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4 Free Agents Lions Could Target on Defense

The Detroit Lions may have to bolster their defense during training camp. Here are some likely targets.

Dan Campbell acknowledged that his team could be in the market for some help along the front seven of its defense.

The Detroit Lions are looking to get bulkier in the middle of their defense. The unit has been somewhat strapped for size and one of its biggest members, John Penisini, announced his retirement ahead of the start of training camp.

“It goes without saying that you better be disruptive then (if you’re not big), we better hit these gaps,” Campbell said. “We’ve got to hit the blocks, we can’t allow ourselves to get road-grated. I will tell you this, we may need a little bit more girth up front. I wouldn’t say we’re not looking for that or won’t be.”

The Lions have already made one move to attempt and address the lack of size up front, signing defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs. Drafted in 2019, the run-stopper has played in 29 games, with seven starts in his career.

If Detroit is indeed looking to add more to its front seven, be it D-line or linebacker, here are four free agents that it could pursue. 

Sheldon Richardson, DT

Richardson seems like a solid fit for the Lions. He fills the need the team has for size, and brings a wealth of experience that isn’t available just anywhere.

The Lions have made a point of getting younger on their front seven by drafting heavy on the defensive linemen and linebackers. However, a little age wouldn’t hurt the young group, as there would still be plenty of reps available.

Richardson brings proven talent and size, something the Lions could benefit from in a rotational role. He may be able to serve as a mentor to youngsters like Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike, something that would also help the organization greatly.

Ndamukong Suh, DT

One of the best Detroit defensive linemen in recent memory is back on the market, albeit a little older than he was during his stint as a Lion.

After spending the first five seasons of his career with the Lions, Suh left ahead of the 2015 season to join the Miami Dolphins. Since then, he’s had time with the Rams (2018) and Buccaneers (2019-21), before once again hitting the open market.

Could the Lions bring him back for a reunion? Potentially. 

As with Richardson, the team has committed to getting younger, and may not want to take on the 35-year-old Suh. However, he’s played in every game since missing two in 2011, and notched six sacks last season.

For a rotational-type role, he may be serviceable. However, there may be off-field apprehensions that prevent this reunion from happening, though there is new leadership in place.

Justin Zimmer, DT

If the Lions are looking for a younger player, Zimmer could fill their needs. He’s 29, with four seasons of action under his belt, while profiling with enough size at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds.

Additionally, Zimmer has ties to Michigan. Born in Greenville and educated at Ferris State University, the defensive tackle has carved out a role in the NFL after spending the last two campaigns with the Buffalo Bills.

Playing in 21 games over four years isn’t the brightest recommendation, but he was able to find a sticking spot in Buffalo before his contract ran out. Now, he’s looking for a new home, and could be a developmental piece that Campbell and company take a chance on.


Joe Schobert, LB

Schobert has sort of flown under the radar in recent years, as he remains a free agent despite totaling 112 tackles last season. The Wisconsin product was released in March, and is still unsigned as of Thursday.

Throughout his career, Schobert has been a smooth run-stopper who attacks the football. Despite not logging a sack in 2021, he still finished with 112 tackles. Last season was his fifth consecutive campaign with at least 100 stops.

The Lions have an ongoing competition for their top linebacker spots. Assuming he’s healthy and takes care of the conditioning test, Schobert could step in and compete for the starting spot right away.