Fewer than 15 minutes after free agents were permitted to talk to other teams, the Detroit Lions reached an agreement to retain one of their top players on Monday, coming to terms on a three-year contract with edge rusher Romeo Okwara.
The deal is reportedly worth up to $39 million with $20 million fully guaranteed, according to the NFL Network.
Claimed off waivers from the New York Giants just days before the start of the 2018 season, Okwara rapidly developed into an integral piece along Detroit’s defensive front.
Inactive the first week of that season, he went on to appear in the final 15 games, playing more than 70% of the team’s defensive snaps and leading the Lions with 7.5 sacks.
His playing time and production dipped significantly in his second season with the Lions. While he continued to pressure quarterbacks at a similar rate as the previous year, he mustered only 1.5 sacks in 2019.
But everything seemed to come together for Okwara, 25, last season. The 6-foot-4, 263-pounder was one of the few bright spots on Detroit’s defense, once again leading the team in sacks with 10.5.
The underlying numbers were equally, if not more impressive. After averaging 37 quarterback pressures the previous two seasons, Okwara ranked ninth in the NFL last season, disrupting the pocket 61 times last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
In January, weeks after he was announced as the Lions new coach, Dan Campbell acknowledged he had spoken with Okwara and hoped to keep him in the fold.
“I would say, man, I’m interested,” Campbell said. “You know, first and foremost, I want guys that want to be here. I want to make sure first that’s something they really want, they want to be back here and they want to be part of something special. That, to me, is Step No. 1.
“Then Step 2 is, well, does it fit us?,” Campbell said. “Where are they at financially? Where are we at? What does it mean? What does that do to us moving forward? All those things come into play.”
In the same interview with the Detroit News, Campbell noted the Lions would be sticking to similar defensive scheme as the one run under former coach Matt Patricia, particular up front.
Defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who followed Campbell to Detroit from New Orleans, discussed how he envisioned utilizing Okwara last month.
“Obviously, Romeo had 10 sacks, so he’s a pressure player,” Glenn said. “Every team in this league, every coach in this league wants a pressure player so if he’s back with us, which we hope we get the chance to get him back, we’re going to have him rushing the quarterback. That’s what he does best.”
Retaining Okwara keeps the team’s young, pass-rushing group intact, including Trey Flowers (27), Austin Bryant (24) and Romeo’s younger brother Julian (23), who the Lions drafted last year.