The Lions’ fear has been confirmed. Edge rusher Romeo Okwara has been diagnosed with a torn Achilles that will rule him out for the remainder of the season (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport).
The Lions will place Okwara on the injured reserve list, opening up a new spot on the 53-man roster. Replacing his production will be a different matter. Now at 0-4, the Lions’ odds of righting the ship have gone down drastically. They’ve already lost cornerback Jeff Okudah — also an Achilles tear — and they’re still awaiting Trey Flowers‘ return from shoulder and knee issues. Plus, Lions center Frank Ragnow was also forced out this week with a toe injury, though that seems to be a short-term matter.
Doctors — and non-medical professionals — could immediately tell that Okwara was in bad shape. The pass rusher was in obvious pain on Sunday and couldn’t put weight on his left leg as he hobbled off the field.
Okwara registered a career-high ten sacks last year with 44 stops, three forced fumbles, and 18 total quarterback hits. And, through the first three games this year, he was Detroit’s most productive defender. The Lions will be counting on Flowers (if healthy), Charles Harris, Julian Okwara, and Austin Bryant for support as they search for win No. 1.
On Sunday, Lions head coach Dan Campbell told reporters that Romeo Okwara‘s lower leg injury “doesn’t look good.” More specifically, sources believe that the edge rusher has torn his Achilles (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport).
Tomorrow’s tests will confirm Okwara’s condition, but it doesn’t sound promising. A torn Achilles would instantly end the 26-year-old’s season and leave Detroit without one of its best defenders.
Okwara re-upped with the Lions on three-year, $39MM deal in March with $25MM guaranteed. He registered a career-high ten sacks last year, setting himself up for another impactful season.
Similar to Shaquil Barrett — who scored a $72MM deal from the Bucs — Okwara was hardly known just a few years ago. He missed the Giants’ 53-man cut in ’18, but he developed into something of a sack machine. The Lions didn’t get to see much of that in 2021, unfortunately. In his four games, Okwara has notched just one sack with six stops.
The Lions are now 0-4 after losing 24-14 to the Bears in Chicago. Already on the cusp of playoff irrelevance, they’ll try for their first win next week against the Vikings.
The Lions have a new regime in place, led by head coach Dan Campbell. Often times, coaching changes put incumbent players on the chopping block, but that’s not necessarily the case for 2019 second-round pick Jahlani Tavai.
“I tell you what, I’ve been really impressed with Jahlani,” linebackers coach Mark DeLeone said (via Justin Rogers of The Detroit News). “He’s been here (and) he’s been doing a great job. He’s in really good shape right now. I’m excited to work with him. I’m excited for us to get to OTAs and be able to continue with him because I’m really excited about him.”
“I can just tell you when he came out when he was out on the field this week, he’s been doing well and I’ve really enjoyed working with him so far. He has a really good understanding of the game. I think he’s gonna be a nice piece for us to work within this scheme.”
The Lions are exploring their options at LB, including newcomer Alex Anzalone, who has history with Campbell. Tavai, meanwhile, has failed to impress in his two pro seasons. After notching two tackles, one forced fumble, and one interception as a rookie, Tavai didn’t make much of an impact last year. He appeared in all 16 games and made ten starts, but earned poor marks from Pro Football Focus across the board, including a dismal 35.7 score for his coverage. Still, the Lions seem to think that this can be a turning point for the young ‘backer.
More from Detroit:
The Lions’ new scheme will push Trey Flowers and Romeo Okwara to outside linebacker, as Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press writes.”He’s got a great skill set for what we’re trying to do,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said of Flowers, who inked a $90MM deal to play DE. “Every one of the players that we have on our defensive roster have a skill set. It’s going to be our job obviously as coaches to put them in that position to be successful, and I think Trey has that skill set as a defensive end in base and also in sub.” Flowers won’t be alone — there will be adjustments across the front seven as Detroit commits to a base 3-4 set under Campbell.
New second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike will be slotted in as a defensive end that moves inside on clear passing downs, defensive line coach Todd Wash says (Twitter link via Rogers).
Before the Lions signed Dan Campbell, they also explored Iowa State coach Matt Campbell as a candidate. But, despite a report to the contrary, it sounds like they never made a formal offer.
With the tampering period in full swing, here are some of the latest contract details to emerge:
Chargers C Corey Linsley: Five years, $62.5MM. $26MM guaranteed, $13MM signing bonus. Linsley is due $26MM through 2022, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. Linsley’s 2021 base salary ($4MM) is fully guaranteed. His 2022 base salary ($9MM) is guaranteed for injury at signing; it becomes fully guaranteed if he is on the Bolts’ roster on Day 2 of the 2022 league year, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle tweets.
