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 free agent negotiating period opens Monday and the Detroit Lions have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Here is the first in a series of position-by-position breakdowns on the top players available in free agency and what the Lions might do at each position.

Offensive line

The Lions were much better on the offensive last year than they were in 2017, but general manager Bob Quinn’s ongoing investment in the playing group still hasn’t reaped big rewards. That could change this year if recent first-round picks, left tackle Taylor Decker and left guard Frank Ragnow, take another step forward. Center Graham Glasgow is in line for a contract extension this summer, so the Lions need to save money for that. The biggest question heading into free agency is what they’ll do at right guard, where T.J. Lang is coming off another injury-filled year. Lang is due a $500,000 roster bonus next weekend, and the Lions have until then to renegotiate his contract or set him free.

More from Birkett: NFL combine whispers: What Lions will do in draft, free agency

The Lions probably won’t be big spenders at the guard position in free agency no matter happens with Lang, but if he’s medically cleared to return it would make sense to bring him back for one more incentive-laden year. Kenny Wiggins and Joe Dahl are the interior backups, and the Lions could be in the market for a comparable player if Lang departs. At tackle, Tyrell Crosby is in line to replace Rick Wagner in the near future, but the Lions need a swing veteran type. Someone like ex-Patriot Cameron Fleming might make sense.

On the Lions’ roster for 2019: OT-Taylor Decker, Rick Wagner, Tyrell Crosby, Jarron Jones; IOL – Frank Ragnow, T.J. Lang, Graham Glasgow, Joe Dahl, Leo Koloamatangi, Kenny Wiggins

Pending free agents: OT Andrew Donnal

Top free agents – OT

Donovan Smith, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – The Bucs will reportedly use the franchise tag on Smith if they don’t reach agreement on a new contract, but they haven’t done that yet so he’s on this list for now. Smith is still just 25 years old and he’s started every game in four-year career. He’s not a top-five tackle, but he’s a good enough player that Tampa can’t afford to let him go.

Ja’Wuan James, Miami Dolphins – James didn’t have the smoothest start to his NFL career, but like Smith he’s an experienced, young (26) blocker in a league that doesn’t have enough good offensive tackles. Someone will overpay for him in free agency.

Trent Brown, New England Patriots – You could argue that Brown is the No. 1 tackle on this list after the job he did blocking for the Super Bowl champs in 2018. Brown revitalized his career in New England, and now he’s about to make a boatload on the open market. The Patriots let Nate Solder walk in free agency last year and are loath to overpay their veterans, plus they have first-round pick Isaiah Wynn returning from the torn Achilles that cost him all of last season.

Three more to watch: Cameron Fleming, Dallas Cowboys; Daryl Williams, Carolina Panthers; Josh Wells, Jacksonville Jaguars


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Top free agents – Interior OL

Rodger Saffold, Los Angeles Rams – The Rams scored a big win this offseason when left tackle Andrew Whitworth said he’d return for 2019, but they might be hard-pressed to keep Saffold, their starting left guard, in the fold as well. A couple months shy of his 31st birthday, Saffold is unquestionably the best guard on the market.

Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos – Paradis played just nine games last season because of a broken leg, but he’s the best center on the market. As noted, the Lions probably won’t pay big money for an interior lineman this offseason, and Paradis might not be quite big enough for the Lions’ liking. But it should be noted that Lions offensive line coach Jeff Davidson held the same position in Denver in 2017.

Mitch Morse, Kansas City Chiefs – Morse has missed 14 games over the last two seasons with injuries, so he isn’t the most durable player on the market. But when you’re the starting center for a powerhouse offense like the Chiefs’, you’re bound to get some attention in free agency. 

Three more to watch: J.R. Sweezy, Seattle Seahawks; Brian Schwenke, New England Patriots; Quinton Spain, Tennessee Titans

One wildcard

D.J. Fluker, Seattle Seahawks. If the Lions want a veteran who won’t break the bank to replace T.J. Lang, Fluker is worth a look. Fluker played well in Seattle last year before a hamstring injury ended his season and has plenty of experience at right guard. He won’t come cheap, but he won’t get top-of-the-market money, either.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.


Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Indianapolis during the NFL combine.
Detroit Free Press