NFL free agency is off and running, and we're keeping track of every major signing, trade and release of the 2021 offseason, with analysis from our NFL Nation reporters and grades from our experts. The new league year began March 17, meaning free-agent signings could be made official after that. The first round of the 2021 NFL draft begins April 29 on ESPN.
The Lions are not expected to be big players in free agency this year for a multitude of reasons, including cap space and how new general manager Brad Holmes and new head coach Dan Campbell want to build the roster. Detroit is taking a long-term approach to how it is trying to create sustainable success and that’ll largely be constructing through the draft, especially this season when the team is rebuilding its roster.
The Lions have enough room to make one or two long-term splash signings if the right player is available, but Detroit figures to be living in the middle class of free agents this season in a year where the Lions have many starting and depth holes to fill on their roster.
“We’ll find a way to address some of these spots,” Campbell said. “And if it’s got to be some of these free agents that maybe aren’t quite as talented, but man, they are gritty, salty guys that know how to compete and they’ll hold their own in there, then we’ll find those guys.”
Romeo Okwara, defensive end
Okwara signed a three-year deal worth $39 million on Monday.
What it means: Romeo Okwara was, by far, the team's best pass-rusher last season putting up a career-best 10 sacks in a year where there was not much production on the Detroit Lions defensive line.
By signing a three-year deal, Okwara is going to be a foundational piece for Detroit's new defense under Aaron Glenn. At age 25, Okwara is still coming into his own in the NFL and has years to grow at a position where players often hit their prime in their late 20s. He'll also once again team up with Trey Flowers, a player who Okwara said had helped him immensely during his breakout year.
"As far as technique and stuff Trey Flowers has probably been the biggest help, him being in the locker room and being on the team," Okwara told ESPN last year. "It was probably the best thing for me, honestly. Because I was able to learn so much from him. We spent a lot of time working on technique, during practice, after practice, before practice, even while we’re at home, we’re always texting, sharing different D-Line videos or different videos that we can take and try out in practice."
Now they'll get to do that under a new coaching staff in 2021.
What's the risk: With the money invested, Detroit's new front office and coaching staff must believe Okwara fits into the scheme the team is planning to use. And while Okwara has had multiple productive seasons in the league, his 2019 was a rough one with just 1.5 sacks and 28 tackles. If he can't replicate or improve on the production he produced in 2018 and 2020, then the Lions' first big free-agency splash under general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell could be a rough one.
But at this point there's little reason to believe that'll happen. Okwara has long shown the work ethic to improve and most of his sacks last year came on effort from his part considering he didn't have a lot of help on the defensive line. There's also reason to believe he can deliver consistently because his sack totals didn't come in bunches. He had sacks in nine games last season.
Breshad Perriman, wide receiver
Breshad Perriman signed a one-year deal worth $3 million on Thursday.
What it means: If the Lions wanted to add speed to their receiver room, they got it in Perriman, the former first-round pick who will now be on his fifth team in his sixth season. Perriman is incredibly fast -- he ran a reported 4.25-second 40-yard dash time at the 2015 NFL combine -- but it hasn't always translated into production. Perriman, the son of former Lions standout receiver Brett Perriman, has 125 career catches for 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns. He's averaged over 15 yards per catch in all but one NFL season and has game-breaking ability.
What's the risk: If Detroit is hoping to rely on him for consistency, that might be a problem. Perriman has only caught 49 percent of his targets and only been over 60 percent catch percentage in one season in his career. If the Lions can't get him better in that area, putting him on the field with Jared Goff could be a risky proposition. But he had his best season -- 36 catches, 645 yards, six touchdowns -- in Tampa Bay in 2019 where new Lions receivers coach Antwaan Randle-El was working as an offensive assistant.
Jamaal Williams, running back
Jamaal Williams signed a two-year deal on late Tuesday night.
What it means: The Lions had said they would be looking for a running companion for D'Andre Swift and Detroit found one in Williams, who played a similar role for Aaron Jones in Green Bay. Williams is a young back -- he'll be 26 this season -- and has 1,985 career rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. Bringing in Williams likely means Kerryon Johnson is going to continue to have a reduced role -- if any role -- in Detroit's backfield in his fourth season, a contract year. But this gives the Lions a strong rushing attack for new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, who had one of the best ground games in the NFL when he was last an offensive coordinator for Buffalo in 2016.
What's the risk: He's largely been healthy -- playing in 60 of 62 potential games -- and having a reliable No. 2 back will be important for Detroit since Swift and Johnson have dealt with injuries in the past. There's always some level of risk signing a running back to a second contract, but in that realm there isn't as much as one with Williams considering his low overall NFL workload. He's never had more than 153 carries in a season and only 500 in his career. So there's reason to think Williams could still be ascending as a back. This was a smart signing by the Lions from a division rival.
