It’s not the most interesting part of football, but the Detroit Lions are going to have to make some decisions on special teams this offseason. Their long snapper, punter, and one of their kickers are all not currently under contract for 2022. While most of those decisions are going to be easy—they’re all exclusive-rights free agents who are easy to re-sign—there are other choices Detroit will have to make that will impact their special teams unit.
We’ve already talked about Jalen Reeves-Maybin, a special teams mainstay who is starting to realize his value on defense. But there are a few players like him who are more specialized in their current roles.
Enter safety C.J. Moore. He has been a special teams staple for three years in Detroit now. Facing free agency for the first time now, is Moore ready to look for an expanded role? Is he too irreplaceable for the Lions on special teams? And what is the going rate for a four-phase special teamer.
Let’s take a closer look in our 2022 Detroit Lions free agency 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, and David Blough.
Expectations heading into 2021
After a year spent almost exclusively on special teams in 2020, the expectation was more of the same for Moore. Obviously, with a change in coaching staff—including special teams coordinator—Moore was going to have to earn his keep all over again. But with two years of solid special teams production already on his resume, his role there seemed safe.
As for defensively, there wasn’t much of an opportunity to compete. With Tracy Walker and Will Harris returning, plus the free agent addition of Dean Marlowe, Moore was clearly headed for a reserve role in 2021.
Actual role in 2021
17 games (1 starts): 22 tackles, 1 INT
PFF grade: 82.6 on special teams (26th of 218), 59.2 on defense
Moore met expectations in just about every way. He played more special teams snaps than all but one player (Anthony Pittman) as a four-phase player. He tied for second on the team with eight special teams tackles.
But he actually played on defense quite a bit, too. When the Lions' defensive backfield got beat up and they had to move Harris to nickel corner, Moore played as the third safety in the lineup. When Walker was dealing with COVID-19, Moore got his first career start against the Arizona Cardinals in a 30-12 victory.
A few games later, Moore notched his first interception.
Also, Moore’s decent athleticism allowed him to be a gadget player, as he was during one of the Lions’ fake punts on the year:
Contract status: Restricted free agent
Moore has basically earned the NFL minimum for all three of his years, and he’ll be likely looking for at least a moderate pay raise.
As a restricted free agent, the Lions could place a tender on him, but the smallest contract they could place on him is an original-round tender expected to be worth around $2.4 million. That seems a bit pricey for Moore.
So what has the NFL determined as the general value of a good special teamer with some defensive upside? Thankfully, the Lions kind of have a long history of safeties who primarily made their careers out of special teams play.
In 2020, the Lions signed Miles Killebrew to a one-year, $2 million contract. Killebrew was essentially the same age as Moore currently is. Last year, the Lions decided to move on from Killebrew, and he signed a more frugal one-year, $1.1 million contract.
Adjust for some inflation in the salary cap, and perhaps handing a Moore an original-round tender of $2.4 million is market price for a special teamer. Of course, if Detroit is really happy with him, they could just work out a longer-term deal and avoid the potential of getting outbid by another team.
One could also wonder if there’s a chance Moore could compete for a starting role in 2022. Currently, the Lions only have two safeties under contract: Harris and Brady Breeze. Detroit is likely to find a safety in free agency or they could re-sign Walker, but if they use their resources elsewhere, there’s a chance Moore could expand his role defensively next year should the Lions decide to retain him.
Either way, Moore is a valuable player to this team, even if he isn’t flashy. The Lions should get something done.
What should the Lions do with C.J. Moore?
This poll is closed
Re-sign him to a multi-year deal
Give him an original-round tender ($2.4M)
Offer a one-year deal less than $2.4 M
Let him walk