Downes: Detroit should cut ties with Ezekiel Ansah after 2017

After a stellar 14.5 sack season in 2015, it looked like Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah was primed to become the next premier edge rusher. Unfortunately for him and Lions’ fan base, that never happened.

Since that All-Pro season, Ansah’s played in 22 games, missed five and recorded a lousy seven sacks. Entering a contract year, the former fifth-overall pick in 2014 was expected to perform at a high level and he’s been nothing but a let down.

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Pass-rushing defensive ends are always in high demand in free agency, and Ansah will command a lot of money, too much for the Lions to feel comfortable bringing him back.

According to Spotrac, Ansah, 37 sacks in 69 games, is projected to make $9.5 million. That would put him in the same company as Vinny Curry of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jerry Hughes of the Buffalo Bills and just under the Seattle Seahawks’ Michael Bennett.

Curry, 22 sacks in 80 games, isn’t known as a dominant pass rusher, so it’s tough to compare the two. Hughes on the other hand, 39 sacks in 116 games, makes a living getting after quarterbacks. Hughes had back-to-back 10 sack seasons, but has since calmed down a bit.

I think the most comparable player of the three is Bennett, 53 sacks in 121 games, who makes a couple bucks over $10 million a year. Their sacks per game are very similar, especially when you take away the 14.5 sacks for Ansah in 2015.

The similarities between Ansah and Bennett are why Ansah’s deal could float north of $10 million. Then add in the fact that he could be the most sought after pass rusher this offseason.

Although Detroit has a history of dishing out big bucks, i.e. Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, Ansah’s not worth the bidding war and his name won’t be added to the list.

This isn’t a knock on Ansah, it’s a financial decision. The Lions are set to have over $52 million in cap space heading into 2018, so they have the money to dish out, but it could go to better assets than to the under performing and oft injured Ansah.

That cap space should be used to bring in another top-end cornerback to compliment Darius Slay. Detroit also needs to go out and find themselves a running back. And while pickings are slim, there are a few big names that Detroit could bid on.

Ansah’s sack numbers aren’t necessarily low, but they just aren’t enough to justify keeping him around for the price tag. Not to mention that the Lions aren’t exactly hurting at defensive end.

Detroit is young and has a decent amount of talent at defensive end.

Anthony Zettel, Detroit’s sixth-round pick in 2016, is having a great sophomore season. Leading the team with 6.5 sacks, Zettel has been the most consistent pass rusher. Though the sample size is small, moving forward with Zettel as your main rusher isn’t that terrible of an idea.

Opposite of Zettel is Cornelius Washington, a fifth-year player who Detroit picked up in free agency. The former Chicago Bear never seemed to get a chance to succeed in Chicago, but with Ansah going down, he was given a chance to perform, and he has. With 15 total tackles, a career-high 2.5 sacks and 2 batted down passes, Washington is making the most of his limited snaps.

Detroit made a huge move right before Thanksgiving, picking up future Hall of Famer Dwight Freeney. Not only will he have an immediate impact on the field, he is the perfect guy to mentor Washington and Zettel. Washington, who is typically more of a rotational guy, has shown that he can be a bonafide starter in the NFL.

Freeney, who has 125.5 career sacks, knows a thing or two about rushing the passer. That will rub off on the other players in the room, who should be acting as sponges and pick his brain non-stop. Freeney is 37 years old, but he’s still got it. He played four games in Seattle, totaling three sacks, but was let go because of salary cap issues.

Bringing in Freeney puts that trusted, crafty veteran that Detroit has been lacking since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata went on the IR. Just his presence alone will revamp this defense and give them that extra push it needs to chase a playoff spot.

Letting Ansah walk is a huge decision, but it’s the right one. It’s time for Detroit to move on and put its faith in Zettel.