Instant reaction: Lions keep DE Romeo Okwara in free agency

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Jeff Risdon
·2 min read
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The Detroit Lions are keeping their 2020 sack leader, Romeo Okwara, for the foreseeable future. Okwara will sign a three-year contract worth a reported $39 million to stay in Detroit and avoid becoming an unrestricted free agent.

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Locking up Okwara without completely blowing the bankroll is a smart move for new Lions GM Brad Holmes. The $13 million per year average is in line with the second tier of pass rush salaries, which is where Okwara proved he belongs with his impressive 2020.

Okwara is still a rising talent at just 25 years old. He effectively shook off a bad 2019 season by charging back with 10 sacks. As anyone who watched the Lions in 2020 can attest, Okwara did that almost completely on his own, with no schematic help and little counterbalance on the other edge for offenses to worry about.

There is definitely some risk. Okwara was ineffective–to be kind–in 2019, managing just 1.5 sacks and consistently losing the edge containment in run defense. The run defense was better in 2020 but is still not an asset for Okwara. His tackling was also dreadful in Matt Patricia’s final season; he finished with 44 total tackles but was credited with 12 misses by Pro Football Focus.

But he offers some real value, too. Okwara can play anywhere between the 5 and 9 technique as a rusher. That allows defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn to move him around and mix up the fronts. Trey Flowers, when healthy, can do the same on the other side. Okwara’s improved hand usage and developed pass rush countermoves proved very effective in 2020 and should persist. He’s not an easy or fun guy to block.

It’s a better value for the Lions than using the franchise tag on Okwara, which would have cost the Lions $14.178 million for just 2021. It also keeps the starting DE package intact with two of the most talented players on the roster. Having Okwara’s brother, Julian, on the team and (fingers crossed) healthy in 2021 could offer Detroit a much more potent pass rush.

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