The Detroit Lions have been quiet in free agency thus far, but their inactivity is not a bad thing. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will the Lions. General manager Brad Holmes has taken a cautious approach in free agency, avoiding the pitfalls that can come with overspending. Cap space is only useful if you spend it wisely. Did the Jacksonville Jaguars make a mistake by paying Christian Kirk a lucrative deal? Perhaps, but the fallout of that deal resulted in the Lions getting one of their own: DJ Chark.
The former Jaguar joins the Lions to hopefully headline a revitalized receiving corps. Did the Lions make a good move? Let’s take a look.
Chark easily fits the mold of a top-tier wide receiver. He boasts an incredible athletic profile and it shows on tape. Still just 25-years-old, can be a weapon anywhere on the field. Separation is key in the NFL, something the Lions receivers of yesteryears struggled with. He has the speed and acceleration to do damage downfield—who doesn’t like big plays like this:
Add in his ability to win contested catches, and the Lions should certainly see an improvement between the 20-yard lines. Chark also boasts the size to be a red zone weapon, an aspect the Lions need to improve upon in 2022. Once again, his contested catch ability shows up, but don’t forget the footwork!
In 2019, Chark put up a 1,008-yard receiving season and was looking like a budding star. The key concern with Chark, however, is injuries. Chark has yet to play a full 16- or 17-game season, having recently missed most of the 2021 season with an ankle fracture. As a result, Chark has just 30 careers starts and 2,042 yards over his four-year career.
If there is one positive, however, it’s that the injuries themselves are not related. In addition to the ankle injury, he has also missed games due to a broken finger, a quad injury, a shin injury, and a rib injury. It doesn’t paint the prettiest picture of his medical history, but unlike concussions, these types of injuries aren’t likely to be recurring.
While Amon-Ra St. Brown emerged late in the season, the Lions were without a true WR1 for most of 2021. Their free agent signings of Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman fizzled out, leaving the Lions with a massive vacancy at outside receiver. Wide receiver coach Antwaan Randle El has been petitioning for the Lions to acquire more help at the position this offseason, and signing Chark is a great first step.
Chark should fill the role of “X” receiver for Detroit, the outside receiver lined up along the line of scrimmage. With the ability to beat press coverage and fly by slower corners, Chark looks like an ideal fit. The Lions depth chart at X receiver was previously limited to Kalif Raymond (not a prototypical X), Quintez Cephus (better suited for a “Big Slot” role), and Javon McKinley (a practice squad UDFA with zero career snaps). Chark has occasionally played in the slot as well, so there is the potential for versatility.
Chark’s fit with the team extends beyond the football field as well. While the Lions may not have won many games in 2021, they won over a lot of players. Culture is important to Holmes, coach Dan Campbell, and their coaching staff, and Chark seems glad to be a part of it. Chark stated that he turned down multi-year deals and signed with Detroit because it “was the right fit.” The Lions roster is full of players with chips on their shoulders, and with that comes passion and eagerness to succeed.
Chark officially signed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Lions, with all of it guaranteed. For comparison, Christian Kirk signed a four-year, $72 million deal with the Jaguars, Allen Robinson signed a three-year, $46.5 million deal with the Rams, Russell Gage signed a three-year, $30 million deal with the Buccaneers, JuJu Smith-Schuster signed a one-year, up to $10.75 million deal with the Chiefs, and Davante Adams signed a five-year, $141.25 million deal with the Raiders. At face value, Chark’s deal looks fair. He has Pro Bowl talent and is still in his prime, but injuries likely limited his market value.
However, Chark’s contract has some added complexity. Chark’s cap hit for 2022 will be a hair over $4 million, not the expected $10 million. This is due to the Lions structuring the deal like a three-year contract. But instead of having Chark under contract for the full period, the final two years are voided. As a result, the Lions can push part of Chark’s signing bonus—and cap hit—into the future.
On one hand, this gives the Lions added flexibility in 2022 by saving approximately $6 million in cap space. On the other hand, it means the Lions will have Chark’s contract on the books even if he leaves next season. Thankfully, the salary cap (usually) increases each year, so Chark’s voided years would count for a smaller percentage of the salary cap than if it was calculated all at once.
The Lions filled a massive need with a reasonable contract, and as such, it’s nigh impossible to negatively grade this signing. Injuries will always be a concern, but it’s an excellent buy-low opportunity on a very talented player. It won’t hamper their ability to draft or sign another receiver as well. Chark is not only an excellent fit on the field but also in the locker room. For a team trying to get rid of the stain caused by the Matt Patricia era, signing a player like Chark is a great move.
This deal poses slightly more risk than your average one-year deal due to the voided years, but the money involved isn’t significant enough to warrant panic. If Chark plays well, stays healthy, and is willing to re-sign, he could be their WR1 for years to come. Grade: A
Grade the DJ Chark signing
This poll is closed