4 Detroit Lions free agent targets for 2024, including star defender

Detroit Lions free agent targets 2024
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The Detroit Lions got over their first playoff hump this past season, winning their first playoff game in 32 years and advancing to the NFC Championship Game. While they ultimately fell just short of the Super Bowl, a few Lions free agent targets in 2024 can give this club the final push it needs.

There are plenty of team needs to address for Detroit in 2024. It starts defensively, with a secondary and pass rush that resulted in one of the worst passing defenses among playoff-caliber teams down the stretch last year. However, there are also a few other Lions team needs on offense that can help Detroit improve.

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Let’s dive into our Lions free agent targets for 2024.

Christian Wilkins, defensive tackle

NFL: Frankfurt Games-Miami Dolphins at Kansas City Chiefs
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Aidan Hutchinson is one of the best edge rushers in the NFL and he almost single-handedly carried the pass rush in the second half of the season. Even with Hutchinson out there, however, Detroit ranked 26th in the NFL in ESPN’s pass-rush win rate (36 percent) and this unit ranked 22nd in sack rate (6.5 percent).

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Christian Wilkins fixes a lot of that. While he’s never received a Pro Bowl selection in his career, Wilkins ranked 13th in pass-rush win rate (13 percent) among defensive tackles last season. He also takes up a lot of blocks, recording a 65 percent double-team rate. Not only is Wilkins a quality run defender, but he also set career-highs in quarterback hits (23) and sacks) last season. Detroit will have to spend heavily to land him, but Wilkins is exactly the kind of player you break the bank for as 28-year-old players this good rarely become available in NFL free agency.

  • Christian Wilkins contract projection: 4 years, $102 million ($25.5 million AAV)

Marcus Davenport, edge rusher

NFL: New Orleans Saints at Arizona Cardinals
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The Minnesota Vikings wanted Marcus Davenport to be one of their top pass rushers this past season, signing him to a one-year deal worth $13 million in NFL free agency. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 4 games and durability has been a major problem for the former 14th overall pick. However, there’s no denying his productivity as a situational pass rusher and Detroit would greatly benefit from rolling the dice on him.

Related: Detroit Lions a serious contender for top pass rusher in NFL free agency

Across 15 games with the New Orleans Saints in 2020, Davenport posted the 16th-best PFF pass-rush win rate (17.2 percent). It placed him ahead of Danielle Hunter and right behind Trey Hendrickson and Rashan Gary. One year prior, Davenport recorded 16 quarterback hits and 9 sacks in 11 games, leading New Orleans with the fifth-highest pass-rush win rate (18.3 percent) among qualified edge rushers. Detroit might have to limit his reps, but a defensive line with Wilkins, Hutchinson and Davenport will wreak havoc on passing downs.

  • Marcus Davenport contract projection: 1 year, $7 million

Stephon Gilmore, cornerback

NFL: Washington Commanders at Dallas Cowboys
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A one-man pass rush was obviously one of Detroit’s biggest issues in 2023, but it was far from the only problem. Lions cornerbacks struggled in man coverage and when you combine that with the inability to consistently generate pressure, the end result is a defense allowing a 99.3 QB rating and 20-10 TD-INT ratio in its final 11 regular-season games.

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While we prioritized disruptors along the defensive line as our primary Lions free agent targets, Detroit also needs a starting outside cornerback. Stephon Gilmore is no longer an All-Pro caliber player, but the Super Bowl champion brings a lot of experience and holds his own in coverage.

This past year with the Dallas Cowboys, Gilmore recorded the 16th-most pass deflections (13) in the NFL. He also only surrendered a 55.8 percent completion rate and an average 82.7 quarterback rating when targeted in coverage. He might no longer be a high-end No. 1 cornerback, but Glmore would be a definitive upgrade for the Lions’ secondary. Plus, he could mentor a young defensive back they snag in the 2024 NFL Draft.

  • Stephon Gilmore contract prediction: 1 year, $10 million

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Jon Runyan Jr, offensive guard

NFL: Preseason-New England Patriots at Green Bay Packers
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Detroit faces a distinct possibility of losing multiple guards to NFL free agency, with Jonah Jackson, Graham Glasnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai all hitting the open market. While the team could pursue one of the top-tier guards in free agency, investments in the defense led us to bargain hunting.

Jon Runyan Jr., a sixth-round pick in 2020, really started turning things around late last season with the Green Bay Packers. From Week 14 through the playoffs, Runyan earned the 10th-highest PFF pass-blocking grade (81.0), surrendering just 4 pressures in 237 pass-blocking snaps. Only 26 years old, Runyan could prove to be one of the sneaky adds in NFL free agency who becomes a highly-effective starter.

  • Jon Runyan contract projection: 2 years, $12 million ($6 million AAV)
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