An essential part of any NFL team’s success is mining players off the league scrap heap that other teams may have previously given up on.
Last year, the Detroit Lions found such a story from George Johnson, a defensive tackle turned defensive end who came out of nowhere to provide huge production along the defensive line.
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After struggling to find a role in Tampa Bay and Minnesota, Johnson earned Detroit’s trust early on in camp and the preseason by making his share of big plays and putting in the hard work in the weight room when nothing was promised. During the regular season, he made waves by sacking the quarterback six times and being a dependable contributor.
As a result, Johnson is now more likely to come back to the Motor City. Friday, while speaking in Indianapolis, Martin Mayhew revealed that he was planning on tendering a contract to Johnson. Whether it’s a second round tender is still up in the air. That’s the level Johnson could expect to command according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
"Johnson is a candidate for a second-round tender.“Time will tell,” Mayhew said."
In some ways, the emergence of more players like Johnson in other roster spots are what will help the Lions morph themselves from pretenders into a team that needs to be taken seriously year-to-year.
Players from the draft won’t always immediately live up to their potential, so finding those already capable of starting and contributing in depth roles is often what sets the elite NFL teams apart from others. Both teams in the Super Bowl have made livings of doing this, with the New England Patriots being particulary adept through the years at finding such contributors.
In some ways, the emergence of more players like Johnson in other roster spots are what will help the Lions morph themselves from pretenders to a team that needs to be taken seriously year-to-year.
Johnson’s return could also save the Lions a draft pick, as he’s more than capable of filling in along the defensive line and being a quality defensive end. Entering last season, the position was a question mark given the departure of Willie Young. Knowing that Johnson can do the job, the team won’t have to worry as much about depending on any drafted player to make an immediate impact.
Though Mayhew made the point that he’d also like to bring back linebacker Josh Bynes and quarterback Kellen Moore, a pair of players set to be left untendered, from the beginning it was clear that leaving Johnson to twist in the wind would have been this off-season’s biggest early mistake. Someone would have quickly picked him up thanks to last year’s production alone.
Now, with it looking more likely that Johnson will return, the Lions can worry about finding one less player in May and look forward to seeing what else he can provide in the future.