Lions sign free agent defensive end Robert Ayers

NOAH TRISTER (AP Sports Writer)
The Associated Press
FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017, file photo, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) tries to break a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL football game in Minneapolis. The Detroit Lions have signed free agent Ayers. He is entering his 10th NFL season. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

Lions change course, release Ayers

FILE - In this Sept. 24, 2017, file photo, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook (33) tries to break a tackle by Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Robert Ayers (91) during the first half of an NFL football game in Minneapolis. The Detroit Lions have signed free agent Ayers. He is entering his 10th NFL season. (AP Photo/Jim Mone, File)

ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- When healthy, Robert Ayers has been a pretty productive pass rusher.

The Detroit Lions could use some help in that area, and now the veteran defensive end has a chance to provide it.

The Lions signed Ayers in their latest attempt to bolster their defensive front. Now entering his 10th NFL season, Ayers made 10 starts in each of the past two seasons with Tampa Bay. He has 35 sacks, including a career-high 9+ with the New York Giants in 2015.

''For me, as a young guy, when I first got in the league, he was one of the veterans that I just paid a lot of attention to,'' said Detroit linebacker Devon Kennard, who was with the Giants when Ayers was there. ''Just how he handled his business, how he went about film and taking care of his body and stuff.''

The Lions also announced Monday that they had waived cornerback Josh Okonye. They did not announce these moves until shortly after coach Matt Patricia had finished his news conference, so he was not available to comment on Ayers' addition. Ayers would not speak with reporters after practice.

Ayers was a first-round draft pick in 2009 by the Denver Broncos. He spent five seasons with them and then two with the Giants.

Ayers has only played in 12 games in each of the past four seasons. He dealt with concussion and shoulder problems toward the end of last season, and he has also had ankle and pectoral muscle issues in the past few years. He turns 33 on Sept. 6.

But in his 48 games over the past four seasons, Ayers had 23 sacks, and if he can keep pressuring the quarterback, he can help the Lions. Only three NFC teams had fewer sacks than Detroit last season, even though defensive end Ziggy Ansah had a dozen by himself. Kerry Hyder had eight sacks in 2016, but missed all of last season with an Achilles tendon injury.

''We keep bringing more pieces in,'' said defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois, himself a new addition after playing for New England last season. ''(General manager) Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia see something, so they just want to keep bringing in people that can help the pass rush, so that's a plus. They see that's an area we need to improve in.''

Ayers has started 31 games over the past three seasons.

''He was a guy that showed me some love as a young guy, so I have a lot of respect for him and how he goes about his business,'' Kennard said. ''It's a pleasure to have him as a teammate again.''

NOTES: News of Odell Beckham Jr.'s big new contract made its way into the Lions' locker room Monday, and Detroit receiver Golden Tate was certainly an interested party. ''I like seeing it as a receiver. That's my position, obviously,'' Tate said. ''The guys that got paid this offseason are big-time players, so I love seeing those guys get paid. Quite frankly, I hope everybody gets paid. This is a tough game to play in. It's a tough game to play for a long time, so to hear about that Odell deal, I'm excited. Another guy I'm going to hit up for a vacation here soon.'' Tate signed a five-year deal with the Lions in 2014. He said he's focused on training camp and isn't preoccupied about any negotiations for a new contract.

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