With free agency almost exactly two months away, the Detroit Lions face decisions with nearly 20 players on their roster. To be exact, 19 players that finished the season on Detroit’s roster are facing free agency of some sorts. Some will likely hit the open market, while the Lions will undoubtedly retain others.
Over the next few weeks, we’ll run down those names individually and make our case for keeping or letting them walk.
To kick off this series, let’s talk about safety/linebacker Miles Killebrew.
Miles Killebrew, S/LB
Expectations before 2019
The Detroit Lions entered training camp with a healthy competition among safeties, so it was no surprise that Killebrew truly transformed into a linebacker this offseason. The Lions weren’t nearly as deep at that position, so most of us believed he would make the final 53-man roster, but it was hard to see him play an actual role on this defense with the addition of Jahlani Tavai to a roster that already had Jarrad Davis, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones and Jalen Reeves-Maybin on it.
It looked like Killebrew was headed towards another special teams-heavy season.
Actual role in 2018
2019 Stats: 15 games (1 start): 20 tackles
PFF Grade: 49.6 (Did not qualify for rankings)
What you saw was what you got for Killebrew. He spent the majority of the season on special teams—but just about every unit that special teams had to offer. Here’s what Matt Patricia said about Killebrew in the middle of the season.
“He obviously plays a lot of snaps for us special teams-wise and he’s an integral part of what we do there,” Patricia said.
Killebrew played in over 75 percent of special teams snaps on the year and finished with a team-high 15 special teams tackles, just one off the most in the entire NFL, according to TeamRankings.com.
That being said, Killebrew did a few opportunities to play on defense in 2019. Against Washington, the Lions toyed around with putting him out there for third-down situations as a coverage linebacker/safety. He also started in the season finale against the Packers, playing a total of 57 snaps in that game, mostly at the linebacker position after Detroit lost every starter to injury in December.
Patricia noted how impressed he was with Killebrew’s performance.
“I thought he stepped in and did a really good job as far as that’s concerned,” Patricia said back in November. “He’s always ready to go, he’s a great student of the game. I think his confidence is at a high level of understanding kind of Year Two of the defense, and some of the things that we’re asking him to do and different roles and different alignments.”
What should the Lions do with him?
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for re-signing:
This coaching staff preaches versatility, and Killebrew absolutely gives that to them. Matt Patricia is also a big fan of special teams, and Killebrew has that in spades. While his talent-level and awkward fit may not give him a significant role on this defense, he’s a valued part of the special teams unit and is a unique piece the Lions can use for their scout teams in practice—as he can simulate multiple kinds of defenders.
That’s not exactly a high-priority re-signing, but given his special teams play over the past three years and his ideal personality and locker-room presence, he should be a low-cost but valuable re-signing.
The case for letting him walk:
It’s clear by now that Killebrew won’t really amount to the defensive threat that the Lions were hoping for when they drafted him in the fourth round four years ago... at least not in Detroit.
While special teams value is undoubtedly important to this regime, it’s also something that is fairly replaceable. The cruel truth is that Killebrew is too small to be a linebacker here, and not rangey or instinctive enough to be a safety.
With his rookie contract up, Killebrew likely knows this and may be looking for a better opportunity to actually play on defense elsewhere.
I like Killebrew a lot, and I think his special teams value is enough to keep him around the NFL for years to come. However, this feels like a natural ending point for his time in Detroit. While I wouldn’t mind seeing Killebrew around for a cheap contract, I think there is no clear role for him on defense here and he’d be better off somewhere else. Let him walk.
What should the Lions do with Miles Killebrew
This poll is closed
Let him walk