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2019 Detroit Lions roster review: Will Trey Flowers live up to his big contract?

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Can Flowers take a big leap in 2020 with a new supporting cast?

Green Bay Packers v Detroit Lions Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions are a team that has lacked a true superstar in recent years. Ever since Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh left the team, Detroit has been looking for a face of the franchise that gains some serious national praise. Matthew Stafford and Darius Slay were knocking on the door, Kenny Golladay could be on his way there, but other than that, the cupboard has been pretty bare.

However, when the Lions made the aggressive play to add Trey Flowers in free agency last offseason, the hope was that they may have signed a player that could be their franchise defensive player and huge matchup problem of the future.

We’re one year into his contract and it’s clear he’s not quite there yet, but it’s still early. So will Flower end up rebounding and living up to his $90 million deal?

Trey Flowers

Expectations heading into 2019

The Lions’ 2019 Day 1 haul in free agency, which included Flowers, Danny Amendola, Justin Coleman and Jesse James, was widely praised by just about everyone. Two-thirds of Lions fans gave that draft haul an “A” grade, even though contract terms were still unknown for each player. It’s fair to say Flowers was the crown jewel of that free agency class, as Lions fans had been begging for a good pass rushing threat for years.

As for expectations for Flowers’ Year 1 production in Detroit, because he had never produced double-digit sacks, many were a little modest in their predictions. ESPN’s Mike Clay predicted just under nine sacks for Flowers.

However, others believed that with what appeared to be a very talented interior defensive line—Damon Harrison Sr., Mike Daniels, Da’Shawn Hand, A’Shawn Robinson—everything was aligned for Flowers to have a breakout season. There wouldn’t have to be any adjustment period, either, since Flowers had played under head coach Matt Patricia before in New England.

There was also some modest concern about Flowers’ shoulder surgery in the offseason, but all public indication was that it was a minor surgery and wouldn’t affect him during the regular season.

Actual role in 2019

2019 stats: 51 tackles, 8.0 tackles for loss, 7.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles
PFF grade: 83.0 (18th of 102 qualifying edge defenders)

Unfortunately, the shoulder injury did leak into training camp, as Flowers started on the Physically Unable to Perform list. He missed about three weeks of camp before eventually being activated.

You could tell from his play early in the season that he wasn’t fully ready. Through his first six games, he recorded just one sack and six hurries. However, he definitely turned his game on after that. From Week 8 on, Flowers recorded 6.0 sacks and 29 hurries. Though his overall sack numbers were likely a disappointment for most, he was Detroit’s one consistent threat to pressure the quarterback.

How effective Flowers was as a pass rusher is up for debate, though. If you trust PFF, his 78.8 pass rush grade was 17th best in the NFL and his 62 pressures ranked him 15th. If you trust ESPN, his pass rush win rate was actually well below the NFL average:

(That’s his face in the bottom right quadrant with approximately a pass rush win rate of 11 percent with a double team rate of around 19 percent).

Of course, one major reason Flowers may not have lived up to expectations is because his supporting cast was not the elite group it was expected to be. Harrison’s level of play dropped, while Daniels and Hand both struggled to stay on the field.

Still, it was a decent first season for Flowers, even if he didn’t live up to his huge contract in just one year of play.

Outlook for 2020

Contract status: Signed through 2023

It’s hard to say if Flowers will have a better supporting cast in 2020, but it will certainly be different. With Danny Shelton and Nick Williams mostly running the interior, and Devon Kennard now gone on the other edge and replaced by two mid-round picks in Austin Bryant and Julian Okwara, time will tell whether it will all come together for the Lions’ defensive line.

However, Flowers should be coming into this season healthier than last year and could hit the ground running when the regular season starts. Will he ever truly be the 15-sack guy that Lions fans are hoping he’ll be? Seems unlikely given his track record. However, one underrated aspect of his game is his well-roundedness. Last year, Flowers earned a run defense grade from PFF of 76.8, which was 14th best in the league—and that has been something he’s been incredibly consistent at throughout his career.

Overall, it does seem like Detroit’s defense is changed enough to potentially give Flowers some freedom to produce a career year. Not only do the Lions have new pass rushing threats to, ideally, free of Flowers from some double teams, but on paper, Detroit’s secondary is better, potentially giving him more time to get to the quarterback.

With a cap hit of $16.7 million this year, expectations will be high for Flowers. Given his consistency over his career, I think there’s reason to believe he can live up to his deal, but it may have more to do with how his surrounding cast comes together—as Flowers isn’t the kind of player that can simply take over a game on his own.