Allen Park — The Detroit Lions never hid from the fact they were in the market for a wide receiver this offseason, preferably one with some size and capable of winning one-on-one matchups on the outside.
But beyond whatever size, speed and production might be on the resume, general manager Brad Holmes was going to run any prospective addition through a cultural filter. No matter the amount of talent, if the character wasn’t a fit, the Lions weren’t interested.
In the end, the team found everything it was looking for, on the field and off, in DJ Chark.
“When you start off this (free-agency) process it’s a big universe,” Holmes said on Thursday. “…And through a lot of hard work and through a really thorough process, starting with our great pro personnel department and then collaboration with our coaching staff, you start going through the process and you have favorites that start to emerge. DJ just so happened to be one of those favorites that emerged for us.
“It’s easy to talk about the stats and all of his accomplishments,” Holmes said. “Year 2 and he’s a Pro Bowler and all that stuff, but the real thing is we’re all about culture, we’re all about fit, and that’s what DJ is going to bring. He fits what we’re all about.”
From a football perspective, the 6-foot-4 Chark nicely fills Detroit’s void for an outside receiver. And despite battling injuries the past two seasons, including a fractured ankle that sidelined him the final 13 games in 2021, he’s a proven producer. In 2019, his second NFL season, he exploded for 73 receptions, 1,008 yards and eight touchdowns.
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Chark acknowledges his ankle still isn’t 100%, but he’s been running routes and he expects to fully regain his explosiveness by the start of the season. Being sidelined for so long, he’s understandably eager to remind people of what he’s able to do, and there should be plenty of opportunities with the Lions.
But like Holmes was looking for a cultural fit, Chark was looking for one, as well. On the surface, there might not seem to be many differences between the long-term struggles of his former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and his new home in Detroit. But Chark insists perception isn’t reality.
“I actually kept up with the Lions just because, at the time, we had like the same record or whatever, but the games looked completely different,” Chark said. “I appreciated the hustle, the grit and the way that they preserved and went from tying games to winning games and playing better. I truly appreciate the way this (coaching) staff kept that team together and (had) faith in those guys. I know that means a lot to them and I’m ready to be a part of it. I feel like it’s definitely a different feel than what I’ve been experiencing.”
Chark got further assurances about coming to Detroit from former Lions receivers Marvin Jones and Jamal Agnew, who signed with the Jaguars as free agents last year.
“They spoke very highly of the place and the city,” Chark said. “They have a good idea of who I am and they say I’m going to like it. I’m excited to see what it has in store.”
Chark and the Lions ended up coming together on a one-year, $10 million deal. He claims he had other offers, including teams interested in a longer-term pairing. By going with the shorter option, the Lions are protected if the match doesn’t go as planned, while Chark has the opportunity to reestablish his value before going back on a market that has proven time and time again that it will pay a much higher rate for high-caliber talent. Heck, his former team awarded free agent receiver Christian Kirk a four-year, $72 million contract this week.
“If we’re going to be honest, I view myself as a top player,” Chark said. “But with that being said, with injuries and things like that, still have to prove yourself. I feel like this organization is the best place to do it. It’s not necessarily about money. It’s about the best fit, and this was the best fit. I’m thankful enough to be drafted second round and to have a short-term deal that’s worth a good bit, so as far as financially I’m way ahead of where I could have been any other way. So, yeah, it’s just about playing ball at this point.”