The Detroit Lions are entering the 2023 NFL season with a clear goal: make the playoffs for the first time since 2016 and for just the fourth time this century. After barely missing out on the postseason last year, the Lions are in a second tier of NFC playoff contenders, alongside clubs like the Seahawks and Giants but behind potentially elite teams like the Eagles, Cowboys, and 49ers.
Let’s run through three moves the Lions could consider as training camp approaches, beginning with the most high-profile free agent remaining on the market.
3 Final Moves for the Detroit Lions
Sign DeAndre Hopkins
The Lions didn’t re-sign veteran wideout DJ Chark this offseason after he posted 30 catches for 502 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season, with the thought being that 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams would step in as a starting receiver during his second NFL campaign. Williams played in just six games and received only nine targets in his rookie season while recovering from a torn ACL.
But the Alabama product won’t be available for the start of the year after receiving a six-game sports betting suspension that will sideline him until mid-October. With Williams absent, Detroit will likely deploy Marvin Jones Jr. and Josh Reynolds as their tertiary receivers behind Amon-Ra St. Brown.
The Lions can probably get by with their current combination of pass catchers. Last season, when Kalif Raymond and Reynolds were the club’s leading wide receivers behind St. Brown, Detroit’s passing attack ranked third in efficiency, while the team’s offense finished fourth in yards and fifth in points.
Ben Johnson is one of the NFL’s most effective coordinators, and he’ll figure out an offensive structure that now includes additions like Jahmyr Gibbs, David Montgomery, and Sam LaPorta.
But if the Lions want to add another element to their passing game, DeAndre Hopkins could make sense. After returning from a PED suspension, the 31-year-old posted a 64-717-3 line in nine games.
Hopkins is a contested-catch maven who would complement St. Brown immediately and Williams in time. And Detroit — with more than $22 million in available cap space — should have more than enough funds to add Hopkins if he’s interested in joining the Lions.
“Yeah, I’m not going to comment on that one,” head coach Dan Campbell said in June when asked about signing Hopkins. “But I like our receiver room. I think we have a good mix of different types of guys. I think it is important — really in your skill position, between tight ends, backs, and receivers — that you have a mix of different types of skill sets. And I feel like we have that.”
There are reasons why a Hopkins-Lions union might not work out. Hopkins notoriously doesn’t participate in practice at a 100% rate, which could clash with Campbell’s ethos.
And if Hopkins wants a Super Bowl trophy, the Chiefs or Bills might look like more attractive landing spots. But Detroit is an up-and-coming team now favored to win their division, and Hopkins could be the missing piece.
Extend Jonah Jackson
As is typical with new NFL regimes, Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes have rid the Lions’ roster of many players that were selected during Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn’s run as Detroit’s decision-makers.
This offseason, Holmes traded cornerback Jeff Okudah and running back D’Andre Swift, the first two picks of Quinn’s final draft class as the GM.
But guard Jonah Jackson, whom Detroit selected in the third round of that 2020 draft, might be around for the long haul. The Lions have built one of the league’s best offensive lines, with Holmes and Campbell responsible for extending center Frank Ragnow and drafting right tackle Penei Sewell in the first round of the 2021 draft.
Cohesion is critical along the offensive line, and Jackson has developed into an underrated contributor that Detroit shouldn’t let get away.
“I’d love to retire a Lion. I love this city,” Jackson said in June. “I have a great time here, enjoy everything about it, from the sports to the people to the cuisine. There’s nothing like it.”
Left guards like Jackson are typically paid more than their right guard counterparts, and seven left guards currently earn at least $10 million annually. Jackson will likely try to top the $13.33 million average annual value Laken Tomlinson received from the Jets last offseason and could shoot for $15 million per season.
Place Hendon Hooker on NFI List
Although Hendon Hooker was billed as a potential first-round pick in the 2023 draft, he ultimately fell to the third round.
Teams may have had concerns about his ACL recovery, his advanced age, or the Tennessee offense that allowed him to thrive in college — or some combination of all of the above. But the Lions took a shot with the 68th overall selection on the chance that Hooker develops into their next starting quarterback.
There seems to be almost no chance that Hooker will play this season. Jared Goff won’t be benched any time soon after finishing fifth in QBR last year, while Campbell has repeatedly referred to 2023 as a “redshirt” campaign for Hooker, who injured his knee in October.
Hooker recently said he’s “progressing really well” from his ACL tear, but there’s no reason the Lions shouldn’t place him on the non-football injury (NFI) list. While Hooker suffered his injury playing college football, the NFI list houses any players who incurred injuries outside the NFL.
With Nate Sudfeld to back up Goff for the second consecutive year, Detroit can stash Hooker on NFI, requiring him to miss at least the first four games of the year. He could theoretically stay on the NFI list all season long.
In that scenario, Hooker’s contract would toll, meaning he wouldn’t become a free agent until 2027.