The Detroit Lions are known for their impressive defensive line, particularly on the interior. Their starting duo is arguably the best and most talented in the business. Yet still, the Lions would be wise to put some priority to the unit when the 2014 NFL Draft rolls around next month.
I wasn’t kidding when I said this could be the most talented DT unit in the game. DT Ndamukong Suh is arguably the best in the league at his position, and in the prime of his career at 27 years old. DT Nick Fairley was the 13th overall pick in 2011, and is coming off the best year of his career with 6 sacks.
So why should the Lions make DT a priority? It all comes down to the benjamins, the unknown and depth.
Money is a huge concern for the Lions right now. Suh, as good as he is, is set to make $22.4 million dollars this year. That’s preposterous. No defensive tackle in the game is worth that kind of money. No defensive tackle in the history of the game is worth that kind of money. You could make the case no two defensive tackles are worth that much. It’s bad enough when franchise QBs (like Matt Stafford) are making that much, but how are you supposed to field a Super Bowl-caliber team when an interior defensive linemen is practically making more money than anyone in the league?
Now granted, that cap number should shrink considerably if and when he signs an extension (2015 is the last year of his contract). But he’s still going to cost a lot.
The Lions didn’t exercise the fifth-year team-option for Fairley, meaning he’s now in the last year of his rookie deal. His deal wasn’t exercised because it’s a show-me-what-you-can-do-type situation. He’s incredibly talented but mightily inconsistent. The Lions want to know he can be consistent and healthy a full year before shelling out big bucks to him.
I get it. But now they’re going to be faced with paying both defensive tackles huge bucks at the same time. And as they’re paying their DT’s big bucks, WR Calvin Johnson will be set to make $20.5 million and Stafford $17.7 million. Oh, and in 2016, Johnson will be set to make $24 million and Stafford $22 million (seriously, are children managing the cap in Detroit?). Hey, if you only had to pay 4 or 5 guys with the full allotment of cap space, this wouldn’t be an issue. But this is the NFL, not the NBA, and you can’t dump half of all your money in three players and expect to win championships. There’s 53 players on an active roster for a reason.
Even if Suh and Fairley are both re-signed, there’s little to no solid depth. As often as Fairley gets hurt and Suh gets suspended, there needs to be capable backups who can step into the starting role and prevent the run defense from crumbling.
The point of all this is that DT needs to be addressed in the draft. Maybe not first round, where I think they should focus on adding a top CB like Justin Gilbert (Oklahoma State) or Darqueze Dennard (Michigan State), but 2nd or 3rd round perhaps. And there’s some good talent in that range too. Dominique Easley (Florida), Kelcy Quarles (South Carolina), Will Sutton (Arizona State), Caraun Reid (Princeton) or Daquan Jones (Pennsylvania State) would all be outstanding fits, and all can be found in that 2nd to 3rd round range.
Take one of these guys, see what you have in him, then maybe you won’t have to re-sign Fairley. At worst, you’re improving the depth.