With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the linebackers with the Detroit Lions.
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
Jarrad Davis: $2,493,050
Jalen Reeves-Maybin: $708,273
Steve Longa: $555,000
Key stat: Accentuating Detroit’s pass-rush issues, Lions linebackers had only 3.5 sacks last season but did recover six fumbles.
Money matters: There aren’t many players in this room, numbers-wise, but there isn't much money tied into it, either. This is a spot in which a big-ticket player could end up being a good investment if he fits Matt Patricia’s defensive plans. Of course, one of those players could be Whitehead, who has a chance to be back if the price is right. He played well last season and can fill any linebacker spot. It would likely be at a higher cost than his last contract, though.
Big picture: The Lions used a lot of capital here in the last draft, with Davis in the first round and Reeves-Maybin in the fourth. Depending how Reeves-Maybin improves, that might be two-for-two out of starters at linebacker in the class, though. Otherwise, it’s a group that needs bodies.
It’d be surprising if Worrilow returns, and Whitehead might have competition for his services. Bellore played a multitude of roles (defense, special teams, fullback), so he could be a cheap, useful re-signing for Detroit. But the Lions need depth here -- quality depth.
The game plan: This could be another free agency and draft combination.
There are multiple options in free agency, depending what direction the Lions want to go. If Patricia wants to bring in someone with familiarity with his defense, Marquis Flowers could be a player who would be a good depth option with potential for more.
Jonathan Casillas is more of a veteran who played less than one year under Patricia (part of 2014) but won a Super Bowl with him. At age 30, he could be a good veteran at a reasonable price for a younger room. Akeem Ayers is another free agent from that 2014 defense. Jonathan Freeny and Jon Bostic are other players with New England ties who could be reasonable depth options. Bostic was with the Lions for a little bit, too, but spent his whole season in Detroit on injured reserve.
A midrange type of player who could be of interest -- without New England ties -- is Nigel Bradham from Philadelphia. He has been reliable and at age 28 is still in the prime of his career. He won’t give a ton as far as pass rush, but he has had 88 tackles or more in three of the past four seasons. Tennessee’s Avery Williamson could be intriguing on the higher side of the pay scale this year.
Although Roquan Smith will likely be gone in the draft by the time the Lions pick, Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is a player with positional flexibility (he could be a linebacker or a defensive end if he added weight) who has incredible athleticism. He, along with some of the defensive linemen, could be tough to pass up at No. 20.
Smith’s Georgia teammate, Lorenzo Carter, could be a Day 2 selection, as could USC’s Uchenna Nwosu and Iowa’s Josey Jewell. But there’s a long way to the draft, and much like on the offensive and defensive lines, what happens in the draft for Detroit at this position will likely be dictated by free agency.