Jaguars CB Shaquill Griffin: Three years, $40MM. $23.5MM fully guaranteed, Albert Breer of SI.com tweets. $12MM signing bonus, base salaries of $1MM, $11.5MM and $11.5MM. Griffin is due a $1MM roster bonus in 2023, Field Yates of ESPN.com tweets.
The Lions have re-signed edge rusher Romeo Okwara to a three-year deal worth $39MM (Twitter link via NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport). Okwara’s deal will become official later in the week and will bring him $25MM upon signing.
Okwara posted a career-high ten sacks last year, setting himself up for a sizable pay day. His profile has been rising since 2018, when he recorded 7.5 sacks in his first year as a starter. He wasn’t able to match that in his 2019 encore, but he rebounded with perfect timing in 2020.
Similar to Shaquil Barrett — who just scored a $72MM deal from the Bucs — Okwara was hardly known just a few years ago. He missed the Giants’ 53-man cut in ’18, but he’s now going to earn eight figures per annum in Detroit.
Okwara may have sacrificed some potential upside by skipping the open market, but he has ample security in a system that works for him. He also gets to continue playing with his little brother, Julian Okwara.
Despite some whispers of a potential delay, the deadline for teams to place franchise tags on impending free agents was today at 5 p.m. CT. While a handful of players learned that they were slapped with the tag, a number of players naturally learned that they’ll be entering unrestricted free agency. We collected some of those notable players below:
The Steelers decided to not tag Bud Dupree, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter (via Twitter). The linebacker was hit with the tag last offseason. The former first rounder had another strong season for Pittsburgh, compiling eight sacks in only 11 games.
A pair of popular Seahawks players didn’t get franchised: running back Chris Carson (per NFL.com’s Tom Pelissero on Twitter) and cornerback Shaquill Griffin (per NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport on Twitter). The team is planning to (at least) make a pursuit at retaining Griffin, per Rapoport.
The Bengals didn’t franchise pass rusher Carl Lawson, per Rapoport (on Twitter). The former fourth rounder has collected 10.5 sacks over the past two seasons, with Rapoport opining that the lineman is “one of the NFL’s most underrated players” heading into free agency.
The Lions decided to not franchise Romeo Okwara, according to Rapoport (via Twitter). The 25-year-old had a breakout season in Detroit, setting career-highs in tackles (44) and sacks (10).
Despite leading the Cardinals with 12.5 sacks last season, Arizona didn’t franchise linebacker Haason Reddick (according to Schefter on Twitter). The former first-rounder also set career-highs in QB hits (16) and tackles for loss (15).
The Titans didn’t franchise tight end Jonnu Smith, per Schefter on Twitter. The 25-year-old has shown flashes during his brief NFL career, including a 2020 campaign where he set career-highs in receptions (41), receiving yards (448), and touchdowns (eight).
As a reminder, here are the players who have reportedly been tagged over the past 48 hours:
The Lions have only one franchise tag to give with two deserving players. When asked about tagging wide receiver Kenny Golladay or edge rusher Romeo Okwara, GM Brad Holmes indicated that the decision won’t be rushed. At the same time, it sounds like the Lions are hoping to keep both players in the fold for 2021.
“We want to make the best decision for the Lions, and sometimes those decisions take a little bit longer,” Holmes said (via NFL.com). “We’re not gonna rush it, so whether it is a franchise tag on a Romeo or Kenny or whoever it is, we’ll definitely have a process in place that we believe in that we’re trusting … and we’re sticking to it and [making] sure it meets the Detroit Lions’ timeline and that’s really the thing that matters the most.”
The Lions’ WR group is due for a reset, one way or another. Like Golladay, veterans Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, and Mohamed Sanu are all out of contract, leaving youngster Quintez Cephus as the last one left. Golladay was limited to just five games last year, but his 2019 Pro Bowl campaign solidified him as a standout. He’s still only 27, and he’s just one year removed from a 65/1,190/11 stat line.
“I don’t think there’s any debate that Kenny has shown the ability to be a No. 1 receiver in this league, with that skill-set that everybody knows that he has,” Holmes said. “There’s also been no debate that Kenny’s been at the forefront of our mind in terms of making sure that we make the best possible decision for no only the Lions, but for Kenny. You’ll hear about what we’ll be doing shortly.”
The Lions — and the other 31 teams in the league — must make their franchise tag decisions by March 9.
