Allen Park — Lions safety Tracy Walker had options. The money elsewhere was better, he said.
But ultimately, Walker chose to stay in a place where he could continue evolving as a leader and re-signed with Detroit on a three-year, $25 million deal this past offseason.
“I definitely had more teams, I had more money (offered), but at the end of the day, I know the situation might not have been the best for me,” Walker said. “This was my best situation with everything that I was dealing with. … When I came back and I made that decision, I knew I was coming back home.”
As a reward for his loyalty — and his play on the field — Lions head coach Dan Campbell said before practice Wednesday that Walker has been given the keys to the Lions’ defense.
“I mean, he’s been a man on a mission,” Campbell said, adding veteran edge rusher Charles Harris into the conversation as well. “It’s one of the reasons we wanted to re-sign those (players). And so yeah, I’ve told them, ‘This is your defense. This is — you’ve got to to take the — man, this is my defense, man, this is what I’m about.’”
While the leadership role is greatly appreciated by Walker — “It’s just a blessing,” he said — he also doesn’t feel like it’s much of a deviation from the way he’s carried himself since arriving his rookie season in 2018 as a third-round pick out of Louisiana.
“That’s been me since I’ve been here. I just haven’t been thrusted in that role because I’ve had older guys and vets in front of me, but now that Dan has given me that opportunity, I still take on that role and run with it,” Walker said. “But I’ve always been a leader since I’ve been here for my rookie year, you know? So with that being said, being a leader, to me, that comes easy.”
With 12 starts in 2019, Walker took a big step forward in his second year in the league, leading the team in tackles (103). But his role was reduced in 2020, the final year with Matt Patricia at the helm in Allen Park; he went from playing 88% of defensive snaps to 71%. With the regime of Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes coming in heading into the final year of Walker’s rookie deal, his future in Detroit looked unclear.
As the 2021 season developed, the uncertainty dissipated. His role was returned to what it was in 2019; he played the same percentage of snaps, topping his career-best in tackles to lead the team with 108.
Now, as the Lions look to reshape the identity of their defense, Walker’s focus is on taking the next step — both for himself and the unit as a whole.
“It’s great to see those guys getting adjusted and get acclimated to the new defense and the way they’re coming off the ball,” Walker said. “And man, it’s gonna be a hell of a show. That’s all I can say. It’s gonna be a hell of a show.”