Receiver DJ Chark would welcome return to Lions: ‘This place checks off all the boxes’

Detroit News

Allen Park — DJ Chark’s season ended so much better than the way it started.

The former Pro Bowl receiver came to Detroit looking for a fresh start, a better cultural fit than he’d experienced through four seasons in Jacksonville. But after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the Lions, seeking to rehab his reputation the same way he’d rehabbed the ankle he had broken the previous September, Chark was struggling to get on the same page with his new quarterback, Jared Goff.

Though the first three games of the season, Chark recorded just seven catches for 98 yards. There were a couple of drops in there, as well as a couple of missed connections on deep balls, but these kinds of sluggish starts aren’t exactly uncommon for a player in a new setting. At that point, there was no reason to think things wouldn’t eventually turn around, particularly after Chark and Goff seemed to have developed some real chemistry in the late stages of training camp.

But Chark’s surgically repaired ankle started giving him trouble after that third game and it quickly became clear he couldn’t be effective if he continued to play on it. The Lions shut him down, thinking it might only be a week or two. Instead, it wound up requiring nearly two months.

When he finally returned to the lineup, Chark was desperate to make an impact, to show his teammates he was capable of contributing. And for the final seven games he did that and then some, catching 23 passes for 404 yards and two touchdowns. That’s nearly an 1,000-yard pace across a full, 17-game season.

“I’m pretty pleased,” Chark said before the season finale. “First and foremost, I thank God that I was able to come back and play. When it happened, I didn’t really have a timeline on when I’d get back, and that was frustrating. But being able to come back, work my way back into the offense, and also be able to win games, that’s all been huge for me. The stats, whatever, those are nice too, but knowing that my presence matters, that’s huge.

Part of the Chark’s success was the timing issues he’d had with Goff evaporated down the stretch, starting with a pair of deep connections in back-to-back wins over Jacksonville and Minnesota. Two weeks later, Chark added a season-high 108 yards in a loss to Carolina.

But arguably his most-meaningful catch of the year was his last, a 9-yarder that converted a fourth down in the closing seconds of the season finale, allowing the Lions to take a knee to seal a 20-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers on primetime television.

Obviously, it wasn’t an ideal season for Chark, given his lengthy absence from the lineup. Still, he couldn’t be happier with where he chose to play in 2022. Immediately after signing with the Lions, he talked about how he was drawn to the team’s effort while watching from afar. He wanted to be part of a group as passionate about the game as he was. Reality ended up meeting those expectations.

“Everybody works hard, everybody plays hard,” Chark said. “A lot of time, those things don’t show up in the stat sheet, but blocking for Leaf (Kalif Raymond) or Saint (Amon-Ra St. Brown) and them being able to break a play, that’s more of those want-to-type plays. Those things happen because everybody cares about each other. We’ve been through the lows together. Obviously, I didn’t go through those lows with them last year, but I got my dose of it this year. We’ve been able to work together, pick each other up and keep pushing. That’s what it means to be a teammate.”

Set to be a free agent again in March, it should come as no surprise Chark hopes to be back with the Lions, to continue building on both his own and the team’s success through the second half of the season.

But he’s also not naïve. He understands the business side of the NFL, and the Lions have plenty of resources committed to other receivers, including rookie Jameson Williams, a first-round pick who figures to have a much larger role in the offense his second season. So the team might not be able to accommodate re-upping at or around the $10 million they paid him this season.

Chark is content to take a wait-and-see approach, allowing his faith, in both God and his agent, to lead to him to the right destination, even if the preference is to be back in Detroit in 2023.

“I have a good relationship, not only with the players, but the coaches,” Chark said. “Obviously, it’s a business, you’ve got to work out the numbers and all of that, but this place checks off all the boxes. I have a good relationship with the coaching staff, I’m used to the city, I’ve adjusted to the cold.

“I’m a big believer and I’m going to let my faith go before me and I feel I’ll end up in the right place,” he continued. “I think this is a great place for me. If it works out, I definitely wouldn’t mind sitting here talking to you from this same locker. We just have to see how it goes, but I’m pleased with everything, even the bumps in the road I had this (season), I’m pleased with how things went.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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