clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

2023 Lions free agent profile: Has Austin Bryant missed his opportunity in Detroit?

Drafted by the previous regime and a healthy scratch nearly half the season, Austin Bryant’s time in Detroit may be up.

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions have 28 players from their 2022 roster set to become free agents in 2023 (18 unrestricted, 10 restricted), and we are covering them all throughout the month of February.

If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here: RB Jamaal Williams, IOL Evan Brown, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley

Next up:

Austin Bryant

Expectations heading into 2022

After an injury-plagued first two years in the NFL, Bryant entered year three—the first year of the coach Dan Campbell era—with high hopes. While he still missed games in 2021 due to injury, he flashed near the end of the season—4.5 sacks—and looked as if he may be settling in with the new coaching staff.

When 2022 training camp rolled around, Bryant found himself in competition with three new rookie edge players. With Romeo Okwara still recovering from his Achilles injury, rookie Josh Paschal injured, and rookie James Houston behind his learning curve, Bryant found himself with the second team for the majority of camp. Bryant seized the opportunity, took advantage of the drop off in talent from the first to second string offensive tackles, and made quite a bit of noise in August.

“(I’ve) made some plays,” Bryant humbly said during camp. “It’s been good. Did a lot for my confidence, still got a long way to go though. Shoot, it’s just preseason Week 2. We got a lot left to do, the roster’s not made yet, so got a lot to do.”

Bryant’s confidence had returned, but how long would it stay?

Actual role in 2022

9 games (0 starts): 208 defensive snaps (18.3%)
Stats: 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 10 pressures, 3 QB hits
PFF grade: 51.2 (123rd out of 135 edge rushers with 200+ snaps)
Notable PFF grade: 30.8% miss tackle rate (2nd worst among Lions players with 3 or more tackling attempts)

Early in the season, the Lions were looking for defensive line combinations that could find success because not much was working. Bryant got in on the rotation but his role drastically fluctuated on a week-to-week basis.

After three poor games, it looked like he may start to break out after a solid Week 5 performance, but that success was short-lived and the arrival of rookie Josh Paschal pushed Bryant back down the depth chart. Week 12 saw Paschal re-injured and starter Charles Harris ruled out, which presented Bryant with an opportunity to re-establish himself. Unfortunately for Bryant, Week 12 was also the coming out party for rookie James Houston.

Bryant would get one more chance in Week 13 after Harris was placed on injured reserve, but Houston continued his ascension to greatness, Paschal returned from injury and Romeo Okwara was activated from the PUP list. Bryant was a healthy scratch for the remainder of the season.

Outlook for 2023

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

When I ranked the Lions unrestricted free agents at the beginning of the offseason, Bryant landed 18th on my list of 18 players.

Simply put, the Lions have a potential wealth of talent on the edge and they may not be done adding. Currently, the Lions have six players under contract, Hutchinson, Paschal, Houston, Harris, as well as Romeo and Julian Okwara. Even if one of the veterans are cut for cap purposes, John Cominsky—who started most of the season—has been begging the Lions to bring him back, and there is likely little reason to believe they won’t. Then there is the NFL Draft. The Lions hold pick No. 6 overall, and depending on how the board falls, the best player available could easily be another edge rusher.

Yes, the Lions rely on the edge players for a lot of roles, and they could benefit from the addition of another young player, but could Bryant be that player?

Bryant does have one potential advantage that could work in his favor: the four-year qualifying contract.

Because Bryant was on the Lions’ roster for four seasons and is on an expiring contract, he becomes eligible for the four-year qualifier. What that means is, if Bryant agrees to re-sign with Detroit for a base minimum salary, the Lions can pay him up to an additional $1.35 million in base salary, but their salary cap won’t be charged for the amount above the minimum. This discount is the league’s way of encouraging teams to keep homegrown players, which can help the player who may be hanging on to a roster spot.

Based on last season, and the number of games Bryant was a healthy scratch, it’s clear he is at the bottom of the depth chart. And with them returning or expected to be returning the majority of their players from last season, it seems clear that Bryant wouldn’t be in the two-deep rotation. But will the discounted year be enough for him to get another shot?

Poll

What should the Lions do with Austin Bryant?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Re-sign him at the 1-year discount
    (282 votes)
  • 0%
    Re-sign him to a multi-year deal
    (5 votes)
  • 81%
    Let him walk in free agency
    (1274 votes)
1561 votes total Vote Now

Subscribe to PODD

After winning their first NFC North title in 30 years, the Lions have unfinished business this offseason. Stay updated with Jeremy Reisman through Pride of Detroit Direct, our newsletter offering up exclusive analysis. Sign up with NFCNORTH30 to get 30% off after your free trial.