Last week, Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said that he’d love to have all of the team’s free agents, specifically linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin, who has shown some massive strides in his first real opportunities as a full-time defensive player.
But the Lions face an arguably more pressing decision with another soon-to-be free agent defender.
Safety Tracy Walker is in the final year of his rookie contract. The former third-round pick is having one of his best seasons—arguably his best—and in a struggling secondary filled with youth, Walker has provided some stability with 14 starts, 94 tackles, and a steady 64.0 PFF grade.
I asked Glenn outright if Walker, to him, is a priority to re-sign this offseason.
“Absolutely,” Glenn answered quickly. “We like good players, and if you’re a good player, we’re looking to sign you.”
Walker has not only grown as a player but he’s also grown as a leader in that secondary. No defensive back has been with the team longer than Walker. And although he’s just 26 years old, that’s considered veteran status in Detroit’s secondary, where only Dean Marlowe (29) is older.
“He’s bought into everything that we’re trying to get done in this defense as far as a safety’s perspective and he’s grown,” Glenn said. “He’s grown in that and he’s also become a leader as far as linebackers, as far as getting everybody together and watching some tape. That’s what we expect of our safeties.”
Fellow safety Will Harris has had a front-row seat to Walker’s development. Harris was drafted by the Lions the year after they picked Walker, and he’s benefitted from growing alongside him.
“He was my guy I went to, especially my rookie year, to lean on about how to, like, ‘How did you get through this?’ or, ‘How did you do that your rookie year going into your second year?’” Harris said. “He’ll tell you, man. Just a barrage of questions. I was over at his house damn near every day my rookie year.”
Safety is a premier position in Glenn’s defense. They’re the main communicator for the back seven of the defense, and Walker has not only assumed that role, but Glenn has seen tremendous progress from September to now.
“(Safeties) are one of the captains of our team because of the communication we ask them to do and he’s going to continue to grow,” Glenn said. “Now, as far as making plays and all of that, that’s one thing you saw flashes of with him throughout the season. And, you’re only going to see him get better at that because I think he’s understanding the scheme a lot more than he did from Week 1 to Week now.”
It’s hard to know what kind of cost Walker will come at in free agency. He doesn’t have the gaudy stats of the top-tier safeties that pull in $14-17 million a year. He doesn’t have a Pro Bowl nomination or any weekly awards. But he’s certainly going to get a jump in pay from his rookie contract, which only accounted for $2.4 million in cap space this year.
One thing is for sure, though. Harris wants to see him back, too.
“I’d love it if he came back. Let’s run this thing back and do it the right way. We’re obviously trying to grow here, and yeah, that would be really exciting for sure.”