15 top-level 2019 free agents who may fit position of need and scheme to draw interest from GM Bob Quinn, coach Matt Patricia and the Detroit Lions.
Marlowe Alter, Detroit Free Press
The Detroit Lions will be voyeurs when the two-week window for NFL teams to use the franchise tag opens Tuesday, watching as others use the device to keep top pass rushers off the market but having no use for the designation themselves.
The Lions have used the tag twice on defensive ends in the last seven seasons, franchising Ziggy Ansah last year and Cliff Avril in 2012, but they have no legitimate candidates among their 14 unrestricted free agents this offseason.
Ansah, who made $17.143 million in 2018, is an unrestricted free agent for the second straight year but not a candidate for another tag — and the 20 percent raise that would come with it — after delivering just four sacks and 11 tackles in seven games.
He played just 146 defensive snaps last season because of recurring shoulder problems and finished the year on injured reserve.
Four other players who started at least eight games for the Lions last season are ticketed for unrestricted free agency — tight ends Levine Toilolo and Luke Willson, defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois and running back LeGarrette Blount — but all four are expected to hit the open market.
While the Lions don’t have any legitimate tag candidates this offseason, they will be keeping close tabs on what others across the league do.
The Lions need a replacement for Ansah at right end but likely will see the pass-rushing crop thinned heavily by the tag.
Jadeveon Clowney (Houston Texans), Demarcus Lawrence (Dallas Cowboys), Dee Ford (Kansas City Chiefs) and Frank Clark (Seattle Seahawks) are expected to be tagged, and the New England Patriots could use the device on potential Lions target Trey Flowers.
The New York Giants also could use the tag on safety Landon Collins, the Philadelphia Eagles are weighing their tag options with quarterback Nick Foles, the Baltimore Ravens have a decision to make on linebacker C.J. Mosley, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are reportedly considering using the transition tag on running back Le’Veon Bell after he sat out the entire 2018 season rather than play on the franchise tender.
The Lions are expected to bring back defensive end Romeo Okwara, who had a team-leading 7.5 sacks last season, and have until the end of the league year next month to tender him a contract as a restricted free agent.
If the Lions give Okwara a first-round tender of approximately $4.4 million, they’d be entitled to another team’s first-round pick if they choose not to match a competing offer. Under a second-round tender of about $3.1 million, they’d receive a second-round pick.
The Lions tied for 11th in the NFL with 43 sacks last season but did not get enough consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks and want to add more playmakers to their defense this offseason.
“I think this year when you look back at the stats and kind of how our defense played, we didn’t really turn the ball over as much as we would have liked,” general manager Bob Quinn said at the team’s fan forum last week. “So that’s something that’s a combination of players and putting them in the right positions.”
Ansah would make $20.57 million if the Lions were to tag him again, and while that’s not happening, Quinn didn’t totally rule out re-signing the soon-to-be 30-year-old pass rusher when asked about that possibility last month.
“Part of that is the medical,” Quinn said after the season. “Part of that is the, ‘How long is he going to be out? What do we think when he gets recovered? Is he going to be the same?’ So all these things kind of factor in, so I don’t have an answer today. I’ll say this about Ziggy. Ziggy fought through some things this year. Ziggy’s extremely, extremely tough and I’m proud of him being a Detroit Lion because he, like Matthew Stafford, he played through some things that a lot of guys wouldn’t and I appreciate that.”
Ansah has had two serious shoulder injuries in his six seasons with the Lions and missed or was ineffective for much of the 2016-17 seasons because of knee and ankle injuries.
Despite that injury history, the Lions offered Ansah a long-term contract — one for far less annually than he was due to make on the franchise tag — last summer.