Detroit Lions, NFL

Anthony Barr is the right free agent to elevate the Lions defense

Anthony Barr isn’t the biggest-name player available in NFL Free Agency, but he’s the perfect signing for Matt Patricia and the Lions’ defense. 

The Detroit Lions defense took a solid step forward under Matt Patricia’s watchful eye in 2018, but the organization wants the group to get even better next season. For that to happen, Patricia needs to get some more talent on the defensive side of the ball.

It would be easy for the Lions front office to spend all of their offseason resources on adding a premier pass rusher to replace the role Ziggy Ansah was supposed to play last year. That doesn’t fit with Patricia’s Patriots roots though. Instead, the Lions are plotting a clever move to sign one of the most versatile defenders available on the open market.

The Athletic has the scoop that the Lions are leading the race to sign Anthony Barr away from the Vikings. Minnesota would love to keep the talented linebacker, but they realize they can’t afford him. The team’s decision to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins to a massive deal last year is starting to have negative effects on the team’s roster moving forward. Barr will be this year’s big casualty.

The Vikings’ loss can turn into the perfect gain for the Lions. Barr doesn’t fill up the stat sheets with sacks, but he does everything else well. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he could come in and start at any of Detroit’s starting linebacker spots next season.

Jarrad Davis should retain his starting spot at middle linebacker, but Barr should get a ton of snaps at either outside spot. His job won’t be to chase the quarterback, but he will solidify every other aspect of Patricia’s defense. Barr is an elite run defender and also has the athleticism to hold up in pass coverage against most opposing tight ends and running backs. Lions fans should think of him as a jack-of-all-trades.

Perhaps more importantly, Barr can serve as a coach on the field for Patricia. He kept his defensive concepts relatively simple during his first year in charge of the Lions, but he’ll want to install more complex schemes in 2019. Having Barr on the field to quarterback his defense should help that process immensely.

Next: 7-round mock draft for the Lions

As for the team’s need to upgrade their pass rush, look for that to occur early in the draft. The Lions might not spend the No. 8-overall selection on an edge rusher, but look for them to add a twitchy defensive end sometime in the first three rounds. The addition of that prospect plus Barr could take the Lions defense from good to great in 2019.

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