Rookie contracts are the name of the game in the NFL. If you can get some serious talent under an extremely affordable rookie deal, it allows the general manager to go buck wild with the rest of their spending money, building some serious depth all over the roster.
The Detroit Lions haven’t been particularly great with that as of late. They do have some talented young players, but there’s also a reason they very rarely show up on any top 25 under 25 lists over the past decade.
But if there’s one potential diamond-in-the-rough pick the Lions have made in recent history, it’s 2018 fourth-round pick Da’Shawn Hand. After a stellar rookie season, his 2019 was marred by injuries. But if he can bounce back in 2020, he could be one of the best bargains on the squad.
He comes in at No. 5 on our list of the top-10 salary cap bargains for the Lions’ 2020 season.
Reminder: This list is only based on 2020 cap hits, not the entirety of the contract. Additionally, no 2020 rookies are included in the list, since several remain unsigned.
5. Da’Shawn Hand
2020 cap hit: $920,491
2020 cap hit ranking: 79th among interior defenders
In terms of a cap hit, Hand’s is essentially negligible. In fact, it’s fairly close to not even counting against the cap in the offseason, as it barely cracks the top 51 contracts on the team (see: the top 51 rule). To give you a sense of how low his cap hit is relative to the rest of the team, here are some players that will cost the Lions more in cap space in 2020: Darryl Roberts, Jayron Kearse, Joshua Garnett, Tony McRae, and Miles Killebrew
But the question is how much talent do the Lions really have in Da’Shawn Hand? And that remains a mystery. His aforementioned rookie season was one of the best in recent NFL history for interior defensive linemen:
Highest graded rookie DTs since 2006— PFF (@PFF) June 7, 2020
1. Aaron Donald - 90.2
2. Da'Shawn Hand - 85.9
3. Dalvin Tomlinson - 81.0
4. Geno Atkins - 80.5 pic.twitter.com/OniRH5r8BQ
But the bigger story of Hand’s career, thus far, have been injuries. Even that rookie year was cut a month short due to injury. Last year, Hand suffered an arm injury early in training camp, and when he finally returned to the lineup in late October, he would last just a couple more games before heading back to the injured list. In total, he played just three games and notched six tackles in what turned out to be a hugely disappointing second year in the NFL.
Personally, I’m not one to label a player as injury prone. A lot of things go into why a player gets injured and a big portion of it is just poor luck. But even putting the injuries aside, Hand is anything but a sure thing. A lot of players have good rookie seasons, but the biggest challenge is keeping it up. With film out there now, Hand will have to continue to grow as a player to keep his efficiency high.
Still, Hand was one of the most exciting players of a solid defensive line in 2018. His pass rushing skills—25 pressures in 13 games in 2018—will be of extreme value to Detroit in 2020... as long as he stays on the field and continues to get better.
Top 10 Detroit Lions salary cap values for 2020: