Tracy Walker got a phone call from his agent at 6 a.m. Pacific Time on Monday.
The free agent negotiating period was about to begin, Walker’s agent was ready to start fielding formal offers from teams interested in signing him, and he wanted to know how Walker, an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his NFL career, wanted to proceed.
“He was like, ‘T, I got teams here, what you want to do?'” Walker said. “And I was just looking at him and I said, ‘You know what, I think Detroit is where I’m going to be back at.’ And he was like, ‘You sure?’ And I’m just like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to Detroit. F it.’ ‘All right, cool. We’re going back to Detroit.'”
A few hours later, the Detroit Lions had agreed in principle with Walker, their top free agent and a player they had been in regular contact with about a return, on a three-year, $25 million contract.
The deal includes $17 million in practical guarantees, life-changing money for a third-round pick out of Louisiana-Lafayette who never considered the NFL a real possibility until he got to college.
“I’m blessed in unaccountable measures,” Walker said Tuesday at a news conference to announce the signing. “It’s a great feeling. It’s a great feeling to be able to stand up here in front of you guys and be able to sit here and say one of my dreams has come true. Like I said, everybody has their dreams to make it to the NFL, but it’s beyond that for me. I’m able to take care of my family in different aspects. So I’m grateful.”
Walker has been a popular player in the locker room and fixture in the Lions secondary for most of the past four seasons, even as he struggled through bouts of inconsistency and butted heads with the old Lions coaching staff.
After a trying 2020 season in which his cousin was murdered and he was in and out of the starting lineup, Walker played arguably the best football of his career last year under new coach Dan Campbell and assistants Aaron Glenn and Aubrey Pleasant.
Walker said his belief in that trio and what they are building in Detroit was a big reason he re-signed with the Lions.
“I believe in everything these guys stand for and what they’re all about,” Walker said. “We’re all on the same agenda, we all want to win. Like I said, I’ve been here four years. I’m tired of losing in Detroit and coaches feel the same. They’re tired of seeing Detroit be a laughingstock in the NFL. That’s the confidence right there.
“I see where things can be at and we’re only a couple plays away, and that’s been proven. So yeah, I feel like, like I said, we’re on the come up. I ain’t going to sit here and try to act like I’m a genie or anything, but I’m very confident in what we’re bringing this year. Now we just got to go out there and continue to build on it and put it together.”
The Lions are expected to make just one major free agent signing when the new league year begins at 4 p.m. Wednesday.
On Tuesday, they agreed to a one-year deal with Jacksonville Jaguars receiver D.J. Chark, someone Walker called “a hell of a player.”
“Man, he can take the top off on you quick,” Walker said. “He’s a go-getter. He’s a complete receiver. He’s somebody you can line up on the back side by his self and he’s going to make plays. So now the job for us is just get him the ball.”
Defensively, the Lions are bringing back most of their starters from a team that went 3-13-1 last season and allowed the second most points in the league.
The Lions are 17-46-2 since Walker entered the league and have four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North.
Walker said he ended last season feeling like he had “unfinished business,” and he said the Lions are equipped to take a step forward this fall despite their quiet offseason so far.
“We ended up the end of the season on a positive note and that’s the unfished business that we’re talking about,” he said. “Like I said, everybody just always doubts the Lions and I hate that. I hate seeing people always think we’re not accounted for or better yet not going to be a winning organization just cause of past history when each year, each team is different. This is a new team. It has a couple old pieces, but at the end of the day there’s a lot of guys that’s going to be coming back this year.”