Lions Rumors

Lions Sign Jason Huntley

As it turns out, the Lions signed two 2020 draftees yesterday. In addition to getting fifth-round wide receiver Quintez Cephus under contract, the club inked its other fifth-round choice, New Mexico State running back Jason Huntley. Huntley posted a picture of himself signing his rookie deal on Instagram.

Huntley may struggle for playing time early in his Lions tenure, as Detroit is also rostering Kerryon Johnson and used a second-round choice this season on talented Georgia back D’Andre Swift, whom some considered to be the best RB in the class. On the other hand, Johnson has dealt with injuries over the first two years of his pro career, and another ailment could push Huntley up the depth chart. In the meantime, he will be competing with the likes of Ty Johnson and Bo Scarbrough for reps as the club’s RB3. He could also push Jamal Agnew for the kickoff returner job.

Huntley exploded in his final collegiate season, racking up 1,090 yards on 154 totes, good for a whopping 7.1 YPC average. He is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, with plenty of speed to burn.

With that, the Lions are just missing the bookends of their 2020 class. No. 3 overall pick Jeffrey Okudah and seventh-round choice Jason Cornell are the only two of Detroit’s nine drafted rookies who have yet to sign. Here’s the full list, courtesy of PFR’s Tracker:

1-3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
2-35: D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia): Signed
3-67: Julian Okwara, OLB (Notre Dame): Signed
3-75: Jonah Jackson, G (Ohio State): Signed
4-121: Logan Stenberg, OL (Kentucky): Signed
5-166: Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin): Signed
5-172: Jason Huntley, RB (New Mexico State): Signed
6-197: John Penisini, DT (Utah): Signed
7-235: Jason Cornell, DE (Ohio State)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Sign Fifth-Round WR Quintez Cephus

The Lions have agreed to terms with fifth-round wide receiver Quintez Cephus, according to his agents at SportsTrust Advisors (Twitter link).

Cephus, who caught 59 passes for 901 yards and seven touchdowns during his final year at Wisconsin, will likely need to contribute on special teams during his rookie campaign. Detroit boasts a wide receiver depth chart that’s already at least four-deep with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, and Geronimo Allison, while ace returner Jamal Agnew is making the change to full-time pass-catcher.

Cephus was expelled from Wisconsin during an ongoing investigation into assault charges filed by two women in the spring of 2018. He not only denied the accusations, but sued the university, arguing he was expelled with no due process. Cephus was ultimately acquitted and dropped the lawsuit against Wisconsin, and the school reinstated him as both a student and an athlete for 2019.

With Cephus under contract, the Lions now have six of their nine 2020 draft picks signed. Here’s the full list:

1-3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
2-35: D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia): Signed
3-67: Julian Okwara, OLB (Notre Dame): Signed
3-75: Jonah Jackson, G (Ohio State): Signed
4-121: Logan Stenberg, OL (Kentucky): Signed
5-166: Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin): Signed
5-172: Jason Huntley, RB (New Mexico State)
6-197: John Penisini, DT (Utah): Signed
7-235: Jason Cornell, DE (Ohio State)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Sign D’Andre Swift

D’Andre Swift took to Twitter this weekend to announce the signing of his rookie contract. Per the terms of his slot, the running back out of Georgia will earn $8.5MM over the course of his four-year deal.

Heading into the draft, many praised Swift as the best running back in this year’s class. The Lions weren’t thought to be targeting an RB early, but they seized the opportunity to grab the two-time 1,000-yard rusher at No. 35 overall.

Swift will provide a safety net behind Kerryon Johnson, who suffered injuries in each of his first two seasons. The youngster’s advanced blocking ability may allow him to perform as an every-down back at the next level and there’s reason to believe that he can develop into an adept pass-catcher as well. Swift didn’t post gaudy receiving numbers at UGA, but he’s got a 72-inch wingspan, so the potential is there.

With Swift signed, the Lions now have five of their 2020 rookies officially in the fold. Here’s the full rundown of their class, via PFR’s 2020 NFL Draft Tracker:

1-3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
2-35: D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia): Signed
3-67: Julian Okwara, OLB (Notre Dame): Signed
3-75: Jonah Jackson, G (Ohio State): Signed
4-121: Logan Stenberg, OL (Kentucky): Signed
5-166: Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin)
5-172: Jason Huntley, RB (New Mexico State)
6-197: John Penisini, DT (Utah): Signed
7-235: Jason Cornell, DE (Ohio State)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Notes: COVID, Stafford, Kaepernick

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has authorized the return of professional sports, as we learned earlier this morning. She made it clear that capacity crowds will not be permitted until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, but Lions team president Rod Wood is trying to get Ford Field opened up to fans just the same. Wood released the following statement via the team’s official Twitter account.

