The Detroit Lions’ defense is going through major changes this offseason. With a completely new coaching staff on that side of the ball, and Matt Patricia already making some pretty big personnel changes, no one’s job is really safe. Today, let’s talk about one of those players whose job is anything but guaranteed.
Expectations for 2017
Spence was one of the Lions’ biggest free agency pickups on defense last year. The Lions inked Spence to a three-year, $9 million deal, and he was pretty much guaranteed to play a pivotal role in the Lions’ defensive line rotation.
However, with Haloti Ngata returning and A’Shawn Robinson entering his second year, Spence was presumed to be the No. 3 defensive tackle on the team. His contributions were expected to be noteworthy, but not ground-breaking.
Actual role in 2017
2017 stats: 16 games (11 starts): 39 tackles, 3.0 sacks, 1 forced fumble
PFF grade: 76.7 (65th of 122 interior defenders)
Spence, as expected, entered the year as a minor player in a rotational role on the defensive line. However, when Haloti Ngata suffered a season-ending injury, Spence was suddenly thrust into a starting role.
To his credit, Spence never relented that role and ended up having the third-most playing time among all Lions defensive linemen—behind only Anthony Zettel and A’Shawn Robinson.
However, Spence’s play was very up and down. He’d go weeks with little-to-no impact on the game, and then show flashes of being a potential starter. All that being said, the Lions’ run defense clearly took a step down when Spence took over for Ngata, and that’s ultimately how his 2017 season will be remembered.
Outlook for 2018
Contract status: Signed through 2019
As the Lions looked to be adding some serious talent along the defensive line this free agency, Spence’s name kept coming up as a possible cap casualty. Currently, Spence is taking up $4.25 million in cap space and the Lions could reclaim $2.75 million of that should they decide to part ways.
The Lions did end up signing Sylvester Williams to a one-year, $3.5 million contract. It’s not clear exactly what that means for Spence. Both players are better run-stuffers than they are pass-rushers, and both have nearly identical builds.
While Williams has experience on his side, Spence has age (26) and promise. But based on the structure of his contract, Williams is a roster lock for 2018. Spence doesn’t have the same luxury.
As the roster stands right now, the Lions probably cannot afford to lose Spence as a key rotational player. However, if the Lions grab a defensive tackle early in the draft, Spence could very well be released to free up some cap space for the team.
What will Akeem Spence’s role be in 2018?
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