There are 18 players who ended the 2022 season as Detroit Lions who will become unrestricted free agents once the league year ends. Many of them played key roles in the team’s 9-8 finish, the first winning season for the Lions since 2017.
Figuring out which ones to keep and how much to value them, both intrinsically and monetarily, is one of the many key decisions for Lions GM Brad Holmes and his staff.
Here are four pending free agents the Lions need to bring back at any (realistic) cost:
S DeShon Elliott
(AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)
Elliott’s value to the team was never more evident than when he missed the Week 16 game against the Carolina Panthers. The safety was the veteran glue to the secondary and an integral cog in the improved run defense, both of which completely fell apart without him in Charlotte.
Elliott does carry some durability issues; he’s missed at least three games in five of his last seven seasons dating back to his college days at Texas. That risk should (should!) keep Elliottt’s price tag and demand around the league lower. He’s a very natural fit in the defense and with DBs coach Brian Duker, who was the primary force luring him from Baltimore after spending time there together with the Ravens.
Failing to re-sign Elliott means the Lions will have to spend fairly significant resources, either in the first two days of the draft or in free agency, to fill his safety role.
DL John Cominsky
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One of the Lions’ best success stories of 2022, Cominsky went from being dumped by a bad Atlanta defense to being a critical starter on the Detroit defense that was an upper-echelon unit over the final half of the season. His ability to play multiple positions effectively and his on-field chemistry with standout rookie Aidan Hutchinson would be very difficult to replace.
His return to the lineup after missing weeks with a thumb injury was a big part of the radical defensive improvement in the second half of the season. That he was so effective while playing with a casted club for a hand demonstrates how much better he can become once he’s fully healed.
Cominsky practically begged the Lions to bring him back earlier this week. They should listen to “The Commish”.
WR DJ Chark
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As was the case with both Elliott and Cominsky, Chark’s value to the Lions can best be ascertained by how poor the team fared in his absence.
The speedy outside receiver missed Weeks 4-10 and wasn’t at full speed in Week 11. After that, Chark looked very much like the reliable, playmaking receiver the Lions were hoping for when they signed him as a free agent from the Jacksonville Jaguars. That was never more evident than on the most important play of the Week 18 win over the Packers — it was Chark who Lions OC Ben Johnson trusted and who QB Jared Goff looked to without hesitation.
When Chark didn’t play, Goff posted his worst stretch of the season. They’re a lot better together, something the Lions seem to understand. Of this group, Chark is the most likely to get better offers elsewhere.
RB Jamaal Williams
(Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images)
Williams is an interesting case as a free agent. The NFL leader in rushing TDs and the first 1,000-yard rusher in Detroit in a decade, he’s clearly a productive fit in the Lions offense. Yet he’s also not a true bell-cow type of RB and had a stretch late in the season where he was not good at all.
Valuing Williams properly is important. His running productivity, especially outside the red zone, can be replaced pretty easily by another running back. But his emotional leadership, his eccentric and energizing personality, and his proven success as perhaps the best short-yardage and red-zone runner in the league, are things the Lions would struggle mightily to replace. He’s the perfect leadership balance to Goff, and it’s an interpersonal dynamic that makes the quarterback better. That’s worth another season in Detroit.