Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes was active during the first week of NFL agency. Before the negotiation period opened, he re-signed key depth pieces in Isaiah Buggs and Craig Reynolds as well as tendering five exclusive rights free agents. He also re-signed John Caminsky to a team-friendly deal.
These moves will play a significant role in Detroit’s depth situation. Holmes addressed critical positions of need like linebacker and cornerback. However, he did not make an upgrade at interior defensive line during the first week of free agency. There is still plenty of time to go find a starting caliber player to pair with Alim McNeill, but it seems likely this is a position Detroit will look to address in the draft.
Holmes signed five players who are likely to fill roles as starters next season. Cornerbacks Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley, running back David Montgomery and guard Graham Glasgow all come in as outside free agent signings. Linebacker Alex Anzalone returns after re-signing with Detroit as well. All five fill important positions of need.
Here are grades for the Detroit Lions’ five most impactful free agent signings.
Cornerback Cam Sutton
The Lions stole Sutton away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was the first major signing by the team during the negotiating period. Holmes brought in Sutton on a three-year deal worth $33 million. That includes $22.5 million in guaranteed.
Sutton was the most versatile cornerback available on the open market. The 28-year-old enjoyed a career year in 2022. He finished with three interceptions and 15 passes defended. Moreover, he allowed the ninth fewest passing yards among cornerbacks who played at least 400 coverage snaps.
He is not the fastest corner, and he does not possess elite size or length. However, Sutton established himself as a reliable No. 1 corner this past season. He can play well on the boundary, but he offers high-end performances when he is flexed into the slot. For a Lions team that desperately needed cornerback depth, Sutton’s versatility is incredibly valuable.
This signing also provides Detroit with flexibility in the draft. The team no longer needs to target a cornerback with one of its two first-round picks. The team could potentially wait until after the first two rounds to find a rookie corner. Of course, if the board falls a certain way, there is no reason for the Lions to avoid a corner with one of their four picks in the top 60.
If the Lions can find an elite corner prospect in the draft, they should not hesitate to pull the trigger. While Sutton has proven himself to be a reliable No. 1 corner, his best role in the long term may be as a high-end No. 2 guy.
Cornerback Emmanuel Moseley
Moseley was enjoying the best season of his career in 2022 before he tore his ACL. He posted a career-best 70.9 grade according to Pro Football Focus. The Detroit Lions brought the 26-year-old in on a one-year deal worth $6 million. Moseley will have a chance to show he can still play at a high level once he is fully recovered from his injury.
He reunites with his former Tennessee teammate in Sutton. Like Sutton, Moseley offers versatility as a cornerback. He can play man coverage and zone coverage, and he can flex into the slot if needed. On a one-year deal, the Lions do not have to worry about long-term cap issues if Moseley is unable to perform at a high level.
Last season, Detroit learned that a team can never have enough reliable cornerbacks. They also learned a team can certainly not have enough. With a group of Sutton, Moseley, Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs, the Lions have set themselves up with solid depth at the position. Adding a rookie via the draft will just be icing on the cake.
There is still a risk involved in signing a player recovering from an ACL tear. Even if the contract is not fully guaranteed. It is not a particularly big risk, but it is a small concern. Still, if Moseley can return to form in 2023, the Lions secondary would see a significant upgrade over last season’s group.
Running back David Montgomery
The expectation among Lions fans this offseason was that last year’s leading rusher, Jamaal Williams, would return to Detroit on a brand new contract. There was reportedly mutual interest between both sides to get a deal done. However, recent news indicates Williams’ agent turned down the Lions’ offer in favor of what his client might receive on the open market.
The Lions then turned to freshly released running back David Montgomery, formerly of the Chicago Bears. Williams went to the New Orleans Saints.
Montgomery joins the Lions on a three-year deal worth $18 million with $11 million guaranteed. Montgomery is a former 1,000-yard rusher and still has tread on the tires as just a 25-year-old. He rushed for 801 yards behind a less-than-dominant Bears offensive line. In Detroit, his blocking projects to be significantly better. He pairs in the backfield with D’Andre Swift, who is entering the final year of his contract.
There is no doubt that Montgomery is the more talented running back compared to Williams. However, the $6 million average annual value for a running back is a bit rich, especially when said running back is not among the best in the league. Montgomery is good, but not great. It would not be surprising if the Lions were to restructure Montgomery’s contract next offseason or in 2025.
He will be a productive back, but at his price tag, he may leave the Lions wanting more.
Guard Graham Glasgow
The 30-year-old Glasgow returns to the Detroit Lions team that drafted him back in 2016. Glasgow’s signing could easily signal the end of Halapoulivaati Vaitai’s tenure in Detroit. The Lions can save roughly $7 million by cutting Vaitai this offseason.
Glasgow took a step back in 2022. He was not quite a liability on the Denver Broncos’ offensive line, but he showed his age a bit at times. The guard allowed five sacks and committed 10 penalties this past season. His 59.3 grade from PFF was his lowest since his rookie season.
On a one-year, $4.5 million contract, the Lions could get worse guard play. Glasgow is likely an upgrade over Vaitai, who is set to carry a $12.4 million if he is retained for the 2023 season.
Glasgow’s short-term deal could also signal the Lions’ interest in targeting a guard early in the upcoming draft. Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence and TCU’s Steve Avila headline this year’s guard class. It would not be a shock if the Lions used one of their four top 60 picks on one of them.
Glasgow is a solid stop-gap option. It is hard to picture him figuring into the Lions’ long-term plans. For a season, maybe two if needed, he should be able to provide reliable enough guard play.
Linebacker Alex Anzalone
It is no surprise the Lions went for continuity when addressing the linebacker position in free agency. Anzalone played some of the best football of his career next to Malcolm Rodriguez in 2022. He finished the season with 78 solo tackles, an interception and a forced fumble.
Anzalone is a decent option at linebacker. He can provide above-average play. However, his level of play is easily replaceable. Anzalone graded out at 59.2 according to PFF. He has his moments, but he also has lapses.
On the right deal, it made all the sense in the world to bring Anzalone back. With a short-term contract, the Lions could retain decent linebacker play while looking for his replacement in this year’s or next year’s draft. On his current deal, that is likely still the plan, but Anzalone received a bit of an overpay.
Anzalone signed a three-year $18.7 million deal with the Detroit Lions. He carries an AAV of $6.25 million per year. That is a lot for a guy who could honestly be replaced by similar production for someone much cheaper.
Still, Anzalone fits the culture Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell are trying to build. There were worse contracts signed by other free agents around the NFL. Anzalone is fine, but it would not be surprising if he was a cap casualty in a year or two.
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