Two years ago today, the Lions agreed to a two-year deal with Romeo Okwara. At the time, the move flew under the radar a bit (it got only three brief paragraphs on the team’s website). Fast forward to today, and the new Lions brass is probably disappointed that their predecessors hadn’t made a longer commitment.
The 2016 undrafted free agent out of Notre Dame spent the first two seasons of his career with the Giants, appearing in 22 total games. After getting waived prior to the 2018 campaign, he caught on with the Lions, and he proceeded to have a career year for his new team. Okwara appeared in 15 games (14 starts), compiling 39 tackles, 7.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. The defensive lineman was one of the few standouts for a lowly Lions squad, but the team still had some hurdles to overcome in order to retain the player.
Okwara was set to become a restricted free agent following that 2018 campaign. Instead of placing a second-round (or even first-round) tender on the player, the team paid him a bit more in order to retain his services without any competition. The front office ultimately gave the defensive end a two-year deal worth $6.8MM, including $3.4MM in guaranteed money. It was a bit of gamble for the team, as Okwara was solely getting paid off of one productive season.
The defensive lineman didn’t necessarily live up to that deal in 2019, as he was relegated to a rotational role and finished with only 1.5 sacks. However, he rebounded with a career year in 2020, finishing with career-highs in tackles (44), sacks (10.0), and forced fumbles (three). The 25-year-old was especially productive down the stretch; per Pro Football Focus, Okwara finished with the third-highest pass-rush grade from Week 12 on, and he posted the ninth-highest grade for the entire season.
As a result of this production, Okwara is expected to be a popular name in unrestricted free agency this offseason. Detroit would certainly be a suitor…he’ll already account for $900K on their books thanks to previous signing bonus machinations. It sounds like new defensive coordinator AaronGlenn is also a fan of the defensive lineman.
“Romeo had 10 sacks (last year),” Glenn said (via Kyle Meinke of MLive.com). “So, he’s a pressure player. Every team in this league, every coach in this league, wants a pressure player. So if he’s back with us, which we hope we get the chance to get him back, we’re going to have him rushing the quarterback. That’s what he does best. Again, we’re going to put him in position to do what he do best and that’s to get after the quarterback.”
Hindsight is obviously 20/20, and the Lions may have raised some eyebrows had they originally signed Okwara for more than two years back in 2019. However, exactly two years after that contract was signed, we’re sure GM BradHolmes and his staff are wishing they had another year to evaluate the young defensive lineman.
Let’s take a look at the details of a few recently-signed contracts from around the NFL:
Donovan Smith, T (Buccaneers): Three years, $41.25MM. $27MM fully guaranteed. Guaranteed 2019 base salary of $7MM with a $5.5MM roster bonus. Guaranteed $14.5MM base salary in 2020. Non-guaranteed $14.25MM base salary in 2021. $5MM of 2019 salary deferred until 6/15/20. $3MM of 2020 salary deferred until 3/5/21. Deferrals have no impact on salary cap (Twitter link via Dan Graziano of ESPN.com).
Jason Kelce, C (Eagles): Extended through 2021. $7.57MM signing bonus. 2019 base salary reduced from $6.5MM to $930K. 2020 base salary reduced from $7MM to $1.5MM with a $2MM roster bonus. $500K playing time escalator available in 2020 for playing 90% of offensive snaps. 2021 base salary of $5.5MM (Twitterlinks via Reuben Frank of NBC Sports Philadelphia).
Denzelle Good, OL (Raiders): Extended through 2019. One-year, $1.7MM. $500K signing bonus. $200K per-game roster bonuses. $100K workout bonus. $1.2MM available via playtime incentives (Twitter link via Michael Gehlken of the Las Vegas Review Journal).
Lane Johnson, T (Eagles): Restructured contract. Created $8.2MM in cap space by converting $10.045MM of his 2019 base salary into a signing bonus. Base salary is now $805K (Twitter link via Field Yates of ESPN.com). Added voidable years in 2022-23 (Twitter link via Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer).
The Lions have agreed to a two-year deal with defensive end Romeo Okwara, NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero tweets.
Pelissero notes the deal will pay more than a second-round RFA tender and has incentives on top of that. Had the two sides not come to an agreement, it was likely the team might have need to place a first-round tender on him to keep him off the market.
This was a big move for the Lions, who needed pass-rush help going into the offseason with defensive end Ezekiel Ansah testing free agency.
Undrafted after coming out of Notre Dame in 2016, Okwara caught on with the Giants and spent two years in New York as a reserve defensive lineman. Claimed off waivers from the Giants shortly before the 2018 season, Okwara impressed in his first taste of action with Detroit, starting 14 games and registering a career-high 7.5 sacks and 39 total tackles.