Lions Named Possible Fit for 4-Time All-Pro After Dan Campbell Hypes Safety Need

The Detroit Lions made another signing at cornerback, bringing back Kindle Vildor on a 1-year contract. But the Lions have yet to make an addition at safety this offseason. Interestingly, one of the top safeties over the last few years, Justin Simmons, is still available.

NFL playoffs: Lions advance to NFC title game with 31-23 win over  Buccaneers | AP News

USA Today’s Lions Wire’s Jeff Risdon included Simmons on a list of potential fits still unsigned in NFL free agency that Detroit could target.

“If he’s still looking to ink before the draft—and he might not be—Detroit makes a ton of sense as a landing spot,” Risdon wrote. “Like the departed C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Simmons can effectively play any safety spot. He’s at his best in a split-safety role in coverage, although his man-coverage skills have declined some with age.

“He’s the only player on this list who would definitively start in Detroit, usurping one of Kerby Joseph or Ifeatu Melifonwu in the starting lineup. He also is likely to cost quite a bit of money.”

Simmons has made second-team All-Pro four times in his career, including each of the last three seasons. In 2023, he made second-team All-Pro and the Pro Bowl during the same season for the first time.

During 2023, Simmons posted 70 combined tackles, including 2 tackles for loss. He also had 8 pass defenses, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles.

Risdon connected Simmons to the Lions about a week after Detroit head coach Dan Campbell expressed a desire to acquire additional safety depth.

“We’re still going to look for safety help,” Campbell said at the NFL’s annual meeting last week, via The Detroit Free Press’ Dave Birkett. “That’s not over, either. We know we need some, there again, to bring in some competition in that room. So our eyes are there.”

The Denver Broncos released Simmons on March 7 to save $14.5 million against the salary cap.

How Justin Simmons Could Fit With the Lions

It’s not difficult to see why Simmons is an attractive potential target for Detroit.

The Lions signed cornerback Carlton Davis and Amik Robertson to shore up a secondary that was 27th in passing yards allowed last season. Detroit also finished 29th in net yards yielded per pass attempt.

Adding Simmons to the mix would only bolster the back end of the secondary.

The Lions lost veteran safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson this offseason. But as a 4-time second-team All-Pro, Simmons could be a significant potential upgrade.

In 2022, Simmons was tied for the NFL lead with 6 interceptions. He’s had 19 interceptions over the past four seasons. Simmons has also had at least 69 combined tackles every year since 2018.

Former third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu played well at the end of 2023. But if Detroit signed Simmons, Melifonwu would likely return to a reserve role with Kerby Joseph starting at the other safety spot.

Other Potential Safety Targets

There’s really only one problem with the Lions potentially targeting Simmons. But it’s a big problem — money.

Simmons held an average annual salary of more than $15 million on his previous contract in Denver. Spotrac projected Simmons to be worth $22.2 million on a 2-year deal this offseason.

With $26.9 million in space, the Lions possess the seventh-most salary cap room in the NFL as of April 4 according to Spotrac. So Simmons could fit under the cap, but it would require a big chunk of what the team has left in cap space.

Furthermore, the Lions could very well feel secure with Melifonwu and Joseph as their starters. If that’s the case, Detroit could find safety depth with a cheaper acquisition.

Assuming veteran experience is something the Lions desire with any safety addition, they could target Micah Hyde or Quandre Diggs. Hyde has made second-team All-Pro twice in his career, most recently in 2021.

Diggs has earned three Pro Bowl nominations. Signing him would be a sort of homecoming too. The Lions drafted Diggs in the sixth round of the 2015 NFL draft. He spent the first four and a half seasons of his career in Detroit.

The draft is obviously another potential avenue for the Lions to add a safety.

Whether a veteran or rookie, Detroit will very likely have to sign someone for safety depth. Besides Joseph and Melifonwu, the only safety the Lions have currently under contract for next season is Brandon Joseph.

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