Alim McNeil

DT Alim McNeill On Lions’ Extension Radar; No Deal Imminent

The 2024 Lions offseason has been defined in large part by big-ticket extensions handed out on the offensive side of the ball. Quarterback Jared Goffreceiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and right tackle Penei Sewell all signed deals which will keep them in Detroit for the foreseeable future.

Several other candidates for extensions remain, though. Among those is Alim McNeill, who has developed into a mainstay along the Lions’ defensive line (a unit which added D.J. Reader in free agency). The 24-year-old is set to enter the final season of his rookie contract, making him eligible for a new deal. The degree to which he has progressed so far likely has him on the team’s extension radar, Colton Pouncy of The Athletic writes (subscription required).

McNeill’s play in 2024 will go a long way in determining his value on a new Lions pact, and Pouncy adds Detroit’s plans with other pending free agents (such as left tackle Taylor Decker and cornerback Carlton Davis) will likely depend on how things play out with McNeill. The latter served in a rotational capacity during his rookie campaign, but in the two years since then he has developed into a notable pass-rushing presence from the interior.

The NC State alum recorded five sacks and 13 pressures last season despite being limited to 13 contests by an MCL injury. McNeill returned in time for the playoffs, adding a sack and three QB hits as the Lions progressed to the NFC title game. Another productive campaign in 2024 – a year in which the Lions expect to take a step forward in the front seven – would put him line to join the growing list of young defensive tackles who have secured notable paydays on their second contracts. A quartet of players in that regard (Quinnen Williams, Jeffery Simmons, Dexter Lawrence, Daron Payne) inked deals averaging between $22.5MM and $24MM per year last offseason.

Christian Wilkins, Justin Madubuike and Derrick Brown landed similar extensions of their own this spring, providing McNeill and the Lions with plenty of comparable pacts should they negotiate one. However, Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press notes that no deal is considered imminent at this time. Team and player may elect to wait until next offseason to evaluate the situation and engage in talks on what could be a very lucrative second deal.

“I’m just working,” McNeill said (via Birkett) when asked about a potential extension. “I’m head down, whatever happens, happens. I’m just – I still have to play good to set myself up to even get any of that, so I’m [not] worried about that right now.”

Despite the investments made on offense via the Goff, St. Brown and Sewell extensions, the Lions are currently on track to have considerable cap flexibility next offseason. A large portion of it could be needed to keep McNeill in the fold if he delivers a productive season in 2024 and positions himself to become one of the league’s top earners at the defensive tackle spot.

Lions Activate C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Alim McNeill From IR

Ahead of their regular season finale, the Lions will receive reinforcements on the defensive side of the ball. The team announced on Saturday that defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson and defensive tackle Alim McNeill have been activated from injured reserve.

The former returned to practice December 20, opening his three-week activation window. Gardner-Johnson was in line to make his return to the lineup in time for Week 18, so today’s move comes as little surprise. The free agent addition is now cleared to see regular season action for the first time since suffering a torn pec in September.

The Lions’ secondary has seen a number of changes during the season related to health and performance. Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said earlier this week that second-round rookie Brian Branch will remain Detroit’s starting slot corner. As a result, Gardner-Johnson will be used at safety when on the field. The 26-year-old will rotate alongside Ifeatu Melifonwu and Kerby Joseph on the backend as the Lions look for needed improvement against the pass on defense.

The NFC North champions rank 25th in passing yards allowed per game entering Week 18, allowing 240 yards per game through the air. That has weighed down the team’s overall defensive showing (23.4 points per game allowed, 23rd in the league). A healthy Gardner-Johnson could help in that department if he manages to showcase his level of play with the Eagles last season (something which would also, of course, help his free agent market in the offseason after he came to the Lions on a one-year deal).

McNeill had his practice window opened earlier this week, a sign that he would be able to suit up for the regular season finale. The move allowed Detroit to part ways with fellow D-lineman Isaiah Buggswho appears to have asked to be let go. McNeill had been sidelined for one month, interrupting his breakout third season in the league. The former third-rounder has posted a career-high five sacks and 12 QB pressures in 12 contests while remaining a full-time starter. He will provide an interior pass-rush presence in the postseason as part of a defensive front which ranks fifth against the run.

