On Tuesday, the Detroit Lions announced that they have signed Devin Funchess to their roster. While most mid-June signings are minor blips on the NFL radar, this story is interesting for several reasons. First, Funchess is a former Carolina Panthers second-round pick who once had eight touchdowns in a season. Secondly, Funchess is a Michigan native and former Wolverine. Then there’s the fact that the Lions listed him as a tight end—a position he hasn’t played since his college years.
As our own Mike Payton noted earlier on Wednesday, Funchess will by no means be handed a roster spot. He’s going to have to earn it, and he’ll be entering Detroit’s tight end room a month behind everybody else.
That said, the Lions’ tight end situation is far from figured out. Funchess will be given a shot just like anybody else. So to better get to know Funchess, his potential as a tight end, and understand why he hasn’t lived up to his draft billing, we had a quick chat with the managing editor of Carolina Panthers blog Cat Scratch Reader, Bradley Smith.
1) Why didn’t things work with the Panthers? Was there any consideration to re-signing him after his rookie contract or had he worn out his welcome in Carolina?
“I feel like Funchess was doomed from the start when he was drafted. The Panthers took Kelvin Benjamin the year before Funchess, and a lot of Panthers fans questioned the decision to trade three picks to move up in the draft to take Funchess because they are very similar players. He was also the victim of a general manager change one year before his rookie contract expired, as Dave Gettleman (the GM who drafted him) was fired in July 2017. When Marty Hurney was re-hired, most of the picks Gettleman made were not re-signed, and Funchess ended up being in that group. He didn’t do himself any favors by dropping nearly every ball that was thrown his way in a contract year, but I’m not sure there was anything he could have done to get a second contract because it seemed like Hurney was intent on removing any trace of Gettleman’s tenure from the roster. (Only three players drafted by Gettleman were given a contract extension after Gettleman was fired: Shaq Thompson, Christian McCaffrey, and Taylor Moton.)”
2) Conversely, why did he have success in 2017? He had one of the lowest drop rates in 2017 and the highest in 2018. How does that happen?
“I really wish I had an answer to this question. His cousin died right before the 2018 season started, so I think part of his issue was that he was dealing with that loss and it just overwhelmed him to the point where he couldn’t repeat his 2017 production. The turning point was in Week 11 when the Panthers played the Lions in Detroit and Funchess had several drops in front of his hometown fans that could have changed the outcome of the game. (I’m sure you remember this more fondly than I do.) After that game, his production fell off a cliff (three catches for 33 yards in four games) to the point where he was a healthy scratch in the season finale, and the Panthers decided to let him go in free agency after the season ended.”
3) Was there ever any consideration of playing him at tight end with the Panthers? How do you feel about his chances there?
“I don’t believe the Panthers ever considered it, but I believe they should have. He has decent size and if he would have put on a bit more weight he could have had a chance to stick around in Carolina as a tight end. The Panthers already had Greg Olsen as their No. 1 tight end, but in 2017-2018 he dealt with foot injuries that placed him on injured reserve for two straight years, so that would have been the perfect time to see if Funchess could play tight end or not. I don’t know if he’ll be able to successfully make the switch to tight end in Detroit, but I’m interested to see how it plays out for him.”
4) What can you tell us about Funchess as a person/locker room personality?
“As far as I know, he’s a good dude. In 2018 he was named the NFL Players Association’s Community MVP for Week 16 because of his off-field work in the community. I’m not sure how he was in the locker room but I’ve never seen or heard any complaints about him other than his lack of on-field production.”
5) What was the best play of Funchess’ Panthers career?
“Hmmm... there aren’t any that stand out as legendary plays to be remembered forever, but he did make a nice touchdown grab against Washington in Week 6 of the 2018 season. I know this is a sad answer, but he was a really disappointing player for us.”