Allen Park — Whenever Tracy Walker was asked about his future last season, he always deflected the question and shifted the focus back to the football left to be played. But, like any pending free agent playing out the final year of their contract, there’s a level of uncertainty he had to bury.
After spending his first four seasons with the Lions, Walker didn’t know if he’d be back or he’d be suiting up for a different franchise in 2022. But a little more than an hour into the window where his agent was permitted to negotiate with those other teams, Walker made a decision to stick with the only NFL home he’s ever known.
“I had offers, I had other people who wanted me, but at the end of the day, I knew where home was,” Walker said. “This is home for me.”
Had the scenario played out a year earlier, Walker almost certainty would have jumped at almost any offer to get out of Detroit. He was coming off his worst season and had a strained relationship with the coaching staff, who had changed his role just ahead of that campaign.
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Coaches are supposed to put players in the best positions to succeed, and if production is the barometer, the previous staff failed Walker. But the new staff, led by defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant, made it a priority to rectify that, which is a big reason Walker remains a Lion.
“The coaching staff played a very huge role in me coming back,” Walker said. “I wanted to be back with my teammates, as well. I just see where everything is going. Me being here my first three years, and just kinda going through what I went through, seeing what these (coaches) that came in last year, the momentum that they brought with them, the ideas and leadership they brought, that made me want to stick around and be a part of it.”
In addition to the bond he forged with his new coaches, Walker also feels like he has unfinished business in Detroit. A self-proclaimed sore loser, he hasn’t been beaten down by four last-place finishes in the division. Instead, he’s motivated by it. And if and when this franchise manages to turn things around, he wants to be at the forefront, leading the charge.
“We ended up the end of the season on a positive note, so that’s the unfinished business I’m talking about,” Walker said. “Everybody just always doubts the Lions and I hate that.”
In the early stages of free agency, the Lions have primarily used their resources to retain talent instead of acquiring new pieces. That’s particularly true on defense, where the team has yet to reach an agreement with any players, let alone prospective starters.
Still, Walker still remains confident in the potential for a turnaround. He looks at last year’s three-win team and saw a lot of young talent developing on the field out of necessity while getting acclimated to the pro game. He can easily contrast that against his own experiences as a rookie, where he only needed to be on the field sparingly while learning the ropes from a group of quality veterans, led by Glover Quin, Darius Slay and Quandre Diggs.
Three years later, after cashing into with a three-year, $25 million contract, Walker is grateful for his experiences with that trio.
“I appreciate those guys,” Walker said. “Especially Glover. GQ helped me out a lot. GQ taught me the ropes and how to see different aspects from a safety’s perspective, and taught me the game from a different point of view. So yeah, I give a shoutout to those guys, because those guys reached out and told me congrats and that they’re happy for me. I appreciate them, man. I appreciate everyone who helped me.”
Now the shoe is on the other foot and Walker is the veteran leader. It’s a role he’s eager to embrace, now that the team has committed to him as a building block of its foundation.
“They love what I bring,” Walker said. “That’s just the type of player I am and the person I am. I’m not afraid to be myself at any point, at any time. I’m all about positive vibes and I’m a hard worker. When I’m here, they know what they’re getting. All day every day, we’re grinding, and I’m trying to help everybody get better. So that’s why they wanted me back and I’m glad to be back.”