While the Detroit Lions have spent most of the month making decisions on players whose contracts expired this year, a good franchise thinks a year ahead for some of these decisions. Key players to a franchise often sign contract extensions a year before their contract expires, locking them into deals before they even have a chance at free agency.
Looking ahead to 2023, there are two expiring contracts that general manager Brad Holmes may want to get a head start on, and they’re both key picks from the 2019 NFL Draft: cornerback Amani Oruwariye and tight end T.J. Hockenson.
On Tuesday at the owners meetings, Holmes was asked about plans to potentially extend both players, and the Lions' general manager revealed that some of those internal conversations have already begun.
“We’re always looking down the road and not just trying to be a prisoner of the moment here and there,” Holmes said. “Those are discussions that we will have. We’ve already had ‘em, actually. I’m not going to get into specifics, but we always keep the dialogue open.”
Hockenson is an obvious candidate for an extension. Though he has struggled through injury the past few years, he remains a centerpiece to the offense and a trusted receiver for Jared Goff. Despite missing five games last season, Hockenson’s 128 catches over the past two years only rank behind Travis Kelce, Mark Andrews, Darren Waller, Mike Gesicki, Dalton Schultz, and Noah Fant.
“Obviously, he’s a big part of what we did last year,” Holmes said. “It was unfortunate when he became unavailable for us, but he’s another that we’ll continue to lean on this year.”
Detroit also has an extra year of protection with Hockenson. Seeing as he’s a former first-round pick, the Lions have an option to exercise a fifth-year option on his rookie contract, which would lock Hockenson up through 2023 by adding an extra year at a pre-determined, fully-guaranteed salary (currently estimated at $9.4 million). Detroit has until May 2 to decide on Hockenson’s fifth-year option, and Holmes said they would if a deal is not done by then.
“Unless (an extension) doesn’t happen, then we would have an intention to get that fifth-year option done,” Holmes said.
Oruwariye is a bit of a tougher case. A former fifth-round pick, Oruwariye struggled with inconsistencies early in his career. But last year was a breakout season for the 26-year-old corner. He tallied six interceptions and 11 passes defended. Holmes not only credited Oruwariye’s ball skills, but noted he has grown into a leadership role in the secondary, and still has plenty of potential to get better.
“Amani, with the ball production he had and just being a good teammate, he really developed as a leader,” Holmes said. “He’s going to be another one. He’s still a young guy that, as is often said, still has meat left on the bone. There’s still upside in him.”
Holmes certainly seems hopeful to get a deal done with the two players, and both Hockenson and Oruwariye have expressed how happy they are under this regime and their desire to be a part of it long term. Of course, mutual interest isn’t always enough to get a deal done, and Holmes said he cannot guarantee a deal will be struck by the summer.
“I wish I had a crystal ball to give you a better answer on that,” Holmes said. “But I will say, the main thing is, in going back to the cash spending, that (senior vice president of football & business administration) Mike Disner does an excellent job in terms of his intelligence, his creativity in those regards, his foresight.”
Sounds pretty optimistic to me.