“Governor Whitmer’s most recent Executive Order is an exciting step forward in our preparation for the 2020 season. We are working closely with her office to evaluate when and how we can safely play in front of our fans. With nearly 3 months until our regular season home opener at Ford Field, I’m optimistic and encouraged by our progress.”

It seems that most, if not all, teams will be playing in front of empty or partially-full stadiums in 2020, and Wood is hopeful that his club will be able to generate at least some gate revenue this year.

Now for more on the Lions:

  • Lions QB Matthew Stafford has been saying for some time that he is fully healthy, and the team posted a brief video clip of its signal-caller working out with teammates, which suggests that Stafford is indeed ready to go (Twitter link). While that’s certainly encouraging, it’s also notable that the workout is in contravention of the advice of NFLPA medical director Thom Mayer, who said players should not be practicing together privately. Stafford is by no means the only QB1 to be participating in workouts, and as Michael Rothstein of ESPN.com writes, the 32-year-old signal-caller has made adjustments to try and keep himself and his teammates healthy.
  • Sheila Ford Hamp will take over her mother’s duties as principal owner and chairperson of the Lions, and she said she is going to take a very hands-on approach (Twitter link via Rothstein). Given Lions fans’ general feelings towards the Ford family, that may or may not be welcome, but Hamp said her first course of business will be to meet with members of the organization’s departments that she is less familiar with. As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press tweets, Hamp specifically noted that she wants to learn more about the analytics side of the operation.
  • Hamp has also said that she would sign off on the team’s acquisition of QB Colin Kaepernick if her football people thought it was in the club’s best interests (video link via Ian Rapoport of NFL.com). The Lions, though, appear to be an imperfect schematic fit for Kaepernick, and in any event, neither Detroit nor any other club has reached out to him yet.

Michigan Allows Pro Sports To Resume

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has authorized the return of professional sports, as Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press writes. Whitmer’s statement reads as follows:

“Good news, sports fans. We are now ready to gradually and safely allow professional sports to resume in Michigan. While this is an encouraging step in the reopening of our economy, it is critical for athletes to continue social distancing and taking precautions to stay safe. We want to keep our momentum going and keep moving forward, so it’s incumbent on everyone doing their part to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Whitmer’s executive order makes it clear that live audiences are still not permitted. However, the order does allow for the Lions to start training camp at the end of July as planned, and perhaps for the team to host a preseason contest at Ford Field.

Whitmer has maintained for some time that capacity crowds will not be permitted until there is a COVID-19 vaccine, which could happen at the end of 2020 or early 2021. But even partially-filled stadiums feel like something of a stretch for most teams, the Lions included.

“[T]he fact of the matter is, COVID-19 is a novel virus and that means it’s like nothing we’ve ever seen before,” Whitmer said in May. “We’re learning a tremendous amount. Every week that goes by, we’ve learned so much more about this disease and what it’s going to take to keep us safe and to avoid that second wave.”

So if the NFL season moves forward, the Lions will be at Ford Field. It just doesn’t sound like any of their fans will be joining them.

Lions Sign Jonah Jackson

It’s a done deal. On Wednesday, the Lions announced the signing of third-round guard Jonah Jackson

Jackson began his college career at Rutgers before transferring to Ohio State. As a Buckeye, he put himself on the NFL radar and was named first-team All-Big Ten. Jackson’s work on the interior helped Justin Fields and J.K. Dobbins put up insane numbers in 2019.

That caught the attention of the Lions, who moved up ten spots in the third round to nab Jackson at No. 75 overall. In exchange, the Lions gave fifth- and sixth-round picks (Nos. 148 and 182) while also receiving a lesser a sixth-round choice (No. 197). Per the terms of his slot, Jackson will earn roughly $4.7MM over the course of his four-year deal. The pact includes a $1MM signing bonus.

With Jackson in the fold, the Lions now have four of their 2020 rooks signed. Here’s the full rundown of their class, via PFR’s 2020 NFL Draft Tracker:

1-3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
2-35: D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia)
3-67: Julian Okwara, OLB (Notre Dame): Signed
3-75: Jonah Jackson, G (Ohio State): Signed
4-121: Logan Stenberg, OL (Kentucky): Signed
5-166: Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin)
5-172: Jason Huntley, RB (New Mexico State)
6-197: John Penisini, DT (Utah): Signed
7-235: Jason Cornell, DE (Ohio State)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Lions Owner Martha Firestone Ford Steps Down

Martha Firestone Ford has stepped down as the principal owner and chairman of the Lions, per a club announcement. Her daughter, Sheila Ford Hamp, will move up the ladder to take on both roles.

