With NFL free agency just over a week old, it feels like a good time to grade the moves that have been made so far. We will not be grading the Matthew Stafford-Jared Goff trade as we covered that already this off-season.
Signing WR Tyrell Williams – C
The Lions were in a tough position heading into this off-season as their top three wide receivers from last season were all pending free agents. As was mostly expected, all three will not be playing in Detroit next season. They started rebuilding that position with the signing of Williams, who did not play at all in 2020. His most productive years were with the then San Diego Chargers. He broke out in his second year with 69 catches for 1,059 yards and seven touchdowns. In his three seasons played since then he has not surpassed 43 catches or 730 yards in any of those seasons. He is mostly known as a down-field threat as is evidenced by his career yards-per-reception of 16.1. The Lions were not likely to improve at the wide receiver position after losing Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones Jr. and Danny Amendola, but Williams should be serviceable, even if his last three seasons are a more accurate representation of his abilities.
Signing TE Josh Hill – B
It didn’t take long for Dan Campbell to bring in one of his own players from New Orleans when he brought in TE Josh Hill. Hill is not a receiving threat, tallying just 116 catches in his 117 games. He will serve as the primary blocking tight end replacing Jesse James. James ended up being one of the most disappointing signings during the Quinn/Patricia era. He had 30 catches in his two seasons with Detroit which matched his total from his final season in Pittsburgh. Hill should be proficient at blocking which should allow TJ Hockenson to flourish as a pass catcher. Not a flashy signing by any means, but the savings from cutting James and replacing him with Hill pushes this move to a firm B.
Re-Signing DE Romeo Okwara – A
The biggest re-signing Detroit made so far was bringing back DE Romeo Okwara on a three year deal. He was the only consistent source of pass rush for the Lions last season. He finished the year with 10 sacks which led the team. Pass rush has been a struggle for the Lions in the past few seasons. While they are expected to address that role in the draft as well it was critical to bring Okwara back. His 10 sacks without much other threat on the defense could mean stronger numbers if Detroit is able to bring in a player to help him on the other side of the line. Okwara was the best player on the Detroit defense and was paid like it. As a former UDFA you can’t help but be happy for him.
Traded for DL Michael Brockers – B+
In a less-publicized swap between the Los Angeles Rams and Detroit Lions, DL Michael Brockers was acquired by Detroit for a future 7th round pick. He was then signed to a three year, $24 million contract which will take him through the 2023 season. Among the many issues for the Lions last year was their inability to stop the run. Danny Shelton and Nick Williams were brought in to clog up the middle, but were not great at doing so. This left too many plays available for linebackers who couldn’t seal the deal. Brockers had the luxury of playing with Aaron Donald for the last several years but never shined on the stat sheet. His career high in sacks for a season was 5.5 in his second year and he tallyed five sacks last season. His biggest strength is his availability. He has played in all but six possible games since he entered the league in 2012. That kind of consistency is rare and makes a player that much more valuable.
Signed RB Jamaal Williams – B+
Aaron Jones has emerged as one of the better running backs in the NFL over the past few seasons. Combine that with the use of a second round pick to select AJ Dillon and the writing was on the was for Jamaal Williams. He was a solid back-up to Jones since being drafted out of BYU in 2017. The Packers lack of room for him in their RB room will benefit a division rival. For as great as Adrian Peterson is, he was an old running back and often the primary ball carrier for Detroit last season. While D’Andre Swift is expected to have a larger role on offense this season Williams should have plenty of opportunity to carry the ball this season. Dan Campbell mentioned wanting to use Swift as a slot receiver from time to time which would allow Detroit to have both Swift and Williams on the field at the same time. Its unclear what Williams ceiling can be, but for two years and $6 million he should be well worth that money.
Signed DE Charles Harris – C
Its almost always worth taking a flyer on former first round picks. That seems to be exactly what Detroit is doing with this signing. Harris was a first round pick out of Missouri in 2017 but has not replicated the kind of sack numbers he put up in college. He was traded from Miami to Atlanta last year for a 7th round pick. This is strictly a depth signing where the Lions hope they can spark him into being a productive pass rusher.
Signed QB Tim Boyle – C
Boyle was seemingly adored by Packers fans, but that trend seems to be the same for nearly every team’s backup quarterback. Boyle did not throw a pass last year and will hopefully continue that trend backing up Jared Goff. Getting out from the massive Chase Daniel deal was a positive and Boyle should be a serviceable backup.
Signed K Randy Bullock – C-
This grade has more to do with what the Lions lost than who they brought in. Bullock has been a solid kicker in the NFL for several seasons and should continue that with Detroit. But signing him was only a necessity due to Matt Prater leaving for the Arizona Cardinals. Prater is the greatest kicker in NFL history from beyond 50 yards and that extension of scoring range will be missed. Even after Prater’s worst season in recent memory this is a clear downgrade for Detroit.
Signed WR Breshad Perriman – B-
Perriman feels like a signing similar to Tyrell Williams. His numbers are slightly lower than Williams, but he has the pedigree of being a former first round pick. He may be asked to fill a role larger than he has in his career and his ability to reach the next level could mean a lot for whether or not the Lions are successful. He grades out slightly higher than Williams as his father Brett Perriman was also a member of the Lions.
Signed LB Alex Anzalone – B-
The second pick up from the New Orleans Saints Anzalone should have an opportunity to start with Detroit next season. He was decent in coverage which is an area where Lions linebackers struggled immensely last season. The concern last year was his 35 blitz attempts without registering a single pressure. He also had relatively low tackle numbers for someone who played in all 16 games last season. His familiarity with Dan Campbell and Aaron Glenn should benefit him.
Signed WR Damion Ratley – D
Ratley has been at best a depth option so far in his young career. His best season came in 2019 with Cleveland when he recorded 12 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown. Last year with the Giants he only caught four passes in his five games of action. Quintez Cephus nearly matched his career output as a rookie last year. It would be an uphill battle for him to make the roster it appears.
Signed WR/KR Kalif Raymond – C-
This grade is similar to Randy Bullock’s because the circumstances of this signing is very similar to Bullock’s. Jamal Agnew has been arguably the best return man since he entered the NFL out of San Diego. He opted to follow Darrell Bevell to Jacksonville on a very nice contract for someone who only contributes on special teams. Raymond has been a decent kick returner in his time with Tennessee but has yet to find the end zone on special teams and has only done so once as a wide receiver.
We will be updating this piece as the team makes additional moves. Thanks for reading us grading the Lions off-season moves.