, and as long as expectations remain in check for what Freeney can give Detroit, it should be a good deal.
And those expectations should be this: A good rotational player who can offer around 25 snaps a game based on how he has been used the past three seasons with Arizona, Atlanta and Seattle. In those spots, Freeney showed he can still reach the quarterback. And that's a big thing for the Lions, who have gotten so little from their edge rush this season.
Freeney won't address Detroit's front four pass-rush issues himself -- that won't come until next season, when the Lions' defensive line could look vastly different after free agency and the draft -- but he is the best option to offer relief now.
While Ansah, Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington will remain in the rotation and likely receive more work than the 37-year-old, Freeney can thrive in a defined role. And for the Lions, that's something they can work with, considering defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has been good throughout his tenure mixing and matching players in schemes to find their strengths. Freeney may also serve as a valuable tutor; a bonus the Lions have often received from veteran free agents.
The Lions got three good seasons out of Rashean Mathis before he retired following the 2015 season. Mathis was signed during training camp in 2013. But as much as he gave on the field, his most valuable contribution might be how he helped Darius Slay -- now one of the league's top cornerbacks -- and Nevin Lawson. That impact is immeasurable.
Last season, the Lions signed Anquan Boldin. He gave them eight touchdown catches out of the slot. But he also helped show the rest of the team's receivers how to properly prepare and keep your body right at an advanced-for-the-NFL age.
Freeney could do the same for a group of defensive linemen that has some youthful talent in Zettel, Jeremiah Valoaga and practice squad end Alex Barrett. If they can learn from him over the final month-plus of the season, that could yield even more future value than whatever Freeney contributes on the field in 2017.
But for the short term, Freeney is exactly what the Lions needed. It's just a question of why they waited so long.