The Detroit Lions offensive line was one of its relative strengths for the 2021 season. While most of that is due to the play of its talented starting lineup, Detroit also had to rely heavily on their depth due to injury. Taylor Decker missed eight games. Frank Ragnow sat the final 13 games of the season. Jonah Jackson and Penei Sewell each missed one game, Halapoulivaati Vaitai missed two.
As a result, a couple players deeper on the Lions’ depth chart made a name for themselves. Backup center Evan Brown may have earned himself a payday with solid play behind Ragnow. Matt Nelson fought valiantly early in the season and eventually found a nice niche as a sixth offensive lineman.
Will Holden is a name that was probably lost in the mix. While he didn’t contribute a ton on offense in 2021, he was a valuable piece on special teams and perhaps provided peace of mind to a coaching staff dealing with a beat-up roster.
Holden enters 2022 as a restricted free agent. Will he be back in Detroit next season? Let’s take a closer look in our final Lions free agent profile.
Catch up on our free agent profiles with our previous entries here: Tracy Walker, Charles Harris, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Alex Anzalone, Josh Reynolds, KhaDarel Hodge, Nick Williams, Dean Marlowe, Kalif Raymond, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Tim Boyle, Tyrell Crosby, Joel Heath, Evan Brown, C.J. Moore, and David Blough.
Expectations heading into 2021
Holden was added to the practice squad roster just days before the season opener in the wake of injuries to Taylor Decker and Dan Skipper. A four-year journeyman, Holden was simply expected to be a depth piece in case of emergency. Detroit didn’t have particularly strong depth on the offensive line, with only Matt Nelson—a recently converted defensive lineman—and Penei Sewell—a rookie—on the 53-man roster.
Holden was a capable player who could spot start early in the season while Detroit’s young depth developed under the new coaching staff.
Actual role in 2021
14 games (1 start): 71 total offensive snaps
PFF grade: 60.8 (Did not qualify for ranking)
Holden was promoted to the active roster prior to the team’s Week 2 game against the Green Bay Packers, and he stayed there the rest of the season. With Taylor Decker out, Holden was the sixth offensive lineman that Detroit occasionally deployed in heavy run looks. He was also part of the field goal and extra point units on special teams.
In injury relief—specifically in Week 17 replacing Decker at left tackle—Holden was about as good as you’d expect a player who has been on eight different teams in four years. He allowed three pressures and one sack on 19 pass blocking opportunities. That said, he graded out as a solid run blocker, earning a 71.5 PFF grade.
Contract status: Restricted free agent
Putting a restricted free agent tender is likely out of the question, but it’s certainly possible the Lions bring Holden back on a minimum salary kind of deal. The problem for Holden is that Matt Nelson, who was given an ERFA tender earlier this week, showed significant growth last year both as a backup and as a sixth lineman on the field.
Detroit still needs more depth at tackle, seeing as only Dan Skipper—who has played just three offensive snaps in the past two seasons—is the only other reserve under contract.
There are certainly other offensive tackles the Lions could add via free agency or the draft, but Holden is someone who knows the staff, knows the scheme, and earned enough of the team’s trust to stay on the 53-man roster for nearly the entire season last year.