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Detroit Lions 2022 Offseason Preview: Pending free agents, team needs, draft picks, and more

How do you fix Motor City? Let's break down the Detroit Lions' offseason with their pending free agents, team needs, and possible draft picks.

Dan Campbell’s first year as Detroit Lions coach not only met the low expectations we all set for it but somehow exceeded them. The Lions were one of the worst teams in football and still are at square one of a rebuild that ostensibly began a year ago. Other than tackle Penei Sewell, no one in their 2021 NFL Draft class is a lock to be a high-level player. While their pending free agents might not move the needle much, the Lions have to add much more talent in the coming months in free agency and through draft picks, beginning with the game’s most important position.

Detroit Lions 2022 Offseason Preview

Quarterback Jared Goff isn’t it. And Lions general manager Brad Holmes surely knows it. Goff was the worst non-rookie quarterback in the NFL this year. And that’s not even the most depressing news. Goff’s contract comes with a $31 million cap figure next year that includes a $15.5 million roster bonus due in March that’s already guaranteed.

The Lions probably have little choice but to eat it and put all that money on the bench. Goff’s trade value is zero, but they have no chance to win next year if he is under center. Yet, there are no good answers to this problem.

The Lions would be foolish to use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback, and the odds of Aaron Rodgers, Russell Wilson, or Deshaun Watson green-lighting a trade to Detroit are about as low as the Lions’ win percentage. That makes an instant rebuild tough for Detroit, who may have to look at this offseason as a chance to build up their roster around the QB position with a longer-term view to the position beyond 2022.

Logic suggests they’ll stick with Goff and use their second of two first-round draft picks (acquired in the Matthew Stafford trade) on one of the following prospects: Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Nevada’s Carson Strong, or Liberty’s Malik Willis.

Lions have $38.3 million in projected cap space

Source: Spotrac (as of Jan. 9)

Goff’s $30 million cap figure is a massive albatross and a big reason why the Lions enter 2022 with the NFL’s worst roster but just the 14th-most cap space. And there are very few ways to free up more resources, short of playing the restructure game and recommitting to a bunch of players who are already overpaid.

When it comes to likely cuts, Trey Flowers is the lowest-hanging fruit. Half of his $23.2 million cap figure would disappear if he’s released. Beyond that, however, the Lions would be better served taking their medicine again in 2022 and really load up in 2023.

Part of this offseason might be that we see the Lions cut some big-money players, even if it means short-term pain. Doing so could release them from longer-term obligations and save them money in the long run. Michael Brockers would be a prime example of this. Cutting him would save only $1.025 million in 2022, but it would save them paying him $3 million in salary this year, and still having $2 million in dead money next season.

That is where the Lions have to take the long-term view. They have to have their franchise in a position where it is ok if 2022 does not go their way. They cannot have Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes worried for their future looking ahead to 2022. That is how panicked, poor decisions can be made that hurt the long-term future of the franchise.

Lions’ pending free agents

The silver lining to having a terrible team is there won’t be a bunch of must-keep free agents to worry about the following offseason. Outside linebacker Alex Anzalone has been a solid contributor, but he’s far from irreplaceable. Same with safety Tracy Walker III.

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Beyond that, the Lions’ list of unrestricted free agents is pedestrian: DTs Nick Williams and Joel Heath; WRs Josh Reynolds, Kalif Raymond, and KhaDarel Hodge; OL Tyrell Crosby, Will Holden (RFA), and Evan Brown (RFA); LBs Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Shaun Dion Hamilton; QB Tim Boyle; FB Jason Cabinda; DE Charles Harris; and S Dean Marlowe.

How do the Lions’ free agents rank among the best available in 2022? Be sure out our list of top free agents available at each position to find out.

Lions’ team needs

It’d be more efficient to list what the Lions don’t need — offensive tackle. Sewell and Taylor Decker are legit, and Matt Nelson is a more-than-capable backup. Beyond that? Yeesh. Along with quarterback, the Lions desperately need playmakers on both sides of the ball, beginning with wide receiver and edge defender.

Their secondary needs a total overhaul, particularly with the uncertainty surrounding CB Jeff Okudah, who tore his Achilles in September. The Lions need to hit on at least six or seven of their 10 projected 2022 NFL Draft picks to have any hope of not drafting in the top three again in 2023.

Lions’ top five needs in the 2022 NFL offseason

  • Quarterback
  • Wide receiver
  • Linebacker
  • EDGE
  • Safety

Lions 2022 NFL Draft picks

The Lions look set to have at least 10 picks in April’s NFL Draft, including the Rams’ first-rounder plus compensatory picks in the third, fifth, and sixth rounds. The Lions don’t have their own fourth or seventh-round picks in 2022, but they do own the Browns’ and Patriots’ picks in Round 7. Below you will only find listed the picks we know they definitely have, with compensatory picks to be added when confirmed.

Here’s how the Lions’ 2022 NFL Draft picks currently stand according to the draft order:

  • Round 1 x 2 (from LAR)
  • Round 2
  • Round 3
  • Round 5
  • Round 6
  • Round 7 x 2 (from CLE & NE)

Adam Beasley is the National NFL Analyst and Insider for Pro Football Network. You can read all of Adam’s work here and give him a follow on Twitter @AdamHBeasley.

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