Lions Must Now Prioritize Free Agent Return for Defensive Standout

Tracy Walker

Getty Tracy Walker before a Lions game vs. Indianapolis.

The Detroit Lions have plenty of work to do this offseason starting soon, and they have already started the heavy lifting from within.

Detroit has 16 unrestricted free agents currently on the roster, and many of them are younger players or players who played a key role for the 2021 team. How much change is desired this offseason will be the biggest variable that Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell will have to ponder when they start thinking about how to reshape the roster for 2022.

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Already, three players have come back in the form of linebacker Josh Woods, wideout Josh Reynolds and fullback Jason Cabinda. The team also revealed this week they have tendered 13 exclusive rights free agents. The construction from within can’t stop there, though.

Here’s a look at who else should be coming back.

Tracy Walker, Safety

In his Detroit career, Walker has been solid since being a third-round draft pick in 2018. His first season in the league, Walker managed to put up 21 tackles and 1 interception. From there, though, he has only taken on a bigger role and managed to play a more meaningful role for the team’s defense. In 2019, Walker bounced back and put up his best season to date, with 103 tackles and 1 interception. In 2021, Walker had another solid year with 108 tackles, 1 sack and 1 interception. As a whole, Walker has put up 318 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 interceptions. Here’s a look at some highlights:

It seems wise for the Lions to reward Walker with an extension if they believe his best days of football are still ahead of him. Depending on who you believe, the plan to bring him back could already be in the works for the team.

Charles Harris, Defensive End

Harris was one of Detroit’s better free agency bargains last year, and that may have come as a surprise after a bumpy start to his career. He was a former first-round pick out of Missouri back in 2017, and while he might not have lived up to the grade with the Dolphins, it’s clear he does offer some upside in the trenches. Harris has 6.5 career sacks, but 3 of those came when he was playing with the Falcons during the 2020 season. Harris also had put up 79 tackles, 4 passes defended and 1 fumble recovery in his career before joining the Lions.

The Lions re-made their defense this past offseason, and in previous years the team did not show an ability to get after the quarterback. Harris helped that disappear himself with 7.5 sacks in 2021, and he put some impressive tape out ahead of free agency:

Detroit needs some depth up front so it would be smart for the Lions to re-sign Harris and keep him as part of the mix moving forward. He has shown that he can fit well within the team’s scheme, which means that it would be a smart move for the Lions to let him stick around beyond one year.

Kalif Raymond, Wide Receiver

Raymond hasn’t had a major impact on the offense given his 369 yards and 19 career receptions. Raymond does have 1,549 yards in the return game, and though he was an undrafted free agent out of Holy Cross in 2016, he played with the Denver Broncos, New York Jets, New York Giants, Tennessee Titans, Giants and then Titans once again.

Raymond has managed to bring some of those plays and speed consistently, which helped the Lions in a big way. This season, he put up 576 yards and4 touchdowns and made a ton of explosive plays for the offense, as these highlights show:

At times, Raymond was one of the most consistent parts of the Detroit offense, especially before the emergence of rookie wideout Amon-Ra St. Brown. He’s a good young piece for the Lions to have, and can offer the team something on punt returns as well. For that reason, he needs to be back.

Evan Brown, Center

Brown won’t be found on many must re-sign lists, but the lineman was sneaky productive for the Lions after being pressed into duty and looked like a great find as an undrafted free agent. Interestingly enough, Brown had the most snaps of any player in the preseason in Detroit with a whopping 154 as pointed out by Pro Football Focus.

Brown played in 13 games in his career, so he does have NFL experience to rely on. For that reason, he’s not like other possible replacements that could come on the roster. Brown was undrafred out of SMU in 2018, but ended up cracking the New York Giants roster in 2018 before being waived in 2019. He would go on to spend parts of 2020 with the Cleveland Browns before coming to Detroit. This year, Brown showed himself as stable enough to make the team and then played fairly well after being inserted into the lineup. For this reason, the Lions should think about keeping him around if at all possible.

Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Linebacker

The Lions bet on Reeves-Maybin internally this year, and that seemed to be a great choice for them. After being a fourth-round pick of Detroit in the 2017 NFL draft, Reeves-Maybin has not gone on to play a huge role with the team in the last few seasons. He hasn’t started immediately nor locked down any type of significant role on the team’s defense. The team gave him more than a bit of a chance in 2021 and he delivered with 82 tackles, which was a new career-high.

There’s a chance if this new staff gives Reeves-Maybin a bigger role he could end up accounting for more production after a trial run this past year. Given the void at linebacker, finding a way to bring Reeves-Maybin back could be a significant boost to a spot of the defense set to undergo major changes.

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