Tavon Wilson has quietly hung around the Detroit Lions roster for four years now. Originally brought in as a starter alongside Glover Quin, he’s made a seamless transition under the Matt Patricia era. His Patriots ties made him a perfect candidate to stick around when facing free agency in 2018, but now he faces an uncertain future with the Lions going young at safety.
Does Wilson return for a third contract in Detroit, or is it time for both sides to move on? Let’s take a closer look at one of the more interesting Lions free agents: safety Tavon Wilson.
Expectations before 2019
Expectations were fairly low for Tavon Wilson going into 2019. The Lions had a ton of competition at the safety position, and since Wilson was coming off a fairly ordinary 2018 season, some believed he wasn’t long for the roster. He was even on our roster bubble heading into cut day, and it’s easy to see why.
Andrew Adams presented a younger option at backup, meanwhile the Lions had pretty much cemented Tracy Walker and Quandre Diggs as their starters. With rookie Will Harris still looking to learn, it was hard to see a significant role for Wilson, other than as a leader knowledgeable of Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme, since he has never been known for his special teams contributions.
Actual role in 2019
2019 Stats: 16 games (13 starts): 98 tackles, 1.0 sacks, 5 passes defended
PFF Grade: 71.8 (33rd of 101 qualifying safeties—20% of snaps)
It’s safe to say that Wilson wildly outperformed expectations—likely more so than anyone on the team. Undoubtedly, the midseason trade of Quandre Diggs put a lot more pressure on Wilson, and for the most part, he actually met the challenge head-on.
Wilson is in interesting player in that he can do a lot. While he’s best at defending the run as a box safety, he can also blitz, cover tight ends in a pinch, and be a deep free safety.
He’s far from the perfect player, though. He’s not exactly a big playmaker in coverage, with only one interception in the past three seasons combined, and his athletic traits prevent him from being a true sideline-to-sideline safety. Still, Wilson is a guy you can depend on to give you average-to-above-average play at just about any kind of safety role you throw him in, and that’s exactly what he gave the Lions in 2019.
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
There is nothing this team values more than versatility, and Wilson has that in spades. He’s also a strong locker-room presence with a deep knowledge of this defense. With Tracy Walker and Will Harris still very much in the developmental phase of their game, Wilson is the perfect sounding board for questions and insurance policy if either player is injured.
This is honestly a no-brainer re-sign, as long as Wilson wants to come back for a fifth year.
The case for letting him walk:
The only real barrier here is price. A couple years ago, Wilson signed a two-year, $7 million deal, a bargain for what they got. But even then, the Lions came at him prior to the 2019 season and asked him to take a paycut, lowering his salary from $2.15 million to $1 million.
After the season he had—and the favor he did for Detroit—Wilson has every reason to ask for a pay raise this year. He obviously likes Detroit given that he was willing to give up over $1 million to stay here, but he showed the team he still has value at 29 years old (soon to be 30).
I find it hard to really come up with any legitimate reason not to give Wilson another go-around in Detroit. It was clear after Diggs was traded that Wilson took on a leadership role in the secondary, and with the players getting younger and younger, keeping a veteran like Wilson around is key to their development. He obviously likes it here, and his play is at a good enough level to enter 2020 as either the starter or the primary backup on this defense.