Since the Detroit Lions drafted him 21st overall in the 2017 NFL Draft, Jarrad Davis has been under fire. Many were hoping the Lions would take Reuben Foster with the pick, who had fallen in the draft mostly due to injury and character concerns.
Davis was seen as a relatively safe but unspectacular pick. His athletic potential was through the roof, but his tape was fairly inconsistent.
Still there was plenty of optimism around the pick. Hell, even our own Andrew Kato gave the choice an A grade at the time.
However, four years later, we’re talking about the potential last year for the Lions first-round pick. The Lions face a big decision by May, and it could signal the beginning of the end for Davis.
Expectations heading into 2019
Many felt 2019 was a make-or-break season for Davis. In his second season under head coach Matt Patricia’s complicated system, Davis was being relied upon to take a leadership role and finally make the NFL jump necessary.
After two disappointing seasons to begin his career, there was plenty of doubt, though. Despite enormous praise from Lions coaches, fans remained skeptical of Davis’ issues with play recognition and over-aggression. To put simply, Davis was out of excuses not to succeed in 2019.
Actual role in 2019
2019 stats: 11 games (11 starts), 63 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 1 pass defended, 3 forced fumbles
PFF grade: 40.4 (94th of 99 qualifying LBs)
Davis’ season got off to an unfortunate start when he suffered what looked to be a season-threatening ankle injury on the first drive of Detroit’s third preseason game. The injury, however, would only cost Davis the first two games of the season.
That being said, he never fully recovered. His play remained both inconsistent and frustrating, as the Lions defense took a huge step back in 2019. His season would end three games early after suffering another ankle injury in Week 14.
Even with lowered expectations, 2019 can’t be viewed as anything but a massive disappointment for Davis and the Lions defense.
Outlook for 2020
Contract status: Signed through 2020 (fifth-year option pending)
Now is the time to seriously consider life after Davis. He’s had three seasons to turn things around, and while his character and work ethic remain the gold standard in the NFL, that can only take you so far. Davis failure to put it all together has got to give the Lions serious pause before exercising his fifth-year option, despite the fact that the coaching staff still clearly loves the guy.
Davis’ fifth-year option would cost the Lions somewhere around $10 million for 2021, but the Lions could get out of it by simply cutting him before the beginning of the 2021 league year, leaving $0 in dead money. That means there’s little harm in giving Davis the fifth-year option now, just to be safe.
Editor’s Note: This is a sticking point of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. One proposal suggests that the fifth-year option will be fully guaranteed, meaning the Lions will be on the hook for that $10 million the minute they agree to the fifth year option.
Declining the option does provide some benefits, though. Making 2020 a contract year for Davis could potentially provide him more motivation, but the Lions linebacker doesn’t strike me as the kind of person lacking in drive.
Additionally, that’s a costly fifth-year option for Davis. His play certainly doesn’t warrant a $10 million deal. Detroit could, instead, decline the option and hope to re-sign Davis to a much cheaper deal in 2021 while bringing in competition for his job.
The deadline for the Lions to make this decision is early May, so one thing to also consider is what the Lions do in April’s draft. It’s certainly possible that Detroit drafts a linebacker this year, which would make their decision on Davis much easier.
Overall, if this decision was simply based on play through three years, it would be an easy decline for the Lions. But with limited risks and Detroit’s obvious love for the guy, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them do it anyways. They’d probably be better served to make this a contract year for Davis, however.
Should the Lions exercise Jarrad Davis’ fifth-year option?
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