When it comes time to sign undrafted free agents, teams have various pitches they can make to prospective players. A sizable signing bonus can come in handy, for example, as can a track record of undrafted free agents making your team. An open spot on the depth chart and a real chance to make the 53-man roster can also be big selling points.
In the case of Georgia Tech safety Isaiah Johnson, the Detroit Lions had several pitches worth utilizing. From a money standpoint, they offered him a $12,000 signing bonus, according to the Detroit Free Press, and they definitely have a track record of UDFAs making their team. What's more, in addition to sharing a last name, Johnson attended the same high school and college as Calvin Johnson, so there was already an indirect connection of sorts in place.
Ultimately, though, opportunity was the big selling point for the Lions when it came to Johnson. The Detroit Free Press reports that Johnson received offers from the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans Saints, St. Louis Rams and Tennessee Titans, but he decided to join the Lions because there's an opportunity to make the roster and perhaps even see the field given that safety James Ihedigbo is currently at odds with the team over his contract. From MLive:
"(That) was in there a little bit," Johnson said of his reasoning for picking Detroit. "Just looking at the opportunity. Everyone knows we're coming in and trying to fight for theirs, and it's just the game of football. It's a business now. So I got to be a business.
"Like Jay-Z says, 'I'm not a businessman. I'm a business, man.' That's how I got to look at it."
From a money standpoint, a $12,000 signing bonus indicates that the Lions really like Johnson. By comparison, offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas got a $20,000 signing bonus last year, and offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle and tight end Joseph Fauria received $10,000 and $12,500 upon signing in 2013. All three of those players are still with the Lions to this day and are contributors.
Now, a big signing bonus doesn't mean Johnson is a lock to make the team or anything. At safety, unless Ihedigbo is traded or released, there isn't a clear opening on the depth chart right now. Ihedigbo and Glover Quin are the starters, and Isa Abdul-Quddus and Don Carey are the backups. I suppose five safeties could potentially make the team, but it seems more likely that any extra spot in the secondary will go to the cornerback position this year.
In any case, the Lions are definitely going to give Johnson an opportunity to stick around. If he can beat out Carey at safety and show he can contribute on special teams, for example, Johnson will have an excellent chance to make the 53-man roster. And even if he doesn't make the team, there will almost certainly be a spot waiting for him on the practice squad. Of course, as Jerome Couplin showed us last year, there's a risk to putting a safety with upside on the practice squad, but the Lions definitely seem interested in keeping Johnson around in some capacity in 2015.