Alex Anzalone met with Lions coach Dan Campbell at the end of last season and laid out all the reasons he wanted to return to Detroit.
The Lions gave Anzalone “the keys to the defense” last spring, Anzalone responded with the most productive season of his career, and the veteran linebacker had an alluring vision in mind for 2022 and beyond.
“It’s definitely a place where you can see the culture change,” Anzalone said in a video conference Monday. “It’s a place where I personally can leave a legacy of when we turn this thing around and start competing in games that really matter and late in the season and playoff runs and things like that, so I think that was the attraction for me in that regard.”
LIVE UPDATES: NFL free agency rumors, reaction and analysis
Anzalone signed a one-year deal to stay with the Lions on Monday just before the start of the free agent negotiating period. The deal is worth up to $4 million.
The 27-year-old started 14 games at middle linebacker last season before missing the final three weeks with a shoulder injury. He wore the defensive headset most of the season and finished with career-highs in defensive snaps played (828), tackles (87) and passes defensed (seven).
“I feel like from a player’s perspective, all a player really wants is to be wanted and be appreciated and have a role in an organization,” Anzalone said. “I think that fit was there for me. So I think that, that excitement is there because of that.”
The Lions originally signed Anzalone to a one-year deal at the start of free agency last spring to help usher in a new era.
Anzalone played his first four NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, where Campbell and Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn were assistant coaches.
A part-time starter in New Orleans who battled injuries most of his career, Anzalone played more defensive snaps last season than all but four other Lions: Will Harris, Amani Oruwariye, Tracy Walker and Charles Harris.
“I think from the start, from their vision last year that they kind of just let me play and play my game and let me play free and kind of gave me the keys to the defense in a way,” Anzalone said. “And I think that took my game to another level from where I was at before, and just looking forward to continuing on.”
The Lions are transitioning to more of an even-front defense this season, which Anzalone said should not impact his responsibilities, and could be looking for as many as four new starters in free agency this week.
Walker and Charles Harris will be unrestricted free agents on Wednesday, and the Lions are looking for a third linebacker to pair with Anzalone and Derrick Barnes and at least one new starter at safety.
Anzalone said he will be happy to help recruit another ex-Saint, safety Marcus Williams, to Detroit “if Dan and Brad (Holmes) give me the go-ahead.”
And he said he thinks he’s “very close” to being able to leave the legacy he spoke to Campbell about in January.
“We were able to compete in a lot of these games (last year) which, kind of like I said, it doesn’t really matter unless you win them,” Anzalone said. “But I think a few pieces here and there and some continuity going forward, I know last year was a new year, was a new regime and new culture from the past. So I think that going into Year 2 of Dan and Brad, I think that things are definitely looking up and the momentum is there.”
The Lions announced three other signings Monday, or linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton and safeties Jalen Elliott and C.J. Moore. They also agreed to a one-year extension with backup quarterback Tim Boyle.