Detroit Lions free agency preview: Where does Romeo Okwara fit after 10-sack season?

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
View Comments

The free agent negotiating period opens March 15 and the Detroit Lions have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Here is the fourth in a series of position-by-position breakdowns on the top players available in free agency and what the Lions might do at each position:

Defensive line

On the Lions’ roster for 2021: EDGE — Trey Flowers, Austin Bryant, Julian Okwara, Joel Heath, Robert McCray. INTERIOR — Danny Shelton, John Penisini, Da’Shawn Hand, Nick Williams, John Atkins, Kevin Strong, Jashon Cornell.

Pending Lions free agents: EDGE — Romeo Okwara, Everson Griffen.

Top free agents: EDGE — Shaquil Barrett, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Jadeveon Clowney, Tennessee Titans; Carl Lawson, Cincinnati Bengals. IDL — Leonard Williams, New York Giants; Dalvin Tomlinson, New York Giants; Jurrell Casey.

Detroit Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara (95) celebrates with teammates after a sack against the Tennessee Titans in the end zone for a safety Dec. 20, 2020 in Nashville, Tenn.

Others who may interest Lions: EDGE — Trey Hendrickson, New Orleans Saints; Melvin Ingram, Los Angeles Chargers. IDL — Sheldon Rankins, New Orleans Saints; Roy Robertson-Harris, Chicago Bears.

MORE:Previewing the free agent RB class

MORE:Previewing the free agent QB class

MORE:Golladay, Robinson, Godwin top loaded WR class

Market watch: The biggest decision the Lions have to make in free agency (assuming Kenny Golladay is franchised) is what to do with Romeo Okwara. Okwara had his best season as a pro in 2021, logging a career-high 10 sacks and forcing three fumbles, and appears set to cash in big-time at 25 years old. This market, with a shrinking salary cap, will not be kind to everyone, but Okwara is an ascending player who is worth paying because he does things right in all aspects of the game (including on special teams).

As good as Okwara was for the Lions last season, his body of work is not as complete as some of the other pass rushers available in free agency, which is why there will be a half-dozen or so more coveted edge rushers available in free agency. Barrett is the best of the bunch, though he isn’t likely to come anywhere near his 20-sack season of 2019 again. Bud Dupree, like Barrett, projects best a 3-4 outside linebacker, however, he is coming off a torn ACL, which is why Clowney and Lawson are ahead of him on this list. Lawson, at 26 years old, might be the best pure pass rusher as a 4-3 defensive end, so there are fits for every scheme.

The interior defensive line class is not as deep as the edge class, but Williams is the single best defensive lineman available. He made a Pro Bowl early in his career with the New York Jets and had a career-high 11.5 sacks last season with the Giants.

Former Lions All-Pro Ndamukong Suh is a free agent again, though the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers have said he is a priority to re-sign. If the Lions can’t re-sign Okwara, it makes sense that they would target a familiar face like Hendrickson or Rankins for their defensive players. Both played for Lions coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn in New Orleans, and both are tone-setter types who would be good additions to the program while commanding something short of top-of-the-market money.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

View Comments