Matt Patricia doesn’t plan on starting off his first head coaching stint without pass-rushing phenom Ezekiel Ansah on the Detroit Lions roster.
The former All-Pro defensive end was slapped with the franchise tag on Tuesday, which is expected to carry a price of $17.5 million for the 2018 season. There was always a possibility that Patricia would let the 6-foot-6, 275-pound defensive giant walk if he was a misfit to his defensive philosophy, but there aren’t many other players capable of producing double-digit sacks in two of the last three seasons.
Ansah is one of the Lions’ best players, and allowing him to walk out the door for nothing would have been a bad start to one of the more hopeful offseasons. Patricia, a longtime disciple under New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, will face the daunting task of turning around another struggling defense.
Fortunately for the Lions, he’s had plenty of practice doing that in New England.
Having an impact player like Ansah on defense should make his job easier. The 28-year-old stalwart had 12 sacks last season and a fumble recovery, despite being hampered most of the year with a multitude of injuries. There is hope he can return to the Pro Bowl version of the player Lions fans saw in 2015, when he had 14.5 sacks.
“It’s health,” former Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told ESPN’s Michael Rothstein back in December. “I mean, this is a hard game and I really appreciate how he’s battled through. …He’s played the run pretty decently. He’s been able to get some pressure on (the) quarterback. He’s gotten some sack numbers, but I think he’s not as dominant as he was and I think that’s because of the injuries. And I think that if he’s healthy, boy he’s as good as you get. Really, really enjoy coaching the guy, I mean he is a good player.”
The Lions can now focus their attention in other areas, while working toward a long-term solution with Ansah. They have until July 16 to come to an agreement on an extension. Otherwise, the Lions could find themselves in the exact same position next year with the veteran playmaker.
There’s also the glass-half-full mentality of having another year to see how Ansah’s health holds up. Even if it is fully guaranteed, that $17.5 million won’t look as bad if Ansah underperforms or misses time on the field.
A one-year placeholder on one of the league’s most feared pass rushers is an obvious win-win for the Lions.