The Lions will look towards the offseason to build the future of the franchise.
As general manager Bob Quinn looks to right the ship following -- what looks to be -- a second-straight losing season for the franchise, not all of Detroit’s answers will come via the 2020 NFL Draft.
In 2019, we saw the Lions spend big money on defensive end Trey Flowers and slot cornerback Justin Coleman.
The franchise has $49 million in cap space headed into 2020, per Spotrac -- 18-most in the league.
This lends Quinn the opportunity to make one big-splash signing or a few small-money acquisitions.
Let’s first take a look at the big-money targets.
Here are some options:
Cornerback Byron Jones, Cowboys
The Athletic released its comprehensive list of 2020 free agents this week.
Jones is ranked No. 12 overall on the list, and sits atop the list of cornerbacks.
Detroit’s passing defense ranks in the bottom-five of the league.
All-Pro Darius Slay and Coleman haven’t been the main source of those struggles; though, they certainly haven’t been great.
Really, it’s been the lack of depth at the CB2 spot.
Jones lining up opposite Slay, with Coleman also in the equation, would mean the Lions would have a boatload of money invested in corners.
However, the risk could be worth the reward of having one of the best cornerback groups in the league.
The Cowboys will likely have to move on from one of quarterback Dak Prescott, defensive end Robert Quinn and Jones.
Corner is their deepest position of those three, leading me to believe that Jones will be available.
One negative stands out, though: Jones will likely command the most wealthy contract among all cornerbacks in the league, due to the lack of other high-end options in free agency.
Projected salary: $15M/year over four years
EDGE Shaquil Barrett, Buccaneers
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Observations from Day 14 of Detroit Lions training camp.
One position that’s far deeper than cornerbacks in free agency is edge rushers.
In The Athletic’s list, four of their top-15 free agents are edge rushers.
Barrett signed a small, one-year deal with Tampa Bay over the offseason, and used it to produce a career year. It should set him up for a big payday in 2020.
He ranks second in the league with 11.5 sacks and fourth with 28.5 combined sacks and quarterback hits, per The Athletic.
The Lions’ pass rush is beginning to become a mockery, too.
Prescott said that last week against Detroit was the most time he’s ever had in the pocket.
There will be edge-rushing options to pursue in the NFL Draft next April.
However, investing in Barret -- coming off of a career year -- would immediately serve as a remedy for Detroit’s most glaring weakness.
Projected salary: 4 years at $17M/year
Linebacker Cory Littleton, Rams
Detroit’s biggest hole is its lack of a pass rush, but its worst-performing position is -- without a doubt -- linebacker.
Former first-round pick Jarrad Davis has graded out exceptionally over the past two weeks.
However, before that, he was the lowest-graded linebacker in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
Meanwhile, 2019 second-round pick Jahlani Tavai hasn’t impressed much, beside for with his hit-or-miss productivity while blitzing and providing run support.
Both linebackers struggle especially in pass coverage, which has attributed to Detroit’s 30th-ranked pass defense.
Littleton has five interceptions, 21 passes defended, 12 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks and seven QB hits over the past two seasons, per The Athletic.
He’s 26, has never missed a game and would fill Detroit’s biggest positional need.
With the draft being short on linebacker options, Littleton would be my top priority in free agency if I was in Quinn’s seat.
Projected salary: 4 years at $13M/year