As a result of Saturday’s moves, the Lions have two IR activations remaining. One of those will be needed if edge rusher James Houston – who returned to practice December 28 – is to be brought back into the fold at some point this year. At any rate, Detroit’s defense will be in better shape from a health standpoint ahead of the team’s playoff game next week.

Lions DL Alim McNeill Returns To Practice

The Lions will be getting some defensive reinforcement in time for the playoffs. Per Justin Rogers of the Detroit News, defensive tackle Alim McNeill returned to practice today.

[RELATED: Lions Waive DL Isaiah Buggs]

By designating the 23-year-old for return, the Lions opened his 21-day window for activation. After landing on injured reserve in early December, it sounds like McNeill will be back on the field for Detroit’s season finale, with Rogers noting that the defensive lineman will play with a custom brace on Sunday.

McNeill suffered an MCL injury in Week 13 that required a minimum stay on the IR. Per Rogers, the injury didn’t require surgery and was simply a sprain. That could explain why the third-year pro was able to return to practice so quickly.

“Yeah, it’ll be good. It’s going to be good to get him back,” head coach Dan Campbell said today (via the team’s website). “And I know he’s looking forward to it just like we are, so he’s excited and he’ll get some work again here for us. You always, this time of year, for him, it’s going to kind of feel like Game 1 again. He’ll be fresh, have fresh legs and a fresh energy about him, so it’s good.”

The 2021 third-round pick was playing some of the best football of his career prior to the injury. McNeill started all 12 of his appearances this season, and he collected three sacks, three tackles for loss, and four QB hits in the five games prior to being sidelined. Pro Football Focus has been especially fond of his performance in 2023, ranking him fifth among 131 interior defenders.

Defensive tackle Benito Jones has continued playing about 55 percent of his team’s defensive snaps, even with McNeill out of the lineup. Isaiah Buggs and Levi Onwuzurike both saw an uptick in snaps while their teammate was out of the lineup, and the team has already cleared up some of their depth by cutting Buggs from the active roster.

Lions Place DL Alim McNeill On IR

The Lions will be without a key defensive piece moving forward. After Alim McNeill left the team’s Week 13 win on multiple occasions, the Lions moved the ascending starter to IR.

Dan Campbell said McNeill was facing a potential absence; Tuesday’s transaction confirms a lengthy stay off the roster will commence. The third-year defensive lineman will not be eligible to be activated until Week 18. Given McNeill’s performance thus far this season, this represents a considerable blow to Detroit’s defense.

Chosen in the third round during Campbell and GM Brad Holmes‘ first draft with the team, McNeill has been a regular Lions starter throughout his career. This season, however, has brought a breakthrough. Pro Football Focus ranks McNeill as the NFL’s sixth-best interior D-lineman. The young defender has five sacks and has matched his full-season tackle-for-loss showing by notching six in the Lions’ first 12 games. Among Lions, only Aidan Hutchinson exited Week 13 with more sacks (5.5) than McNeill.

The good news for the Lions: they might have McNeill back for the playoffs. The North Carolina State product sustained a knee sprain, per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero, who adds a return this season is in play. This represents a positive development for a Lions team that also may be targeting late-season returns from C.J. Gardner-Johnson and James Houston. Still, the number of unavailable defenders in Detroit is piling up.

Detroit has lost Gardner-Johnson, Houston and Emmanuel Moseley to severe injuries this season. Moseley’s second ACL tear in two years will sideline him into the 2024 offseason. At defensive tackle, the Lions are reasonably well situated. The team has veteran Isaiah Buggs, former second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike and rookie third-rounder Brodric Martin. The latter has not seen much time this season, with the Lions making him a healthy scratch for most of the year. Martin has only played in one game this season. McNeill’s injury could force the Lions into bumping the second-day draft investment into part-time duty.

