Our Detroit Lions 2023 free agency series is soon coming to a close. We in the midst of profiling the seven Lions exclusive rights free agents, who are typically considered easy re-signings. So rather than focusing on whether these players should be back, we’re focusing more on what their role could be for the upcoming season.
Today’s discussion surrounds running back Craig Reynolds.
If you missed any of the previous articles, you can check them out here:
Unrestricted free agents: WR DJ Chark, RB Jamaal Williams, RB Justin Jackson, QB Nate Sudfeld, IOL Evan Brown, OT Dan Skipper, NT Isaiah Buggs, EDGE John Cominsky, EDGE Austin Bryant, LB Alex Anzalone, LB Josh Woods, LB Chris Board, CB Will Harris, CB Mike Hughes, CB Amari Oruwariye, SAF DeShon Elliott, SAF C.J. Moore, and K Michael Badgley
Restricted free agents: OT Matt Nelson, C/G Ross Pierschbacher, CB Bobby Price
Exclusive rights free agents: LS Scott Daly
Expectations heading into 2022
Craig Reynolds was one of the coolest stories of the 2021 season. A late-offseason addition, Reynolds immediately showed he could play with a solid preseason performance. And while he didn’t make the initial 53-man roster, he went to the practice squad and would end up making five game appearances for Detroit, including two starts.
Entering 2022, the Lions made no significant changes to their running back room. So behind D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams, Reynolds headed into the next season battling the likes of Godwin Igwebuike, Jermar Jefferson and Greg Bell for the RB3 role. The late addition of Justin Jackson also complicated things.
To many’s surprise, Reynolds would end up winning that competition over Igwebuike — who was both well-liked and a strong special teams contributor — and headed into the season as the team’s clear option behind Williams and Swift.
Actual role in 2022
Participation: 9 games (0 starts): 116 offensive snaps, 105 special teams snaps
Stats: 23 rushes, 103 yards; 9 catches, 116 yards
PFF grades: 68.9 on offense; 65.7 on special teams
When Swift went down with an ankle injury early, Reynolds quickly stepped up and assumed anywhere between a dozen and 30 snaps on offense per game. However, the team also brought up Jackson from the practice squad, and when Reynolds suffered an injury that landed him on injured reserve, Jackson stepped up admirably in his place.
Jackson was good enough in the reserve role that when Reynolds eventually returned from injury, Jackson maintained the RB3 spot for the rest of the season. Reynolds played just 13 offensive snaps after returning from IR in Week 15.
Outlook for 2023
Contract status: Exclusive rights free agent
A reminder that exclusive rights free agents are near-automatic re-signings, as teams can offer these players a one-year, minimum-salary deal, and the player either has to accept the deal or sit out the entire year.
Right now, the Lions only have three running backs signed for the 2023 season: Swift, Jefferson and Bell. With the expectation that Jamaal Williams will return, the Lions RB3 job remains wide open, because Bell and Jefferson have almost zero combined experience in the NFL.
While the Lions may have favored Jackson toward the end of last season, he also may come with a heftier price tag this offseason. Jackson is an unrestricted free agent, and after a solid year in Detroit, he may be hoping to get a raise from his minimum deal last year. Conversely, the Lions can bring back Reynolds at almost no cost.
But even if the Lions make the easy decision of bringing Reynolds back, by no means is he guaranteed to be entering 2023 as the RB3. For one, toward the end of last season, coach Dan Campbell expressed a desire to see what 2021 seventh-round pick Jermar Jefferson could do on the field.
“We have a lot of guys left to get a good look at,” Campbell said in October. “I mean I’d love to find a way to get (James) Houston up at some point, Jefferson up.”
The Lions never got that opportunity, but Campbell’s interest suggests they still believe he may be able to contribute something meaningful to the team.
Additionally, the Lions could very well be in the market for a running back in the draft. If they re-sign Williams and add another back in the draft, that could push Reynolds down the depth chart and possibly even off the 53-man entirely come summer.
In other words, while re-signing Reynolds seems like a relative no-brainer, his spot on the roster as RB3 is anything but safe.
Should the Lions re-sign Craig Reynolds?
This poll is closed