NFC North review: Lions suffer losses

Detroit lost its best player with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, but also lost a good defensive player in free agency.

The Detroit Lions have been signing free agents this offseason, but have only made a couple of notable ones. Instead, it appears that most of their free-agent signings have been to provide depth throughout their roster – primarily on defense – and create competition.

The biggest move by far is a negative one – the loss of Calvin Johnson to retirement.

One of the key moves they made was re-signing veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The team traded for him last offseason after Ndamukong Suh decided to leave the Lions organization and sign with the Miami Dolphins as a free agent.

Ngata is entering his 11th season in the NFL and at the age of 32 he is not the same player that he was in his prime. He can still be a dominating force in the middle of the defensive line, though, and with other young players, such as Ezekiel Ansah, Ngata doesn’t need to make game-changing plays on a regular basis. He primarily needs to continue to be a big body in the middle of the line that takes up multiple blockers, which should then help free up his teammates.

The veteran defensive tackle did not have the most impressive season a year ago, recording 24 tackles and 2½ sacks in 14 games. One of his sacks did come against the Minnesota Vikings last season, but he is not going to be a player that the Vikings key in on this upcoming season.

While he is not the dominating force he once was, he is still a very solid player.

The other key signing the Vikings had this offseason was wide receiver Marvin Jones from Cincinnati. The Lions needed to do something after Johnson decided to hang up his cleats and retire and now Jones will have the difficult task of trying to replace him.

No one is actually expecting Jones to have the same type of productivity that Johnson had, but the team is likely hoping he can end up having a good connection with Matthew Stafford. At 6-foot-2, Jones is not as big as Johnson was, but he still has good size for an NFL receiver. He is also just 26 years old, so he is entering into the prime of his career.

Jones recorded a career-high in receptions (65) and receiving yards (816) last year, but his four touchdown receptions were a drop from the 10 that he recorded in 2014. The Lions are likely hoping that Jones will be able to improve all of his 2015 numbers by pairing him up with the big arm of Stafford.

Detroit’s new receiver is not going to require the same kind of attention that Johnson did while he was playing there, which means the Vikings cornerbacks will be able to just stick to covering one side of the field. Xavier Rhodes would often shadow Johnson around the field, which doesn’t play into the strength of the Vikings, as Rhodes is most comfortable playing on the right side of the field. But now that Johnson has retired Rhodes will likely just stay to one side of the field.

Also, by signing Jones the Lions may not address the wide receiver position in the first round of this year’s draft. The Vikings are a team in need of a talented receiver and with so few available in this year’s draft they don’t want many teams in front of them to take receivers.

The Lions were one of the team’s many analysts speculated would take a receiver before the Vikings picked at No. 23 overall, but now that they signed Jones the probability of that happening has dropped.

In addition to losing Johnson, the loss of safety Isa Abdul-Quddus will hurt. He recorded 57 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble and six pass deflections last season. While those are not overly impressive numbers, Abdul-Quddus was still Scout’s No. 7-ranked safety this offseason so it will be a challenge to replace him.

The Lions have signed three safeties so far this offseason to try and work on that, but none of them seem to be at the caliber of Abul-Quddus. If they do not figure out the back end of their defense before the start of next season – their other starting safety James Ihedigbo is also currently unsigned – the Lions could be vulnerable over the top next season. 

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