The Detroit Lions have 33 total players from their 2023 roster who are set to become free agents in 2024 (20 unrestricted, 6 restricted, 6 exclusive-rights), and we are reviewing their what their expectations were coming into the 2023 season, how they performed, and ultimately their chances of returning to Detroit in 2024.
First up we have veteran wide receiver, Josh Reynolds.
Expectations heading into 2023
Since arriving in Detroit in the middle of the 2021 season, Reynolds has been a reliable, trusted target for quarterback Jared Goff. Having spent time together during their stints with the Los Angeles Rams, the former fourth-round pick out of Texas A&M quickly reestablished rapport with Goff during a difficult first season in Detroit.
In 2022, he appeared in 14 games—hauling in 38 catches for 608 yards and three touchdowns. And with the rest of the Lions’ receiver room still very young heading into 2023, he and fellow veteran Kalif Raymond were once again counted on to be the elder statesmen of the group, while also seeing plenty of snaps in specific personnel packages.
Additionally, because of his 6-foot-3 stature, Reynolds provided size and physicality on the outside for a Lions’ team that places a big emphasis on downfield blocking from all of their skill players.
Actual role in 2023
Note: PFF grades combine regular season and playoffs and reflect a minimum 20% snaps at that position
Regular season — 17 games (13 starts): 40 receptions on 64 targets, 608 yards, and five touchdowns. 832 offensive snaps
Postseason — 3 games (2 starts): 8 receptions on 14 targets, 132 yards, 1 TD
PFF Offensive grade: 70.1 (50th of 128 receivers with at least 300 snaps)
PFF Receiving grade: 69.2 (55th of 95)
PFF Run Blocking grade: 70.0 (9th of 136)
With 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams starting the season still serving a suspension, Reynolds was leaned on early in 2023—tallying over 60 yards receiving in four of the Lions’ first five games.
Beyond the hot start, Reynolds was a consistent chain-mover for the offense. Whether it was finding the soft spot against a zone defense, or making a tough, contested catch over the middle—32 of Reynolds’ 40 receptions resulted in first downs.
And up until a couple of untimely drops against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game, his hands were extremely dependable as he was credited with only three drops during the regular season—a drop rate of 9.4% on the season, according to PFF.
Once Williams returned and began to get acclimated to the offense, Reynolds did see his target-share dip a bit—only logging over 60 yards receiving one time during the rest of the year. However, just because he wasn’t seeing the ball as much, doesn’t mean he wasn’t a vital cog in other facets of the offense.
Both Reynolds and first team All-Pro Amon-Ra St. Brown were two of the best blocking receivers in the NFL, and were often essential to the big plays being produced on the ground by running backs Jahmyr Gibbs and David Montgomery.
Outlook for 2024
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
The case for keeping Reynolds:
Similar to the position they were in entering the 2023 season, the Lions are once again heading into the 2024 season with a pretty young group of wideouts drafted by Brad Holmes. St. Brown will be entering the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, Jameson Williams will be just 23 years old going into his third year, and the 24-year-old Antoine Green will enter his sophomore NFL season looking to find some more time on the gameday roster.
That would leave Kalif Raymond as the lone veteran currently signed through 2024. Bringing Reynolds back would likely be a low-cost move that would reinforce a talented group with another reliable veteran. In 2022, Reynolds signed a two-year deal that had his cap number at $2 million in 2022, and $4 million in 2023. Signing him to a similar one-to-two year deal obviously wouldn’t break the bank, and we already know the type of connection he has with Goff.
With only four receivers currently under contract in 2024, it would make a lot of sense to bring a known commodity back into the fold. Beyond the aforementioned connection with his quarterback, Reynolds now has two full years under his belt in offensive coordinator Ben Johnson’s system, and he’s Dan Campbell’s Praying Mantis/Spider of Death/a Freaking Serpent, so it makes sense to see Reynolds back in 2024 for a variety of reasons.
The case for letting Reynolds walk
As dependable as he usually is, there is certainly a world in which the Lions could upgrade at this spot.
In an ideal world, Jameson Williams is ready to take another big step forward at the beginning of 2024, which would likely cut into Reynolds’ share of the snaps and targets—something we already saw happen to an extent in 2023.
And despite the offense already being loaded with weapons at every position, having a more dangerous receiving threat on the field at the same time as St. Brown and Williams has to be enticing to the Lions’ brass.
Having another playmaker on the outside who can command more of the defense’s attention would help take eyes off of St. Brown, Williams and Sam LaPorta—making it more difficult for an opposing defensive coordinator to bracket any one player.
The case with Reynolds may very well be another case of the Lions’ roster evolving past a certain level of player sticking around. Just because they were good enough in their role in the last few years, doesn’t mean that level of play is enough moving forward.
These are likely some of the decisions coach Dan Campbell was talking about after wrapping up the 2023 season.
Is there interest from both sides?
Despite the tough ending to the year in the conference title game, I would have to imagine there is mutual interest in Reynolds returning. He has had two of his more productive seasons as a pro in Detroit, and he appears to be a good influence on the rest of the receivers in the room.
However, if he were to come back, I would think there would need to be preemptive discussions on his role moving forward.
Would Reynolds be ok with taking a back seat to the likes of Williams and Green? On top of being a mentor, would he feel comfortable assuming more of a role on special teams?
From his perspective, I am sure returning for a fourth season in Detroit sounds enticing, but at the same time—Reynolds is now 28 years old and entering his ninth season in the NFL. If he wanted to take a longer term deal with another team for more guaranteed money, nobody would blame him.
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