Opening moves: evaluating Brad Holmes' early Free Agency signings
Heading into this Free Agency period no one was quite sure how Brad Holmes was going to play it. Would he save up cash space ahead of a spending spree in 2023? Would he spend strategically on one or two key positions? Would he spend as much as he can to help the Lions take the fabled 'next step'?
The other thing adding to the sense of unknown was that, apart from the Offensive Line, every area of this team needed starters. Before Free Agency opened I assessed the current depth chart and identified my top 4 needs: Safety, Linebacker, Pass Rusher (DE/EDGE), and Wide Receiver. So, how did Brad Holmes go about adding starters for those positions? And how much closer to competing are the Lions as a result?
NB: these are reactions to the first few signings of Free Agency - reactions to the next wave will follow
Safety Re-signed Tracy Walker (3 years, $25m) Heading into Free Agency we had no starting calibre Safeties on the roster. I expected this position to be the one that Holmes' threw the most resources at and was hoping for Marcus Williams. However, now I've seen Williams' contract I think Brad Holmes made the right call. Williams' Baltimore Ravens contract is massive at 5 years and up to $70m. Tracy Walker isn't in the same tier as Williams, but we're not paying him to be. I don't think he'll ever be a top 5 Safety but that doesn't mean he's not a good player. For me, he's good enough to be a starter on a Super Bowl contender and I'm very happy with Holmes' work here. As it's a re-signing it's not technically an upgrade on last year but it does lock down the Free Safety spot for a few years at a reasonable price. Just need to find a Strong Safety to pair with him now...
Re-signed Alex Anzalone (1 year, $2.25m)
Alex Anzalone and Jalen Reeves-Maybin ended '21 as our two starting Linebackers but both were out of contract. We do have Derrick Barnes and some other young players on the roster who could step up, but I think they are more suited to rotational roles in '22. I honestly thought that Reeves-Maybin would be the one to stay but it is Anzalone, and I don't think it's a bad move. Both played OK last year and re-signing Anzalone means we're not desperate for a Linebacker anymore. Unlike Walker, I do not believe that Anzalone is good enough to be a starting on a Super Bowl contender, and it's not even close. As a re-signing, it's hard to argue that we're better for this move. Unlike the Walker re-signing this doesn't secure a position for a few years. This fills a gap for a year and that's it. The best thing about the deal is how little we're paying him.
Re-signed Charles Harris (2 years, $13m)
Charles Harris had a great comeback season and earned a deal somewhere, but I honestly didn't think it would be in Detroit. I'm not unhappy to see him back, more surprised. His deal is reasonable without overcommitting. Again, this move is a re-signing so it's still hard to argue we got better. But many people weren't expecting Harris back. If his career revival continues this will look like great business in a year or two.
Signed DJ Chark (1 year, $10m)
The re-signing of Josh Reynolds to an incentive-laden two-year contract removed the immediate need for a Wide Receiver. Due to the strength of this Receiver class, I honestly wasn't expecting the Lions to make a splashy move at Receiver and I'm not overly excited about this one. But he's on a reasonable deal without too much commitment from the Lions in terms of money or term and he fills a definite need. Now Holmes doesn't have to draft a Receiver high, and that's a good spot to be in. If Chark fits in well, Jared Goff is really set up for success; let's see what he does with it.
So, after the initial wave of Free Agency, there was no huge, headline-grabbing move. The Lions definitely are not ready to compete for the division and it's hard to argue we're that much better than last year. But Holmes re-signed a couple of key players at key positions on the Defense and his one major acquisition sets up the Offense for success nicely. I don't think anyone is very excited, but neither should anyone be concerned. It's not a leap forwards, but it is a step forwards. The best thing? None of these moves is a massive overpay that could really cost the team down the line. So many of Bob Quinn's Free Agency moves backfired. Holmes is still building the foundation for this team and he's doing it without risking the future. Above all else, the main takeaway from this Free Agency class is that the Lions are going to build this team through the draft; roll on April 28th!
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