In the 2022 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions added three edge rushers to their roster: Aidan Hutchinson, Josh Paschal, and James Houston. Each of the represent one of the key edge rushing roles in the Lions’ defensive scheme.
Hutchinson plays on the “open end” which is the side of the formation without the tight end opposite him. Paschal plays the “closed end” with lines up on the tight end side of the formation. While Houston plays the SAM linebacker role, which in the Lions scheme, is typically a pass rushing linebacker that will set up over/or replace the closed end. The SAM role is situational and not part of the team’s base, but does get used a lot, as we saw late last season versus run-first teams.
On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions made a move that everyone wanted to happen when they re-signed defensive end John Cominsky to a team-friendly 2-year, $8.5 million contract. While Cominsky’s contract is helpful to the Lions, it’s fully guaranteed in 2023, with some more guarantees carrying over to 2024, which represents terrific job security for Cominsky this year. Cominsky started at closed end last year and was in a rotation with Paschal when both were healthy.
On Wednesday, the Lions and Charles Harris renegotiated his contract. The move cleared cap space for the Lions and shifted enough money into guaranteed form that it would cost the team more to cut him than to keep him. Translation: he’s making the Lions 2023 roster. Harris plays on the open end, and while he opened 2022 as the starter, Hutchinson has solidified himself there since switching over after Harris’ injury.
With these moves, the Lions are heavily invested in five pass rushers for the 2023 season: Hutchinson and Harris at open end, Cominsky and Paschal at closed end, and Houston as a SAM linebacker.
But beyond those five, the Lions have two more players, Romeo Okwara, who can play open and closed end, and Julian Okwara, who was the starting SAM before Houston took over last season.
With seven edge rushers in the fold, the Lions may look like they’re set at the position. But when you take a closer look at their contracts, you’ll see that both Okwaras and Harris are in the final year of their deals, Romeo’s 2023 cap number of $14.5 million is awfully high investment for a player projected to be a reserve—meaning he could be a cap casualty—, and Cominsky’s contract has an easy out in 2024 if he struggles.
While it does seem unlikely that the Lions would invest more in the position during free agency this offseason, adding talent through the draft remains a possibility in order to solidify the team’s depth for the future.
General manager Brad Holmes approaches the NFL draft with the future in mind, and if there is an edge rusher on the board that represents value, there’s a real chance he could end up a Lion—even if that player is not in the two-deep rotation to start the season. Pass rusher is such a vital role for NFL teams that everything should be on the table, including taking an edge rusher in the first round if that player is the top player on the Lions draft board.
“I don’t think you can ever have too many pass rushers,” Holmes said after drafting Paschal last year. “That’s kind of how we feel from there, and then we’ll just let it sort out.”
So once again, we see that the theme of the Lions’ offseason is to secure enough talent on the roster so that they can stay flexible enough to add value over need during the draft.