The Detroit Lions linebacker corp had a tough season. The continuing saga surrounding DeAndre Levy’s injury status and Kyle Van Noy’s failure to contribute left an already under-manned unit thin. Tahir Whitehead and Josh Bynes put forth admirable efforts this season.
Whitehead was among the league leaders in tackles and Josh Bynes established himself as valuable depth player. But the Lions were missing the play-making abilities DeAndre Levy possessed to seasons ago when he was considered one of the games best.
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Linebacker is definitely a hole the Lions must fill this off-season. The best tool to fill that hole could be free agency. At the time of this post, the Detroit Lions had just over $46 million in cap space for the upcoming season. Some of that cap will be gobbled up by the pay raises due Larry Warford, Riley Rieff and a possible extension for Matthew Stafford.
That does leave some room for a big free agent signing and the Lions should look to a market that is deep in linebacker help this year. Among the big names available are New England Patriot Dont’a Hightower, Buffalo Bill Zach Brown and Cleveland Brown Jamie Collins.
The Browns acquired Collins mid-season in a trade with the New England Patriots after the linebacker fell out of favor with head coach Bill Belichick. Collins, who joined the Patriots while General Manager Bob Quinn was head of college scouting, could be a fit for the Lions next season. Dont’a Hightower also has an obvious Quinn connection.
The list doesn’t stop at the three free agent linebackers mentioned above. The Arizona Cardinal’s Kevin Minter, Oakland Raider’s Perry Riley and San Francisco’s Ray-Ray Armstrong are all coming off solid years and could help Detroit next season.
Of course the Lions can help themselves by locking up some of their own free agents. Josh Bynes was the teams highest rated linebacker according to Pro-Football Focus and should be wearing the Honolulu Blue in 2017.
The team could also get some internal help from DeAndre Levy. General Manager Bob Quinn thinks Levy’s injury troubles are behind him and can return to the player he was in 2014.
If all goes right for the Lions in free agency, they should be able to fix the center of the defense while adding depth to the trenches through the draft.