4 upcoming free agents to watch in the conference championship games

The Detroit Lions’ season may be over, but now the team has a chance to do some additional scouting as they watch the conference championship games.

Each of the four playing teams have players whose contracts will expire when the new league year begins in March, meaning those players will be free to sign with other teams if they are not re-signed.

With that, here’s one player from each of the remaining playoff teams who could suit up for Detroit in 2023:

LB Azeez Al-Shaair, San Francisco 49ers

The Detroit Lions currently have just two outfielders under contracts through the 2023 offseason: Derrick Barnes and Malcolm Rodriguez.

Detroit is in desperate need of defenseman depth, and Al-Shaair would be a good option who could come at a lower cost than some of the bigger names in free agency.

Al-Shaair signed with the 49ers as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and has started 31 games for them over the past four seasons.

He had an impressive career for San Francisco, recording 199 total tackles and two sacks. His biggest accomplishment was his ability to turn the ball over, as he recorded two interceptions, two forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries throughout his NFL career.

Rodriguez is sure to start for Detroit next season, and Barnes has shown plenty of progress. The defense typically plays two off-the-ball defenders in its scheme, but starters are often rotated in and out, meaning Al Shaair will get significant playing time if he signs with the Lions.

CB James Bradbury, Philadelphia Eagles

Things are looking bleak in the Detroit gym. Jerry Jacobs is playing well enough to be considered for a starting role, although the job isn’t his yet. Jeff Okuda, a former first-round pick, was benched for the final two games of the season. The Lions need to spend a lot of money at cornerback if they want to be competitive in 2023.

Philadelphia’s James Bradbury will be one of the best cornerbacks on the market this offseason, and despite the price tag that will surely come with him, he will be a guaranteed starter for the Lions.

This season alone, counting the postseason, Bradbury has 19 passes defensed, four of which have come up with an interception.

Detroit currently has a young group of cornerbacks with Jacobs, Okuda, rookie Chase Lucas, backup Bobby Price and future signees Khalil Dorsey and Jaren Williams. Bradbury, 29, will be a much-needed veteran presence in this locker room.

TE Hayden Hurst, Cincinnati Bengals

The Detroit Lions had one of the most productive seasons from their tight end group in team history, but the tight end position is still a need for them heading into the offseason.

Rookie James Mitchell is the only player currently under contract. Running backs Brock Wright and Shane Zylstra, who each found the end zone four times in 2022, are exclusive free agents. That means while the Lions are likely to retain their rights, there’s still a chance they’ll let them walk.

The Lions need a receiving option as well as a veteran presence to help their young group of tight ends develop, and Cincinnati’s Hayden Hurst could fit the bill.

Hurst was drafted in the first round in 2018 by the Baltimore Ravens and also spent time with the Atlanta Falcons before signing with the Bengals.

While he hasn’t lived up to his draft status, he’s proven this season that he’s still a must-have asset on offense. Counting the postseason, Hurst has caught 61 of 80 targets for 518 yards and three touchdowns. Ball security isn’t an issue for him either, dropping just six passes and fumbling once in his five-year career.

Hurst would nicely complement the blocking skills of Wright and Zylstra with his ability to be a deep threat as a receiver when needed.

DL Derrick Nagy, Kansas City Chiefs

With very few options at interior defensive line, the Lions will need to find all the help they can get this offseason. While there will certainly be better-known options on the market, Derrick Nnadi might be the best value for Detroit.

Nnadi was drafted in the third round by the Chiefs in 2018 and has been with them his entire career. During that span, he appeared in all but one game for Kansas City as a nose tackle and a 3-technique.

That versatility on the defensive line is exactly what the Lions are looking for in their four-man front. With one rusher and one big defensive end, the other two spots go to defensive tackles who can be devastating against both the pass and the run.

Nnadi has recorded 193 tackles, six tackles for loss and a forced fumble in his career. He also proved to be a solid defender against the pass, recording one interception, four sacks and seven quarterback hits for the Chiefs.

The Lions currently only have Alim McNeil, Michael Brockers, Levi Onwuzurike and Demetrius Taylor under contract, while Benito Jones is an exclusive free agent. Brockers will likely be released in the coming months, and Onwuzurike has spent most of his career on injured reserve. That means the Lions need a reliable starting tackle to pair with McNeil, and Nnadi is the perfect fit.

The story originally appeared on Lions Wire

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