Tyrell Williams, wide receiver
Williams signed a 1-year, $4 million deal
What it means: Tyrell Williams is coming from Las Vegas, but before that he was a receiver under Anthony Lynn when Detroit's new offensive coordinator was with the Chargers. Williams is a big-bodied receiver (6-foot-4, 205 pounds) with enough speed to create some separation. Williams, for now, is the most experienced receiver in what will be an almost completely revamped Detroit corps of wideouts. He's shown potential, particularly under Lynn, where he had a 69-catch, 1,059-yard, seven-touchdown season in 2016. The most productive years of the 29-year-old's career came under Lynn.
What's the risk: If Williams ends up being Detroit's No. 1 receiver, that doesn't bode well for the Lions corps. There's little reason at this point to think this will be his role -- but considering Detroit's cap space and other needs, it's not unthinkable. The last three seasons, between the Chargers and Raiders, Williams has been consistently around 40 catches and between 650-750 yards. That's good production for a No. 2 receiver and if that's his role, it's a good one. If there is the hope for more, that's where the Lions could be in trouble. Of course, if Detroit takes a receiver at No. 7 in this year's draft, then he could start as the top option and have that shifted as the season goes along.
Khalif Raymond, wide receiver
Khalif Raymond signed a one-year deal on Tuesday, March 23.
What it means: The Lions needed a returner to replace Jamal Agnew, who moved on to Jacksonville, and Raymond fits that well. Raymond doesn't have the explosiveness Agnew does -- Agnew was a former All-Pro returner -- but he does have skills in both punts and kicks. In his time, he has averaged 8.3 yards per punt and 20.5 yards per kick between Denver, the New York Jets, the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans. Raymond is a receiver as well, but has 19 career catches, so his role will primarily be as a returner. The opportunity is there for receiving reps, though, in a new corps.
What's the risk: There isn't one on a one-year deal. Detroit likely wouldn't expect much from him as a receiver and as long as they don't, there's no real risk. You know what you're getting from Raymond as a returner and is someone who can give that and if you can develop him as a receiver, that's a win. If not, he still has a role.
Alex Anzalone, linebacker
Alex Anzalone signed a one-year deal on Tuesday.
What it means: The Lions need linebackers. Like, really, really need linebackers. In Anzalone, they are getting someone who will be familiar with the scheme Detroit wants to run -- having come from New Orleans -- and also someone who understands both defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and head coach Dan Campbell. He's not going to wow you necessarily but he has good athleticism. He's only played a full season in two out of his four years -- 2018 and 2020 -- and has four career sacks and three career passes defended.
What's the risk: Not much. One year deal. Not a big salary commitment with a Lions team trying to fill in gaps and create a culture. Anzalone is going to know what Glenn and Campbell want from the get-go, so if he's able to help in that area, that's a win. If he provides on the field as well, then Detroit might have found something. At age 26 he can still be growing into his career.
Josh Hill, tight end
Hill's contract terms were not disclosed.
What it means: Lions head coach Dan Campbell said he figured -- like most teams with new head coaches -- some players Detroit might sign would come from his old team, New Orleans, and tight end Josh Hill is the one that made the most sense from the start. Campbell was Hill's position coach with the Saints and Hill also fills a need for an experienced No. 2 tight end left by the release of Jesse James earlier this week. Hill spent all eight seasons of his career in New Orleans in the Sean Payton system, so he's a player who can help instill Campbell's culture as well. He's been more of a blocking tight end in New Orleans with 116 catches for 1,071 yards and 15 touchdowns in his career.
What's the risk: As long as the contract is manageable -- and there's no reason to think it won't be with Detroit's salary cap situation and Hill's likely role with the franchise -- there isn't much risk here. Hill has been the No. 2 or No. 3 tight end the majority of his time in New Orleans and he'll be that with the Lions, too, behind T.J. Hockenson. Detroit needed a blocking tight end and Hill provides that along with being a player who understands Campbell in the Lions locker room. No real downside here for Detroit as Hill largely been healthy and reliable throughout his career, too.
What it means: Jalen Reeves-Maybin was one of Detroit's top special teams players in his first four years with the club and that's value the new coaching staff and front office also clearly sees. He never really got much of a shot on the defense, where he's started three games in four seasons and has 90 career tackles. But in a new scheme that potentially values speed, he could have a different type of role than he had under the prior regime.
