Pundits grade Detroit Lions' top free-agent signings: ESPN writer not a fan

Chris Thomas
Detroit Free Press
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The calm came after the storm, eh?

The Detroit Lions made a splash in free agency on Monday, signing four players who filled big needs on a team that finished 6-10 last season. 

On Tuesday, the Lions re-signed Zach Zenner, who emerged as a viable backup to starter Kerryon Johnson with a late-season surge, including a standout game against the Green Bay Packers. 

Pundits disagreed in some of their evaluations of the Lions' draft haul, but the consensus is the Lions got better by signing defensive end Trey Flowers, wide receiver Danny Amendola, cornerback Justin Coleman and tight end Jesse James, in addition to Zenner. 

Here's how some pundits graded the Lions' top moves:

( Note: ESPN, CBS Sports and SB Nation did not provide grades for Zach Zenner or Jesse James.)

Jan 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) celebrates after sacking Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) during the third quarter in an AFC Divisional playoff football game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

DE Trey Flowers

Skinny: Flowers, 25, who isn't known for big sack numbers, agreed to a five-year deal that will pay him up to $90 million. He was the Lions' top target in free agency. 

ESPN: C+ ... because "Flowers has generated 26.5 sacks on 81 knockdowns across 55 game," according to ESPN's Bill Barnwell. "Historically, pass-rushers will convert about 45 percent of their knockdowns into sacks, and if Flowers sacked quarterbacks at that rate, he would have 36.5 sacks over that three-year span. Edge rushers who underperform their knockdown totals typically regress toward the mean, and we've seen Flowers come up short twice in three years, but the Lions are paying the former fourth-round pick like he's already the superstar those knockdowns numbers hint he will become."

[ Lions double down on Patricia-Patriot Way in free agency ]

CBS Sports: A ... because "the 25-year-old pass rusher was the top free agent on the market on my list," according to CBS Sports' Pete Prisco. "The Lions needed to upgrade their pass rush, so this makes a lot of sense. It was rumored for a while now, and the Lions made it happen."

SB Nation:Short-term grade (B)/Long-term grade (B) ... "because Detroit needed to add a bonafide edge defender with Ezekiel Ansah slated to become a free agent. Flowers isn’t as dominant a player as Khalil Mack or Von Miller, but he’s certainly a capable player in his own right."

[ Carlos: Lions free-agency grades: Hard not to love these moves ]

WR Danny Amendola

Skinny: The 33-year-old signed a one-year deal worth at least $4.25 million on Monday. He brings a veteran presence and two Super Bowl rings to the wide receiver room, and if he stays healthy he could amass 600 yards receiving out of the slot. 

ESPN: C+ ... because "the fact that the Lions already are committed to (Kenny) Golladay and (Marvin) Jones means this is a lot to give a third wideout for a team with holes all over its defense. This (was) a market deep with slot receivers — Amendola, Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley and Jamison Crowder (were) all out there — and the slot is a position in which teams have typically been able to find useful contributors in the draft and even among undrafted free agents."

CBS Sports: N/A.

SB Nation: Short-term grade (B-)/Long-term grade (C-) ... because "after signing an entirely too expensive two-year, $12 million deal with the Dolphins, he’s reunited with former assistant coach Matt Patricia for one year and up to $5.75 million. That’s still top-35 money for a player who might not be a top-75 receiver."

[ New Lions WR Danny Amendola nearly died during NFL game ]

CB Justin Coleman

Skinny: Coleman, 25, signed a four-year, $36 million deal that will make him the NFL's highest-paid nickel cornerback. He'll be an immediate upgrade guarding against slot receivers in 2019. 

ESPN: C- ... because "We don't have the guarantees in for this deal, but assuming that about 50 percent of the contract is guaranteed, this is one of the more shocking contracts from day one of free agency. ...  To be fair, Coleman has emerged as a good — possibly even very good — slot cornerback for the Seahawks the past two seasons. 

[ Meet new Lions CB Justin Coleman: He signed with Patriots twice ]

CBS Sports: B - ... because "Coleman had a good season as a slot corner for the Seahawks last year and the Lions needed upgrading at that spot. They released Nevin Lawson to help create the spot for Coleman, who is a better player."

SB Nation: short-term grade (A)/long-term grade (A) ... because "Coleman allowed just 5.21 yards per attempt on passes that targeted the slot, which was second ... behind Tre Flowers. Detroit finished dead last in the league allowing 9.52 yards per attempt on slot targets. Pass defense reigns supreme and the Lions got a talented cornerback that fills a position of need."

Chris Thomas is the sports editor at the Detroit Free Press. Contact him at or follow him on Twitter @bychristhomas.


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