Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
The Lions dipped another toe into the free agent pool on Tuesday, signing former Bears DE Israel Idonije to a one year contract.
About a week ago I pondered about Idonije on Twitter, wondering why he hadn’t signed anywhere yet.
Anyone know why Israel Idonije is still unsigned? Have to think he could help ATL, NYG, or OAK as a rotational rusher. Underrated talent.
— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) June 18, 2013
I didn’t mention the Lions because I didn’t believe Detroit could afford him, and that the Lions wanted to see what they had in Devin Taylor. Obviously they found the cash, and Lions fans should be ecstatic that Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew are bringing Idonije into the den.
When I was researching my Bears preview for RealGM.com, I was surprised at just how valuable he was to Chicago. I knew Idonije was a very good player, and one who had worked very hard at becoming something. He led a very strong defensive front in snaps over the last two seasons and scored the highest grade on the team in run defense from Pro Football Focus by a pretty wide margin.
The 32-year old Idonije fills a gaping hole on the depth chart. After starters Jason Jones and Ziggy Ansah, the rotation was set to be decided amongst disappointing Willie Young, rookie Devin Taylor, and underwhelming greenhorn Ronnell Lewis. At minimum, Idonije shares the role with Ansah while the first round pick gets his feet wet. It’s possible that Idonije winds up getting more snaps at DE than any other player on the roster because his presence facilitates Jones playing more of a hybrid DE/DT role. That’s the capacity in which he thrived in Tennessee and Seattle, a base end that can slide inside as a nickel rusher. As I chronicled last week, the Lions internally identified DT depth as a serious issue. By signing Idonije at end, they helped remedy that situation with a proven commodity they already had on the roster in Jason Jones. Idonije himself can also slide inside on occasion; he began his Bears career at defensive tackle before they figured out he was more disruptive outside. He still spent about a quarter of his time line up inside the past couple of years. In that morphing role he still notched 7.5 sacks and bested the more celebrated Julius Peppers in total QB hurries and tackles for loss.
Beyond bolstering the depth, I love what Idonije brings to the table in terms of leadership and veteran presence. He was a very popular and respected teammate in Chicago, where the Bears had a standing offer for him to return. Fans loved him for his nonstop hustle on the field but also his affable and approachable nature off the field. Like Ansah, he’s an African native who came to football later in life. He struggled with the more technical aspects of the game early on but worked tirelessly to improve. That makes him the ideal mentor for Ziggy Ansah, a player bursting with potential but in need of major schooling on the finer points of playing ball. Idonije had major issues with pad level and leverage, but he learned how to control the situation and use his upright gait to his advantage. His downward rip move with his inside arm and shoulder is devastating, enabling him to free himself from blockers after using his height to locate the ball. If he can teach that to Ansah, he’s worth the salary (terms yet unreported) right there.
No concurrent roster move has been announced yet. In the larger picture, this pushes Ronnell Lewis deeper into the danger zone. Unless he churns out a very impressive summer, Lewis will be lucky to make it to the active roster on game days. It certainly makes the odds a lot longer for undrafted free agents Freddie Bishop, Braylon Broughton, and Spencer Nealy. Bishop’s speed gives him the best opportunity to at least make the practice squad.
This is a much more significant development than the Chris Hope signing on Monday. My initial reaction there is that Hope is this year’s Erik Coleman, a veteran insurance policy in case Louis Delmas is not ready. It ramps up the competition at the safety positions, and that’s a positive. Ideally Hope doesn’t even make the team, but if he shows enough to push Amari Speivey or Ricardo Silva off the roster, the Lions are better for it.