Lions inform linebacker Trey Flowers of pending release

Detroit News

The Detroit Lions have informed outside linebacker Trey Flowers he’s being released, according to a source familiar with the conversations. The move, which is expected to become official next week, will clear more than $10 million in cap space ahead of the opening of free agency on March 16.

The Lions initially signed Flowers in 2019, inking him to the largest contract awarded to any free agent that offseason, both in total money and guarantees. The five-year pact was valued at $90 million with $56 million guaranteed to the player.

Prior to joining the Lions, Flowers had established himself as one of the league’s most productive edge rushers during four seasons with the New England Patriots, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Arkansas.

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After missing nearly all of his rookie season with a shoulder injury, Flowers appeared in 45 out of 48 regular season games over the next three years. And despite never topping 7.5 sacks in a season during that stretch, he ranked in the top-10 in quarterback pressures each of his final two years in New England, while also proving to be excellent against the run.

On top of his on-field value, Flowers was seen as a critical, culture-building piece for coach Matt Patricia, who was entering his second season with the Lions.

“Scheme fit, culture fit, great player, great person,” former Lions general manager Bob Quinn said shortly after the signing. “Feel he’s going to be able to be a three-down player for us and really increase that level of play across the defensive line from multiple positions.”

More: Detroit Lions 2022 scouting combine preview: Edge defenders

And in that first season with the Lions, Flowers largely was that player, replicating much of the success he had in New England. In 2019, he recorded 7.0 sacks — his average from the previous three years — while leading the team by a wide margin with 62 quarterback pressures.

In terms of culture, Flowers’ impact extended well beyond the field. Following the 2020 season, he was named the team’s Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee for his work in the community, specially with underserved youth in both Detroit and back home in Alabama, as well as supporting frontline workers during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But due to injuries, his on-field success with the Lions was short-lived. In 2020, while already navigating a slow start, Flowers suffered a broken forearm in the team’s Week 8 game against Indianapolis, sidelining him for the rest of the season. He finished with 2.0 sacks.

Back at full strength to begin the 2021 campaign, Flowers had to deal with a modification to his role in Detroit’s new defensive scheme. While still playing on the edge, a switch from defensive end to outside linebacker meant he would have to drop into coverage far more than he had in previous seasons.

Despite the changes, and being one of only a handful of players brought in by the previous regime who was retained by the team’s new leadership, Flowers’ attitude and approach resonated with teammates, who elected him a captain for the second consecutive year.

“Look, I love Trey,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said at the scouting combine earlier this month. “He’s everything you’re looking for from the intangibles and he’s had a heck of a career. I love everything that he stands for.”

But injury issues would again limit his effectiveness. Battling through shoulder and knee issues much of the year, he appeared in just seven games, recording 1.5 sacks and a paltry 1.5 pressures. The team finally opted to place him on injured reserve in early December.

Before signing Flowers, the Lions struggled to generate pass-rush pressure, ranking 25th in the NFL. Following the addition, the deficiency not only persisted, it worsened.

With his departure, the team is left with a young edge defender group headed by the Okwara brothers, Romeo and Julian, and Austin Bryant. The most-productive pass rusher from last season, former first-round pick Charles Harris, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent, threatening to further increase Detroit’s need at the position.

Even if the Lions are able to come to terms on a new contract with Harris, the team holds the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft. At that spot, Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson or Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux could be a long-term solution.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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