Wasted 2017 draft a big reason why Detroit Lions are in perpetual state of rebuild

Detroit Free Press

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Jarrad Davis should have been an eight-year starter at middle linebacker, at least that’s what the Detroit Lions hoped when they made him the 21st pick of the 2017 draft.

On Monday, Davis reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the New York Jets, which is good for him in that it gives him a chance to revitalize his career, but bad for the Lions in that, five years later, they are left with nothing from Davis’ draft class.

Teez Tabor, the Lions’ second-round pick in 2017, is still bouncing around the league but has not played an NFL game in three years. Kenny Golladay, their third-round pick that spring, is expected to sign a big-money deal elsewhere in free agency this week. And Jamal Agnew, a fifth-round pick, is headed to the Jacksonville Jaguars after agreeing to a three-year contract Monday.

LIVE UPDATES: NFL free agency rumor mill and transactions

Jalen Reeves-Maybin, the Lions’ fourth-round pick in 2017, is the last man standing of what was once a nine-person draft class, and that turnover is a big reason why the Lions are where they are now — rebuilding after another disappointing season.

Five years is a lifetime in the NFL, so roster churn is expected. And to be fair to former general manager Bob Quinn, a coaching change at the end of the 2017 season hastened the departure of some of those picks.

But the Lions have missed on far too many high draft picks over the years, and when players like Davis and Tabor don’t pan out, that leaves a huge hole in the roster. (Similarly, the Lions have just one player from their 2016 draft, left tackle Taylor Decker, still under contract.)

All eyes are understandably on free agency this week, but if there is one lesson to be learned from the movement around the league it is that teams that cannot draft and develop players have no chance of succeeding. 

Ranking Lions’ biggest needs entering free agency: Predicting how they fill holes ]

Okwara deal solid for Lions

I generally take a wait-and-see approach to NFL free agency. It’s rare players see the end of contracts handed out during the negotiating period, and only slightly more common that the players who sign those deals make significant impacts on their teams.

So forgive me for not breaking out the bubbly over the Detroit Lions’ three-year deal with Romeo Okwara, though I do think it is a good move to keep him.

Okwara was the Lions’ best pass rusher last season, and at 26 years old in June, is in the prime of his career.

NFL Network shared some financial details of the contract (I’ll do a full post on the rest when they become available): A $14 million signing bonus, $26 million the first two seasons with $20 million of that fully guaranteed.

That’s a nice chunk of change of change for a player who went undrafted out of Notre Dame in 2016 and, three years ago, could have been had by anyone on the waiver wire. Bob Quinn claimed him, in what was arguably the best move of his tenure as GM, and the Lions are still reaping the rewards.

Okwara had 7.5 sacks in 15 games in his first season in Detroit in 2018, but when I studied the film of those sacks, most were of the coverage variety. Fast forward to last season, and Okwara was making plays all on his own.

I don’t know if he has another 10-sack season in him, but he is a valuable four-down player (though maybe he plays fewer special teams snaps now that the team is fully invested in him) and the best pass rusher on the Lions roster.

We’ll see if the Lions continue to use him as a hand-down defensive end or a stand-up rusher in new coordinator Aaron Glenn’s scheme, and while I’m still lukewarm on the Lions’ front seven, Okwara and a healthy Trey Flowers can be a nice duo up front for a rebuilding defense.

MOVES: Lions re-sign LB Jalen Reeves-Maybin, cut OL Joe Dahl

Lions in on John Johnson

Update: The Browns are reportedly signing Johnson to a three-year deal worth $33.8 million.

CBS Sports listed four teams as being in the market for Los Angeles Rams safety John Johnson — the Lions, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns — and the Lions’ inclusion on the list should come as no great surprise.

Johnson, as I wrote previously, makes sense as the Lions’ No. 1 target in free agency. He’s a very good player, would fill a major need in the secondary and most importantly could be the type of tone-setter Dan Campbell wants for his team and locker room.

Johnson likely ends up as the highest-paid safety on the market, given that Marcus Williams, Marcus Maye and Justin Simmons were franchised.

The Jaguars and Browns have significantly more cap space than the Lions, and for that reason, can probably give Johnson better terms or structure on his deal. But the cap is so malleable that it should not be an excuse for missing out on any player a team really wants.

Johnson’s price might surge beyond where the Lions feel comfortable going, or he may decide one of his other suitors — I’m surprised the Los Angeles Chargers aren’t in the mix — is a better fit.

But he remains the best player on the market for a Lions team that should not be making any wild signings if it misses out on Johnson.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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