The Detroit Lions finally struck in free agency by reportedly agreeing to terms with former Jaguars receiver DJ Chark on Tuesday morning. After weeks and weeks of speculating that the Lions would be active in the wide receiver market, they made their move.
There are a lot of interesting wrinkles to this signing and what it means about the present and the future. And while the deal cannot be made official until Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET, let’s take some time to dissect the deal and get to know Chark.
Here are my four quick thoughts on the deal.
Lions got exactly what they’re looking for
Let’s go back to Senior Bowl week when Lions receivers coach Antwaan Randle El wasn’t shy about what he wanted to add to his receiver room.
“You always want to have ‘a guy,’ so to speak. That guy, we throwing to him, we don’t care who is covering what, we know he can go up and get that.”
Now let’s move to NFL Combine week when new offensive coordinator Ben Johnson talked about the same topic.
“Whether that’s a big guy with a lot of strength and size, whether that’s a guy with elite quickness or speed. I think it comes a number of different ways. But that’s what we’re looking for is someone that outside the numbers, predominantly, can win a one-on-one.”
The Lions undoubtedly got an outside receiver capable of winning his man-to-man coverage. The best part about Chark is that he can win in multiple ways. He can use this insane athletics profile to break free with speed:
D.J. Chark was drafted with pick 61 of round 2 in the 2018 draft class. He scored a 9.94 RAS out of a possible 10.00. This ranked 14 out of 2028 WR from 1987 to 2018. https://t.co/cclvMgOwQl #RAS #Lions pic.twitter.com/aMVW61uUoJ— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 15, 2022
But with his size and strong hands, he’s also capable of winning the contested catch battle.
Most contested catches 20+ yards downfield since 2019:— PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) March 2, 2021
Allen Robinson - 11
D.J. Chark - 11 pic.twitter.com/J5lupwKxNq
The Lions said they wanted a player that can help them win downfield and in the red zone. Chark checks both of those boxes.
The deal is currently being reported as a one-year, fully-guaranteed $10 million deal. That’s a fairly uncommon contract for a young receiver with WR1 potential. Typically you’d see Chark seeking a longer-term deal, but the Lions sweetened the pot by making it fully guaranteed. It almost serves like a franchise tag of sorts.
Obviously, Chark’s injury concerns are what is driving the short-term deal here. He’s coming off a broken ankle from 2021, and he battled through various injuries in 2020.
Chark’s $10 million+ cap hit cuts the Lions’ free agency spending money basically in half. Current estimates have them with about $9.2 million left to spend (including money recouped from Trey Flowers and removing space needed to sign draft picks). That is still plenty of cap space to make one more splash signing, but not a lot more than that.
That’s okay for the Lions because they’ve pretty much already filled out their depth pieces. They already have 73 players under contract or tendered, and with another 8-10 draft pieces plus undrafted free agent signings to go, there’s not much more to do.
It leaves the Lions in a favorable place long-term, too. If Chark plays his butt off in 2022, the Lions potentially have their young, No. 1 receiver and can re-sign him to a long-term deal or use the franchise tag. If they can choose to move on, they could potentially cash in on a high compensatory pick. If Chark struggles, the Lions can move on with literally no dead cap.
Detroit got a high-character player
I’m not going to pretend I know everything about a person after just a couple hours of research, but there are a couple of really good personal profiles written about Chark in the past year that gives us a peek into the person the Lions are adding. Chark talked to Complex recently about the importance of mental health care in his life and what being a father to a newborn has meant to him. The Athletic also has a great profile on him, talking about his time as an exemplary student, his battle through anxiety, and his commitment to getting bigger and stronger on the football field.
Lions still very much in the WR market in the draft
With Chark only inked for one year, this shouldn’t change the Lions’ plans at receiver in the draft. Lions general manager Brad Holmes has always said that he prefers to build the team through the draft. So in a way, Chark could act as a bridge receiver, as the Lions seem likely to target a pass catcher in this year’s deep class. As pointed out on Twitter, someone like North Dakota State’s Christian Watson makes a lot of sense at Pick 32 (if he’s there).
Very, very similar size and athleticism profiles, but Watson could easily be seen as needing that year of seasoning coming out of North Dakota State. Alex's speculation makes sense. https://t.co/0PsYIYFx91— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) March 15, 2022