With the NFL free agency period right around the corner, it is important the Detroit Lions make a big splash.

Now, before you start swearing at your computer (maybe you already have), I am not about to tell you the Lions should go out and sign Adrian Peterson or Jamaal Charles. In fact, if you happen to be a fan who believes they should, then please reevaluate your thought process.

That being said, there is one player who could become available that would not only fit perfectly with the Lions but could be one of the keys to their 2017 season and beyond.

On Tuesday, Ian Rapoport reported the New England Patriots would not be using the franchise tag on LB Dont’a Hightower, allowing him to become a free agent. This does not guarantee Hightower will not re-sign with the Patriots, as he is likely a big part of their plans, but it does mean there is a chance he plays elsewhere in 2017.

NFL: Super Bowl LI-New England Patriots vs Atlanta Falcons
Feb 5, 2017; Houston, TX, USA; New England Patriots middle linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) reacts after a tackle in the third quarter during Super Bowl LI against the Atlanta Falcons at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dan Powers-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest problems for the Lions in 2016 was their depth at the linebacker position and solving that problem is crucial to their chances of making it back to the playoffs next season. Hightower, who is only 27, would immediately step in as one of the best individual players on the Lions defense and GM Bob Quinn has to recognize that.

Since being drafted by the Patriots in the 1st Round of the 2012 NFL Draft, Hightower has emerged as one of the best LB’s in the league and will likely demand something in the area of $60 million over 5 years. He is without a doubt the best linebacker who could hit free agency (if he does not work out a deal with the Patriots by March 9 at 4 p.m.) and would be one of the top free agents available this offseason, regardless of position.

Quinn has made it clear he believes a championship football team is built through the draft, but passing on a player like Hightower, who is still in his prime, would be a big mistake for a team like Detroit. Rather than just looking for depth in free agency like Quinn seemed to focus on in his first year as Lions GM, he cannot be afraid to fill a couple of starting positions.

That all begins with Dont’a Hightower.