ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- New head coaches and general managers usually mean change everywhere in the organization -- to the coaching staff, front office and certainly to the roster, as the new regime tries to bring in players who will fit what they are looking for.
Considering the contrasting styles of former general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia and the current regime of GM Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell, expect to see a high cycle of players turned over the next season-plus.
Some of that already has happened, as the Lions released linebacker Christian Jones and offensive lineman Russell Bodine this week. Cornerback Desmond Trufant is expected to be released at the start of the new football year as well.
It’s merely the beginning of a transition that will start to be shaped more by free agency this year -- but perhaps not as much as you might think even though Campbell said they have needs at wide receiver, cornerback linebacker, defensive line and depth on the offensive line. And they’ll be doing it without a ton of cap room to maneuver with.
“We’ll find a way to address some of these spots and if it’s got to be some of these free agents that maybe aren’t quite as talented, but man, they are gritty, salty guys that know how to compete and they’ll hold their own in there, then we’ll find those guys,” Campbell said. “That’s who will help us in the meantime.”
In other words, don’t expect Detroit to spend big in free agency in the first year of Holmes-Campbell.
The Lions already have brought back a few players -- re-signing cornerback Mike Ford to a one-year, $1.2 million deal and tendering three exclusive-rights free agents: Pro Bowl punter Jack Fox, offensive tackle Matt Nelson and fullback Jason Cabinda.
But what about the rest of Detroit’s free agents? Heading into the legal tampering period and then the start of the new league year next week, we look at every free agent Detroit has left and what might happen.
Peterson made it clear at the end of last year at age 35 he did not want to be part of a rebuilding process. Since Detroit is clearly headed in that direction, don’t expect to see Peterson back with the Lions for a second season. He’ll be headed elsewhere as he continues to try and chase every NFL rushing record he can.
WR Marvin Jones
Jones was excited to head into free agency for a second time and the 30-year-old (he turns 31 on Friday) has some different priorities this time around. His family is in Southern California and he said they will play a role in his decision. With his old quarterback, Matthew Stafford, on the Rams and with Detroit rebuilding, there’s little reason to think Jones will be back. Detroit’s expected signing of Tyrell Williams adds to that.
The 35-year-old had two productive seasons in Detroit, but he was brought in not only to be a slot receiver but a locker room presence for former general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia. With both of them gone and the Lions having to reconstruct their receiver room, Amendola would not make sense for Detroit.
Detroit’s premier free agent this year, the bigger question at one point was whether or not Golladay would be tagged. Tag-free, he’ll head to free agency as one of the top receivers on the market. Since Detroit did not tag him, it stands to reason he won’t be returning to the Lions, meaning they’ll lose their top three receivers from last year.
WR Mohamed Sanu
Sanu is the type of veteran the Lions could potentially use in their room as a No. 3/No. 4 receiver. He has enough veteran savvy to help Quintez Cephus and whatever receiver the Lions potentially draft. He likely also won’t cost much money to retain, either. Of all Detroit’s receivers he seems like the best bet -- albeit not a great bet -- to be back.
WR/Returner Jamal Agnew
Agnew is interesting because he’s younger than Detroit’s other receivers and has the added bonus of being an elite-level returner. If the Lions’ new staff believes in his long-term future as a slot receiver, then maybe they make him an offer to stay. But he could be a missing piece for a contender trying to add an explosive return man to the mix, so he might have multiple options.
OL Oday Aboushi
Aboushi seemed to be a favorite of former offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and the Lions’ old staff. That Hank Fraley remains as offensive line coach could mean Aboushi returns for another year as a veteran reserve lineman in Detroit, but this is a spot where Campbell might want to bring his own guy as the veteran backup. Definitely a chance Aboushi makes it back to Detroit.
DE Romeo Okwara
Okwara had a breakout, 10-sack season in 2020 and set himself up for a good payday in free agency. Even more impressive was he often did it with little double-team help from elsewhere and considering what he showed in 2018 (7.5 sacks), he wasn’t a one-year phenom. He’ll be 26 next season, just starting to hit the cusp of his pass-rush potential. He likely will end up out of Detroit’s price range, but if the smaller cap shrinks the market and the Lions make a good offer, it’s possible he’d return. He likely will get more money elsewhere, but if Detroit wanted to invest here, he would be a future foundational piece.
Detroit traded for Griffen midway through last year and he showed flashes of the dominant end he was in Minnesota. After the season, he began openly campaigning to return to the Vikings and with a new staff in Detroit trying to build for the long-term, bringing back the 33-year-old Griffen wouldn’t make much sense.
LB Jarrad Davis
Detroit’s first-round pick in 2016, Davis always was in a tough spot with the Lions under Patricia. It’s notable, though, Campbell mentioned both to The Detroit News and in a radio appearance on 97.1 FM in Detroit that Davis was a player who stood out to him. Would the Lions bring Davis back at a big salary? No, tough to see that. Could they bring back a guy who is a great locker room presence with a better and more defined role than he had in Patricia’s defense? It would not be surprising, especially if Campbell believes there’s potential untapped.
He never really received a shot in Detroit’s defense under Patricia but became one of the Lions’ top special teams players. Every team needs special teams stalwarts and if Detroit thinks there could be a role for Reeves-Maybin defensively, it would be easy to see him return. If not, it ends up being a toss-up.
Ragland came to Detroit to play for Patricia. He flashed a little last season, but considering the work Detroit needs to do throughout the defense, the Lions might look elsewhere in their linebacker pursuits.
Roberts was OK when he played last season and offers a special teams presence. Detroit will need some sort of veteran to go along with Amani Oruwariye and Jeff Okudah on the outside and Roberts could be that player. But there will be multiple other players with his skill set on the market as well and without a connection to this staff, perhaps Roberts is elsewhere.
CB Tony McRae
He shined at points on special teams, but McRae was brought in by former special teams coordinator Brayden Coombs. With a new coordinator (and new staff) in town, it would be surprising to see McRae back in Detroit.
The Lions traded for Harmon last year and there were points last season where he was Detroit’s best defensive back. But at age 30 and potentially playing a free safety role the Lions might move Tracy Walker back into, the fit might not be there for Harmon to return to Detroit. Plus, if the Lions were to pursue John Johnson III in free agency, they wouldn’t have the space for Harmon, either.
Killebrew is primarily a special teams player but can be a good backup either at safety or linebacker, offering versatility. He’s also a leader in Detroit’s locker room -- he was the team’s NFLPA rep last year -- and is the type of gritty player Campbell might like.
Prater had his worst season in over a decade in 2020, but four of his seven misses were from 50-plus yards. The 36-year-old still has a strong leg and has made his home in Detroit since the club signed him in 2014. Detroit did sign a kicker -- Matthew Wright -- to a futures contract but it’s unclear if that’s as a replacement or competition for the NFL’s record-holder for longest made field goal.
LS Don Muhlbach
Muhlbach played with Dan Campbell in Detroit from 2006-08 and said late last season he would like to help fix the franchise before he walked away. The Lions kept Steven Wirtel on the practice squad all year, but he left for the Rams in the offseason, so the opportunity is there for Muhlbach to return if he wants to.