This year’s free agency period proved lucrative for a lot of wide receivers. Christian Kirk got a four-year, $72 million deal. Allen Robinson just agreed to terms with the Rams for a reported three-year, $46.5 million deal. Russell Gage got $10 million a year to play with the Buccaneers.
DJ Chark, widely considered as one of the top free agents among this year’s wide receiver class, didn’t quite cash in like the rest. He signed with the Detroit Lions on a one-year, $10 million, fully-guaranteed deal.
Chark met with the media on Thursday after officially signing his new deal, and explained that he had longer deals on the table, but the Lions offered something some of those other teams didn’t: the right culture.
“I had a few who wanted to do long-term deals, but it wasn’t the right fit,” Chark said. “This was the right fit. I’m happy about my decision.”
Detroit has put a heavy emphasis on culture since bringing in general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell. We’ve seen current players speak to the dramatic shift from the Matt Patricia era, and some of that has carried over onto the football field. Despite a 0-10-1 start to the season, the Lions’ spirit didn’t wane and they finished the season 3-3.
Chark, who was dealing with a broken ankle at the time, took notice. His Jaguars were going through similar struggles, but Detroit’s team was unrecognizable to his own.
“The games looked completely different,” Chark said. “I appreciated the hustle, the grit, and the way that they persevered, and went from tying games to winning games, and playing better. I truly appreciate the way this staff kept that team together and have faith in those guys. I know that means a lot to them and I’m ready to be a part of it. I feel like it’s definitely a different feel than what I’ve been experiencing.”
While the Lions have built a solid culture from the top, the team has emphasized bringing in players who match that identity. Holmes believes Chark checks those personality boxes through and through.
“You have players on a football team and you have football players, and DJ is a football player,” Holme said. “So that’s why he’s a fit for us and that was most important was the culture fit.”
Of course, Chark is has a ton of talent, too. In his second NFL season, he netted 1,008 receiving yards, eight touchdowns, and a Pro Bowl nod. Add in that he is 6-foot-4 with blazing speed, and he fits exactly Detroit’s need for an outside receiver who can both stretch the field, as well as improve their woeful red zone offense.
For the last couple years, though, Chark had battled through injuries. The aforementioned ankle injury cost him 13 games last year. He missed another three in 2020, as he dealt with a myriad of injuries, including those to the chest, ribs, and shin. Going through all that adversity, though, has only made him more committed to being the player he was starting to become.
“Being out watching the whole football season go by makes you, it gives you a lot of feelings. One feeling is hunger,” Chark said. “I really, really, can’t wait to get out there and be the best that I can be. I’m not afraid to fail. I just want to give my best, so that’s what I’m coming here to do. Give my best and see where the chips fall.”
Two of the receivers who were given big paydays this free agency period—Kirk and Zay Jones—were given those deals by Chark’s former team, the Jacksonville Jaguars. And while Chark admitted that initially put a chip on his shoulder, his focus is fully on Detroit now, where he already feels like he’s family.
“I want to be around good people. These are good people. It feels good to be wanted, I want to be where I’m wanted more than anything at the end of the day. Hats off to Jacksonville. My time there, everybody that I’ve met there and came across, I wish the best for them. But it’s no longer about Jacksonville. It’s about Detroit.”