Martha Ford has led the Lions with skill and grace for the past six seasons,” commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “I have appreciated her business insights, her love of the game, her deep commitment to the NFL, and her personal kindness. We are pleased that the Ford family will continue to own and operate this historic franchise. Sheila Hamp has become increasingly involved in team and league affairs over the past several years and we look forward to working with her and the rest of the club’s executive team.”

Martha Firestone Ford took over as Detroit’s principal owner and chairman in 2014 when her husband William Clay Ford passed away. Per the team’s succession plan, her daughter – previously a vice chairman – is now at the helm.

My mother has inspired all of us since taking on leadership of the Lions over six years ago,” Hamp said. “She has been a tireless leader to our family, our team and our community. Her smart decisions have given me a solid foundation to take the team forward. On behalf of the family and the team, I want to thank her for her countless contributions. I look forward to leading the Lions to excellence on and off the field.”

Lions Sign Julian Okwara

The Lions have officially signed rookie Julian Okwara, per a club announcement. The third-round defensive end out of Notre Dame should be able to get acclimated faster than your average NFL frosh – he’ll have help from his brother and new teammate, Romeo Okwara.

According to Pro Football Focus, Okwara posted a 23% pass-rush win rate in each of his last two collegiate seasons, one of the very best in the country. His broken leg hurt his draft stock in April, but the Lions believe that they scored a major value in the Notre Dame product. With tremendous speed, Okwara profiles as a promising pass rusher. If he can bulk up and improve against the run, the Lions may have a future star on their hands.

The Lions have now inked three of their draft picks, as shown in PFR’s 2020 NFL Draft Tracker:

Detroit Lions

1-3: Jeffrey Okudah, CB (Ohio State)
2-35: D’Andre Swift, RB (Georgia)
3-67: Julian Okwara, OLB (Notre Dame): Signed
3-75: Jonah Jackson, G (Ohio State)
4-121: Logan Stenberg, OL (Kentucky): Signed
5-166: Quintez Cephus, WR (Wisconsin)
5-172: Jason Huntley, RB (New Mexico State)
6-197: John Penisini, DT (Utah): Signed
7-235: Jason Cornell, DE (Ohio State)

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Reggie Wayne Rebuffed Lions In 2015

Reggie Wayne retired after 14 seasons four years ago, and while he only played regular-season games with the Colts, the decorated wideout was a Patriot briefly. However, the Lions showed interest in adding him in that 2015 offseason as well. Wayne was not interested, citing the Lions’ insistence he work out for them as a reason he sidestepped them en route to New England.

I said, ‘Work out? You the Detroit Lions. Wait. Work out? I’m good,'” Wayne said during an appearance on NFL Network anchor Dan Hellie’s Helliepod podcast (via the Detroit Free Press). “Like, I can give you — I got 14 years of working out that you can see,” Wayne said. “So I was like, ‘Nah, I’m cool.’”

Then coached by former Colts HC Jim Caldwell, the Lions employed Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate as their starters at that point. Wayne did end up working out for the Patriots but cited Bill Belichick‘s success as a reason he agreed to audition for the Pats. Wayne’s Patriots tenure ended up lasting barely 10 days, with the then-36-year-old wideout asking to be released before the start of the 2015 season. Wayne added during the interview the Pats let him keep a $450K signing bonus he received.

No Major Talks Between Lions, Taylor Decker

Taylor Decker has one year to go on his contract, but he hasn’t gotten down to brass tacks with the Lions just yet (Twitter link via Tim Twentyman of the team website). There haven’t been any serious discussions on a new deal, though Decker says he’s gotten good feedback from the team on the whole.

[RELATED: Lions To Move Jamal Agnew To WR]

The Lions exercised Decker’s fifth-year option last year, keeping him under contract for $10.35MM for the 2020 season. Even though he says he’s willing to stay patient, he did make a representation change earlier this year, joining up with AMDG Sports, a firm dedicated exclusively to offensive linemen. The group is managed by LeCharles Bentley, who also tutors Decker at his performance center.

Decker lacked consistency in his first three seasons, but he turned a major corner last year. He allowed just seven sacks in 2019, graded out as one of Pro Football Focus’ top five tackles in the NFL, and only improved as the year wore on. For comparison, Decker graded as PFF’s No. 36 tackle in 2018.

In addition to Decker, the Lions will have to leave room for other post-2020 extensions, including wide receiver Kenny Golladay.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.