What's the risk?: There isn't much considering it's a one-year deal. The Lions know what he is on special teams and if he's able to give them more on defense then it's a bigger win for Detroit. Every team needs players like Reeves-Maybin -- special teams cornerstones who can fill in when necessary. If that ends up being what happens, it's still a good signing. If he's able to give more, then it could be a great one.
Tim Boyle, quarterback
Tim Boyle signed a one-year deal on Wednesday night.
What it means: Tough to say since Tim Boyle barely played in Green Bay -- he completed just 3 of 4 passes in three years -- and the Lions have a starting quarterback expected to be in place in Jared Goff. Boyle has a strong arm and the Packers had enough confidence in him to have him back up Aaron Rodgers, but to know what he'll be able to do is an unknown. It likely means Detroit will, as expected, move on from Chase Daniel. The bigger question might be David Blough and his future.
What's the risk: The hope for the Lions would be, like any backup quarterback, he never sees the field in a regular season game. His lack of experience would put Detroit in a tough position if he were to have to play significant time, but considering he's such a question mark maybe that would be a good thing, too. With a team reconstructing itself, it doesn't hurt to give a young player a 1-year look. Worst-case scenario, the new coaching staff can try to learn some about Green Bay's offense from him.
Charles Harris, edge rusher
What it means: The Lions are revamping their defense and nowhere needs more work than the team's front seven. Charles Harris is a former first-round pick who never quite put it together in Miami or Atlanta. He was a contributor each place, but started only nine games over four years, registering just 6.5 sacks -- three of them last season. Considering Detroit gave Romeo Okwara big money earlier this week and have Trey Flowers as a high-priced defensive end along with Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara as young players with potential so Harris may be a rotational guy. That, of course, is where he's been in his career.
What's the risk: Depending on the deal, not much of one. As long as Detroit didn't overpay here, it's worth taking a shot on a player who was thought highly-enough of in 2017 to be a first round pick. So there's something perhaps that Detroit's new defensive staff can unlock. As long as the cost isn't large, this is a low-risk, high-upside signing of a 26-year-old who has potential.
Randy Bullock, kicker
Terms of Randy Bullock's deal were not disclosed on Friday.
What it means: With Matt Prater off to Arizona, the Lions needed to find a new veteran kicker. The team has Matthew Wright on the roster and depending what the compensation is for Bullock, it's either going to be a competition between the two or it's going to be Bullock's job to lose. Bullock has made 83.2 percent of his field goals and been over 80 percent every year but one since entering the NFL in 2012 out of Texas A&M.
What's the risk: For all the Lions' struggles over the past six decades the one place the team has had remarkable consistency is at kicker, from Eddie Murray to Jason Hanson to Matt Prater with only a couple of years of questionable kicking in between. Moving on from Prater was the risk, but Bullock has a good overall track record -- his career percentage is similar to Prater's. The concern with Bullock would be on 50-plus yard field goals, where Prater had one of the strongest legs in the game. Bullock's career-long is 57 yards and he's 12-of-25 on field goals of 50 yards or more, where Prater was one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history. Since the 2013, among kickers with more than 10 field goal attempts of 50 yards or more, Bullock is second-to-last in the NFL in made percentage (48.0 percent). As other teams have seen, having a consistent, reliable kicker is important and Bullock has largely been that through his career. Longer attempts will be the only question mark for Bullock.
Damion Ratley, wide receiver
Damion Ratley signed with the Lions, but terms were not disclosed.
What it means: The Lions continue to rebuild their receiver corps by signing the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Ratley, a former sixth round pick who will now be playing for his third team in four seasons. Signing Ratley is a bit of a flier. He's never had more than 15 catches or 200 yards in a season with one career touchdown.
What's the risk: Not much here. Detroit is seeking receivers and at 25 years old, Ratley is young enough to take a flier on. He doesn't have much special teams experience, though, so if he's going to make Detroit it'll be on his merits as a receiver more than likely and not with teams.
Don Muhlbach, long snapper
Terms of Don Muhlbach's deal were not disclosed on Friday.
What it means: Maybe the Lions bring in competition again for Don Muhlbach, but like he's done for the last 17 seasons, he'll probably just fend off any challengers again, too. Muhlbach remains the longest-tenured player on the roster and will actually give Dan Campbell and the coaching staff a contemporary. Campbell and Muhlbach were teammates on the Lions from 2006-08. He's appeared in 260 games for Detroit, the eighth-most in NFL history with a single team.
What's the risk: Not much, if at all. Muhlbach seemed to be playing well last season -- admittedly I don't know the finer points of long-snapping -- and with a new kicker in place it's good to have as much stability as possible. Muhlbach and punter Jack Fox can provide that.