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The Lions are trying to escape the NFC North basement with an improved defense

How do you fix Detroit? It starts with upgrades to one of the league’s least efficient defenses.

Detroit Lions v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images

Matt Patricia weathered the storm of a three-win season in 2019 to earn a third year as head coach of the Detroit Lions. What his team does this offseason will determine whether there’s a year four.

The Lions finished last season on a 1-12 slump that saw key players like Matthew Stafford, Kerryon Johnson, and Marvin Jones all miss time due to injury. Their returns should set the stage for an improvement in 2020, but Detroit will need to add talent on both sides of the ball in order to break a three-year playoff drought. Having the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft — and the potential haul a trade down in the first round could bring — should be a boost as well.

Detroit Lions (3-12-1), missed playoffs

While this year’s draft should bring in prized young prospects, Detroit has plenty of holes to plaster with veteran free agent talent. The Lions have a favorable salary cap situation that should allow them to chase several high-impact players. Last year, that turned into signings for Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman, and Danny Amendola.

Before free agency:

  1. Cornerback: Detroit ranked 27th in the NFL in opponent passer rating allowed last season. Now, the team’s top corner, Darius Slay, is on the trading block. There’s a need for secondary help, and adding a lockdown corner would let Coleman stick around in his most effective alignment in the slot.
  2. Defensive tackle: Flowers was a useful addition in 2019, even if he failed to live up to the $90 million contract he signed. Part of his muted impact was thanks to the limited supporting cast around him. Adding a defensive tackle would help crumple pockets from the inside and reduce the pressure on Flowers’ efforts against the run.
  3. Offensive line: Detroit’s pass blocking was fairly average last fall, and the club’s now fully aware of how badly a hurt Stafford can derail the season. Upgrades, especially on the interior of the line, could help keep him upright and create the space needed for Johnson to regain the form that made him one of 2018’s most promising rookies.

What Pride of Detroit wants most this offseason: It’s probably too simple to just say defense, but that’s really the truth. The Lions are specifically needy at defensive tackle after releasing nose tackle Damon Harrison, Sr. earlier this offseason. With both A’Shawn Robinson and Mike Daniels facing free agency, the Lions are without three of their top four defensive tackles from 2019. They need to add at least one run stuffer and one pass rusher up the middle. After trading Darius Slay, they need an outside cornerback to replace the Pro Bowl corner. — Jeremy Reisman

After free agency:

Detroit’s been busy in free agency. Slay was traded to the Eagles, and this offseason brought more former Patriots: notably Jamie Collins, Danny Shelton, and Duron Harmon. Unfortunately for general manager Bob Quinn, there’s still plenty of work left to do.

  1. Cornerback: Slay is gone. While Desmond Trufant could benefit from a change in scenery after signing with the Lions, Patricia needs more talent to hold down his defensive backfield.
  2. Offensive line: Graham Glasgow and Ricky Wagner each departed in free agency. The Lions spent $50 million to lure Halapoulivaati Vaitai from the Eagles, but he alone can’t fix the problems that persisted even before losing two starters on the open market.
  3. Defensive tackle: Shelton and Nick Williams are decent short-term fixes. Detroit needs to find some young, inexpensive players in the draft to generate a long-term solution behind them.

After the draft:

Despite talk of trading down, the Lions held on to the No. 3 pick and came away with the best cornerback in the draft, Ohio State’s Jeff Okudah. That solves one problem.

Guards Jonah Jackson (third round) and Logan Stenberg (fourth round) bring depth to the offensive line and could potentially start right away to pave the way for another new addition. Detroit landed Georgia star running back D’Andre Swift in the second round.

The Lions used their last two picks on the defensive tackle position: Utah’s John Penisini (Round 6) and Ohio State’s Jashon Cornell (Round 7).

Dan Kadar’s draft grade: B