DeMarcus Lawrence, DE, Dallas: The 26-year-old edge defender is the total package of size, length and pass-rushing ability. He’s recorded 25 sacks over the past two seasons, while generating 63 total pressures in 2018. He played on the franchise tag last season, and Dallas is expected to pull out all the stops to lock him up long-term.
Trey Flowers, DE, New England: There’s a natural connection with Lions coach Matt Patricia, who coached Flowers his first three seasons. He doesn’t have Lawrence’s sack totals, averaging seven the past three years, but Flowers consistently disrupts the pocket with 64 pressures last season. On top of that, he’s an outstanding run defender.
Jadeveon Clowney, DE/OLB, Houston: The former No. 1 pick comes with plenty of concerns about his durability, but he’s only missed three games the past three years. The athleticism is still off the charts, and at 25, he’s just entering his prime. He’s recorded at least nine sacks each of the past two seasons, with 59 and 64 pressures those two seasons.
Dee Ford, LB, Kansas City: Ford might be the most productive pass rusher on the market, hitting double-digit sacks for the second time in three seasons in 2018, while his 77 pressures were the most of any edge defender. At 252 pounds, he’s not as stout against the run, and there would be some positional overlap with Devon Kennard.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh: Unless Bell’s price tag comes way down, there’s little chance the Lions would enter the bidding. It just doesn’t make sense to pay big money to a running back who would be entering a clear timeshare with Kerryon Johnson. Even though Bell has missed a season, he’s still the best offensive weapon set to hit the market, with elite rushing and receiving skills for his position.
Landon Collins, S, NYG: Safety isn’t a pressing need for Detroit, but with Quandre Diggs’ positional flexibility in the back end, you can’t rule out upgrading the position with a playmaker of Collins’ caliber. His well-rounded skill set let him play deep or in the box. Prior to a down year in 2018, he showed a regular ability to turn the ball over.
Za’Darius Smith, DE/OLB, Baltimore: With the most playing time of his four-year career, the 272-pound Smith finished with career-highs in tackles (45), tackles for loss (10), sacks (8.5) and quarterback hits (25).
K.J. Wright, LB, Seattle: Wright’s biggest knock is his age. He’ll be 30 by the start of training camp. But the highly instinctual linebacker would provide a significant upgrade to Detroit’s second level. He missed significant time last season with a knee injury, which he aggravated late in the year. That will need to pass medical testing, but four straight seasons of 100-plus tackles before last speak to his productivity.
Frank Clark, DE, Seattle: The former Michigan Wolverine has developed into an outstanding pass rusher at the professional level. He’s averaged nearly 11 sacks the past three seasons and is brining plenty of pressure to the pocket. The lingering concern would be his off-field issues. Although the charges were dropped in a plea deal, the domestic violence accusations from 2014 are troubling, and the Lions have shown little tolerance on that front.
Preston Smith, LB, Washington: A former second-round pick, Smith has been a solid pro, but took his game to a higher level in 2018. Playing an impressive 834 snaps, Smith uses his length to his advantage off the edge. He recorded 53 tackles, 4.0 sacks and 53 quarterback pressures last season.
Ziggy Ansah, DE, Detroit: No introduction is needed. The Lions know what Ansah can do when healthy, but he’s rarely been healthy the past three years. He produced pressure at an elite rate in 2018, but played fewer than 200 snaps because of a shoulder injury. Only way to justify bringing him back is on an incentive-laden deal.
Steven Nelson, CB, Kansas City: A steadily improving young cornerback, Nelson started intercepting passes in 2018, as opposed to just breaking them up. He finished the year with four picks and 15 pass defenses for the Chiefs. He primarily played on the outside in 2018, but has plenty of experience working the slot, giving him added value.
Rodger Saffold, G, Los Angeles Rams: The veteran guard is on the wrong side of 30, turning 31 this June, but he’s been fairly durable, starting at least 15 games four of the past five seasons. The best interior lineman scheduled to be on the market, Saffold has been locked into playing left guard in recent years, but the Lions could easily move Frank Ragnow. Saffold has allowed an average of 2.0 sacks and 23 pressures his past four full seasons.
C.J. Mosley, LB, Baltimore: An outstanding run defender, the 250-pound Mosley has averaged almost 116 tackles during his five-year career, missing just three games during that stretch. He’s also established himself as a playmaker, tallying 43 tackles for loss, nine interceptions and six forced fumbles during his tenure in Baltimore.
Earl Thomas, S, Seattle: Thomas is one of the greatest safeties to ever play the game, but his value is held back by his age (30) and the broken leg he suffered last season. Again, the Lions don’t “need” a safety, but if Thomas’ price tag falls into a range they’re comfortable spending, he makes any defense better. He’s thrived covering the deep middle in Seattle’s Cover-3, one of Patricia’s favorite coverages.
Jordan Hicks, LB, Philadelphia: If it wasn’t for his injury history, Hicks would be in the conversation as one of the NFL’s best inside linebackers. He’s shown the ability to cover, with seven interceptions in 43 career games, as well as outstanding pursuit angles and tackling skills when defending the run. The durability issues can’t be ignored, though. He’s missed at least four games in three of his four seasons, including last year.
