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With the season behind us, we can now measure the performance of each of the players the Lions lost last year and the players they brought in to replace them. We would look at if the Lions were in the right or the wrong end of the free-agent class last year. If you missed it, here are the ones we have hit on so far: Graham Glasgow, Devon Kennard, A’Shawn Robinson, and Rick Wagner. This time we’ll be highlighting the loss of Sam Martin.
Martin was part of one of the more successful Lions draft classes in recent memory when he was selected in the fifth round in 2013. That draft also provided key cogs across Ziggy Ansah, Darius Slay, Larry Warford, and Theo Riddick.
The strong-legged Appalachian State punter hit the ground running and never looked back. He never dipped below 46 yards per punt average through his four years with Detroit, while setting a career-high 48.5 yards per punt in 2016 and 44.3 net yards per punt, which helped him net a four-year contract extension.
Outside of the infamous 2014 shank punt incident in their playoff matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, Martin was everything they were hoping for in a franchise punter…until the following year.
Martin experienced a down year in 2017, at least compared to what we got used to seeing from him, where he missed six games due to a foot injury caused by stepping on a conch shell, setting career lows in yards per punt (43.4), net yards per punt (37.6), and inside the 20 (13).
Martin was never quite himself after the injury, but he showed enough positive performances; Detroit offered him a contract when he hit free agency in 2019. He ultimately went with Denver for a 3-year, $7.05 million contract, giving Martin the chance to kick in the mile-high altitude.
From the first year, it looks like a positive signing playing in all 16 games averaging 46.8 yards per attempt and 42.1 net yards per punt, which are his best numbers since before his injury.
With Martin’s loss, the Lions brought in two punters to compete for the job, Jack Fox and Aaron Siposs. Fox was poached from the Kansas City Chiefs in 2019, and Siposs was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2019. The majority of people thought this was going to a camp battle to watch, but Fox clearly won the job with no issues, and it proved to be the correct choice.
With a 2020 team with many lowlights, Fox was a spark that brought some excitement and took the world by storm. He ranked third in yards per attempt (49.6), second in net yards per punt (44.8), fifth inside the 20 (29), ranked as the PFF’s No. 1 punter. With the monster season he had, the league clearly recognized his accomplishments earning a Pro Bowl selection and named the All-Pro 2nd team.
Fox was able to flip the field like it was nothing, and the consistency he was able to do it left many speechless. He created a feel-good story of an undrafted punter from Rice to an All-Pro/Pro-Bowl caliber player overnight.
The Lions made one of the easiest decisions they will ever make after when they extended Fox’s tender offer earlier this month, securing his spot as the Lions punter for hopefully not just for this season but for the foreseeable future.
Now, it is easy to see who made better at the end of the day. No one was happy when Martin left and the Lions put all their eggs in the basket on a poached practice squad player and an undrafted free agent who both never attempted a punt in the NFL, it left many skeptical that the Lions didn’t do enough to shore up the position.
The Lions did find a diamond in the rough, with Fox and Martin did produce a quality season for the Broncos compared to what they were getting from their punters in the past. Surely each team is happy with their punter situation, but one team has been smiling just a little bit more.