The Lions rank 23rd defensively, though the unit ranks 10th in DVOA and fifth against the run. McNeill has been a central part in the success against ground attacks. To help fill the void, the Lions signed 13-year veteran interior D-lineman Tyson Alualu to their practice squad. In addition to the McNeill and Alualu transactions, Detroit signed cornerback Kindle Vildor from the practice squad to the 53-man roster.

NFC North Notes: Packers, Lions, Hockenson

Rashan Gary is all set to debut in Week 1, completing his recovery from the ACL tear that ended his 2022 season in November. But the Packers will begin their top pass rusher on a pitch count to start the season, Matt LaFleur confirmed (via Packers Wire’s Zach Kruse). This could open the door for early-season Lukas Van Ness development. The Packers still roster Preston Smith, who is going into his fifth season with the team, and Van Ness contributed as an inside and outside rusher at Iowa. The team has versatile linebacker Justin Hollins and 2022 fifth-rounder Kingsley Enagbare, who became a primary starter after Gary went down last season, as options while Gary ramps up to a full workload.

Additionally on the Green Bay injury front, David Bakhtiari, Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs are viewed as game-time decisions for Sunday’s opener against the Bears. Bakhtiari, who has seen knee trouble sidetrack his career to a degree over the past two-plus years, is listed on the injury report with more knee trouble. He expects to play, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Tom Silverstein tweets. Both starting receivers are battling hamstring maladies and have not practiced this week. Here is the latest from the NFC North:

  • As for tonight’s game, the Lions ruled out cornerback Emmanuel Moseley. Although Detroit activated Moseley off its active/PUP list before roster-cutdown day, the free agency addition underwent a second knee procedure this summer and was viewed as a long shot to start the year on time. Moseley is finishing up a recovery from an October 2022 ACL tear.
  • Isaiah Buggs started 13 games at nose tackle for last season’s Lions edition, but the veteran was informed in advance he would be a healthy scratch tonight, the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers notes. The Lions gave Buggs a two-year, $4.5MM deal in March but gave more snaps to rookie Brodric Martin and Benito Jones during camp. Buggs believes his lack of offseason attendance affected the team’s decision, per Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press. The former Steelers contributor said his wife giving birth led to him staying away during OTAs. Jones and Alim McNeill are expected to start in Kansas City, Birkett adds.
  • Going into free agency, the Bears did extensive work on Dre’Mont Jones, Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune notes. Although the Bears carried plenty of cap space into free agency, they chose to stand down on Jones and spend for the likes of Tremaine Edmunds, Nate Davis, T.J. Edwards and DeMarcus Walker. The team later addressed its D-tackle needs in the draft, choosing three — Zacch Pickens (Round 2), Gervon Dexter (Round 3) and Travis Bell (Round 7) — on Day 2. This duo should be expected to play bigger roles down the line, but in Week 1, Justin Jones and Andrew Billings are slated to start. A four-year Broncos regular, Jones ended up with the Seahawks on a three-year, $51MM deal.
  • T.J. Hockenson‘s four-year, $66MM Vikings extension comes with $29.29MM fully guaranteed, according to OverTheCap. That number checks in fourth among tight ends — behind Kyle Pitts‘ rookie deal and the extensions for Mark Andrews and George Kittle. Hockenson’s 2024 base salary is fully guaranteed. His $10.9MM 2025 base salary is guaranteed for injury at signing, per Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, who notes that number shifts to a full guarantee a year early (March 2024). The Vikings did not use the year-out guarantee structure for Hockenson’s 2026 setup, giving them more flexibility. Hockenson has $2.3MM of his 2026 base ($15.4MM) guaranteed for injury; it does not shift to a full guarantee until March 2026, giving the Vikings additional flexibility. Hockenson’s cap number will climb from $5MM this year to $14.1MM in 2024, Ben Goessling of the Minneapolis Star Tribune tweets.

NFL Draft Pick Signings: 5/13/21

Today’s late round signings:

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Cleveland Browns

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

  • DT Alim McNeill (third round; North Carolina State)

Green Bay Packers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Chargers

Miami Dolphins

Minnesota Vikings

New England Patriots

San Francisco 49ers

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Washington Football Team