Brandon Graham, DE, Philadelphia: An outstanding edge rusher, who has been performing at an absurdly high level for three straight seasons, Graham is lower on this list because he isn’t an ideal scheme fit for Detroit. His shorter arms have not impacted ability to disrupt the pocket, but could prove problematic in a gap-control front. On top of that, the Detroit native turns 31 this offseason, 4-5 years older than several of the other top pass-rushers on the market.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans: The Lions are going to need a complement for Kerryon Johnson and Ingram has worked well in a timeshare in New Orleans for much of his career. Averaging 4.6 yards or better each of the past four seasons, while doing plenty of his damage after first contact. Ingram is also a proven receiving option out of the backfield, with only six drops the past three seasons.
Bryce Callahan, CB, Chicago: A season-ending broken foot will likely put a damper on Callahan’s market after a breakout campaign in 2018. Allowing just 56 percent of the passes thrown his direction to be completed, he displayed a comfort level defending receivers both outside and in the slot. He’s not a big-time playmaker, but did have a pair of interceptions each of the past two seasons.
Golden Tate, WR, Philadelphia: Assuming it’s not cost prohibitive, there’s little reason the Lions shouldn’t consider bringing Tate back. Yes, he’s about to turn 31, and at some point, the quickness is going to decline, but we haven’t seen any signs of that yet. His open-field elusiveness was sorely lacking from Detroit’s offense down the stretch last season and there’s clear chemistry with Matthew Stafford.
Kareem Jackson, CB, Houston: The 30-year-old Jackson is a versatile defensive back who can handle outside cornerback, nickel and safety responsibilities. He’s coming off a season where he broke up a career-high 17 throws, and he’s averaged a pair of interceptions over the past five seasons. He’s also been a top-three run-defending defensive back the past two years, according to Pro Football Focus.
Anthony Barr, OLB, Minnesota: A key cog in the Vikings defense the past several years, Barr’s production has never quite lived up to his status as a former top-10 draft pick. He’s never hit the quarterback 10 times in a season, never had more than 4.0 sacks or 75 tackles and doesn’t force many turnovers. Still, he’s an upgrade over Christian Jones, just not one worth breaking the bank to acquire.
Tevin Coleman, RB, Atlanta: A potential big-play backfield complement, Coleman has averaged at least 4.0 yards per carry all four seasons in Atlanta, peaking at 4.8 last year. He’s always a threat to break a long run, with 15 of his 167 carries gaining at least 15 yards. He’s also a threat as a receiving option, averaging 30 grabs for 332 yards and four touchdowns the past three seasons.
Adrian Amos, S, Chicago: Pro Football Focus loves Amos, grading him as one of their top 10 safeties the past two seasons. A big, physical hitter, Amos doesn’t miss a lot of tackles, but he also has impressive range in coverage. He’s one of those players who is not great at any one thing, but solid at just about everything.
Ronald Darby, CB, Philadelphia: Had he not suffered a torn ACL in November, he’d have been several slots higher on this list. That injury will probably leave him lingering on the market a few extra months, until he’s closer to returning to football activities. When healthy, Darby is a quality cover corner, with 54 pass defenses and six picks in 46 career games.
Jesse James, TE, Pittsburgh: This crop of tight ends is nothing to write home about. Jared Cook is the best receiving option, but James is seven years younger and offers more as a blocker. Not that he can’t catch. He’s averaged 37 catches for 378 yards and three scores the past three seasons. The targets were way down in 2018, but he made up for it with a career-high catch rate and yards per reception.
Robby Anderson, WR, New York Jets: There are off-field issues to consider with Anderson, but between the white lines, he’s a big-play threat on the outside. Anderson has averaged 14.7 yards per reception during his three seasons with the Jets and he’s had a catch of 25 yards or longer in 21 of his 46 games.
Spencer Ware, RB, Kansas City: Another dual-threat back to potentially complement Johnson in Detroit’s backfield, Ware has averaged 4.7 yards per carry during his three seasons with the Chiefs, while averaging 20 catches for 225 yards in his part-time role during that stretch.
Pierre Desir, CB, Indianapolis: A small-school standout, Desir was taken in the fourth round in 2014. Indianapolis is his fourth professional stop, and the first that trusted him as a starter. The ball skill numbers are modest, with eight pass defenses and one interception in 2018, but he limited opposing quarterbacks to a 57.8 percent completion percentage on throws his direction, while providing top-tier run support. Oh, and he committed just two penalties.
Mark Glowinski, G, Indianapolis: Seattle ran out of patience with the former fourth-round pick, but Glowinski delivered a solid performance for the Colts in 2018, allowing just 11 pressures and no sacks in 11 games (nine starts).
A solid list, I thought. I like how it ranges from the aspirational, 5-star, top-dollar, probably-won’t-ultimately-be-available FAs down to the cheaper, nondescript ones that might have a little something to them. Given that the Lions are rather flush with cash to spend, it will be interesting to see how many of these guys end up here.