When fans think about free agency, they often think about those “big splash” signings—players who can take their offense or defense to the next level and become tentpoles of the franchise going forward.
But free agency is just as much about player retention and filling out the players who will round out the bottom third of the roster. Those are the players who will play key special teams roles and will likely be relied upon when the injury bug inevitably hits. Those may not be the sexy signings, but they’re essential to team building.
Which brings us to today’s offering in our 2023 Detroit Lions free agent profile. Josh Woods is a name casual Lions fans likely don’t know. Even the ones who do know his name likely don’t realize just how big of an impact he made in 2022 and just how important of a re-signing he is this offseason.
Let me explain.
Expectations heading into 2022
In the offseason, the Lions added a lot of competition to the linebacker room. While they didn’t invest a ton of high-priority resources, the additions of guys like sixth-round pick Malcolm Rodriguez, free agents Jarrad Davis and especially special teams ace Chris Board threatened Woods’ roster spot.
Woods’ place was clearly going to be on special teams, but with Board, Rodriguez, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and Anthony Pittman still around, it was very unclear whether Woods was going to win a spot this year after logging the sixth most special teams snaps for the team in 2021.
Putting his status into further doubt was the fact that his position coach from last year—Mark DeLeone—was no longer with the team. Remember, DeLeone had previous experience with Woods when they were both with the Bears in 2019 and 2020. So it’s entirely possible Woods lost his biggest supporter in the coaching staff.
Actual role in 2022
17 games (0 starts): 14 tackles
Snaps: 10 defensive snaps, 322 special teams snaps (3rd most on team)
PFF grade (special teams): 91.0 (4th out of 580 ST players with at least 100 snaps)
PFF grade (defense): 37.6
Woods ended up besting the competition for a role on the 53-man roster. In a way, he actually benefitted from Rodriguez being a stud out of the box because the early expectation was for the rookie to play on special teams. With Rodriguez in the starting lineup on defense, it opened up a specialist spot, and Board and Woods edged out Dion Hamilton and Pittman.
But it turns out it may not have ever been that close. Woods clearly emerged as a vocal leader in the locker room, leading to him being named special teams captain at the beginning of the year. And Woods wasn’t all talk. His 14 special teams snaps were ninth-most in the entire NFL and his ridiculous 91.0 PFF grade on special teams ranked fourth out of 580 specialists who played at least 100 snaps.
Due to the relative health of the Lions’ linebacking corps all season, Woods never really got an opportunity on defense, playing just 10 snaps all year.
Outlook for 2023
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Understandably, Josh Woods isn’t on the list of many priority free agents for the Detroit Lions, but given how important special teams are to this team, maybe he should. Here’s special teams coordinator Dave Fipp talking about how important Woods—who plays all four phases of special teams—is to the entire unit.
“It’s all behind the scenes, plays that not a lot of people see or notice, but he’s been playing really good football for us,” Fipp said. “In that game (vs. Jaguars), he had a really good game. He had a tackle on a kickoff. He had a block on a punt return, a good block on a kickoff return. He called that play out.”
Woods is a cerebral player who communicates well and is very detail-oriented. However, Fipp also pointed to that rare leadership that Woods has already adopted at just 26 years old.
“But I say even more than that is he’s really kind of an emotional leader for us, so just in the huddle,” Fipp continued. “Like there was a moment in that game where I was about to jump in the huddle and start talking to the players or whatever, but I heard him talking to the guys, and he was saying all the things I was about to say. And that’s really how you want it as a coach, or that’s how I would prefer it, is you really want the leadership to come from within, and those guys to feel like it’s really theirs.”
Those kinds of player-led moments are exactly what Dan Campbell and company have sought to build within this franchise. So in that way, Woods is just important to the special teams unit as the kicker or punter. He’s the glue that keeps the return and coverage units together.
The question is: how much is that going to run the Lions? Last year, the Lions were a little tighter against the cap and had to let Jalen Reeves-Maybin go. He ended up signing a significant two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Texans. However, Reeves-Maybin brought a little more potential on defense (he had started 14 games for the Lions).
Instead, the Lions chose to sign Chris Board—a special teams standout in Baltimore—to a one-year, $2 million deal. So that’s likely where the conversation starts. Given that Woods is a clear culture and schematic fit—and a captain—I think it’s reasonable to expect him to get a slight raise over that. Somewhere in the $2.5-3 million per year makes sense, so don’t be surprised to see Woods get an affordable two-year, $5.5. million deal this offseason, likely from the Lions.
Would you re-sign Josh Woods to a two-year, $5.5 million deal?
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