While the Detroit Lions defense played overwhelmingly mediocre in the 2021 season, several of their better players have become 2022 unrestricted free agents. Allotting money across those unrestricted free agents is Lions first challenge post facto “rebuild, year one”. To ensure the continual success of the Lions rebuild, the team needs to focus on retaining the right players. While that question becomes a matter of juggling the salary cap and team needs, here are the players the Lions should focus on retaining:
Key 2022 Defensive Unrestricted Free Agents the Detroit Lions Should Retain
Tracy Walker – Safety
Safety Tracy Walker is a known package, and that is completely fine. As the team rebuilds, the Lions may find a better safety than Walker. However, immediately finding a player better than him remains difficult. Drafted in Round Three of the 2018 NFL Draft, Walker never made an impact on the salary cap. He did, however, make an impact on the field in 2021, landing a career-high 108 tackles.
Walker’s value on the open-market may not mean as much as it will in Detroit. Moreover, Walker and Detroit expressed mutual interest in working out a deal. His best option rests staying in Detroit and working to maintain a roll in the Lions rebuild. He is worth targeting in the $5million dollar range.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin – Linebacker
Jalen Reeves-Maybin is one of two players who made this list and the LWOS Lions team awards list. Reeves-Maybin suffered through injuries, yet still managed to play a career year. His performance was impressive throughout the season, and finished the season on a high-note. There is plenty of potential for Reeves-Maybin within the Lions scheme. However, he is likely going to demand a larger contract than the $2.5 Million he played on last season. The Lions should prioritise keeping Reeves-Maybin, and several of their other linebackers, over pursuing a few of the other unrestricted free agents.
Charles Harris – Defensive End (Edge)
Harris is the other player who made the LWOS Lions team awards, earning the Defensive Player of the Year. Unfortunately, he may also be the hardest to keep around and the riskiest. Harris highlighted his career by ‘okay enough’ performances, until last season. After signing a $1.75, one-year deal with Detroit, he took off and landed 7.5 sacks. As Harris’ previous performances were subpar, the Lions may need to be leary about investing heavily into his future. The scheme, however, may benefit Harris in the future; an improved pass rush should also give him more room next season. Yet, a contract too expensive may require the Lions to pass on Harris in favour of a new pass-rusher at Pick 32, or a player in free-agency.
Alex Anzalone – Linebacker
Anzalone is the biggest question on the Lions roster. He is not nearly the powerful linebacker that rounds out corps; nor is he a player with the potential of Josh Woods. Yet, he is a five-year veteran with an understanding of how the game works. As long as his salary cap is not over $2 million, Anzalone can fit back into the Lions system for another year or two. The Lions have other positions to target, specifically within the secondary.
Josh Woods – Linebacker (Re-signed 22 February)
Linebacker Josh Woods was a productive secondary linebacker throughout the 2021 season. Woods did not outright impress, yet he seemed to understand the system and did not fall into the wrong spots. The Lions liked his performance as well, re-signing him to a one-year, $1.2 million salary, with a $250,000 signing bonus and a bonus of $100,000 per game he is on the roster. Woods has a chance to improve and take a bigger role in the system.