Devon Kennard – Arizona Cardinals
Yet another player on this list who fell short of expectations after joining the Lions, Kennard actually led all Lions players with 14 sacks over the past two seasons. Still, it was not enough to keep him around, and the Lions released him with a year left on his contract.
Truthfully, many of Kennard’s sacks were of the “clean-up” or coverage varieties, and he would go long stretches without affecting the passing game. After notching 3.0 sacks in Week 1 last year, he did not pick up another one until Week 10. In the meantime, the Lions’ defense struggled, and they fell out of playoff contention.
It’s entirely possible that too much was expected of Kennard when he signed with Detroit. In four prior seasons with the New York Giants, he played in 80% of the defensive snaps of a game only four times. Being thrust into a heavy-usage role with the Lions likely was a task that he simply isn’t built for.
After his release, he signed with his home-state Arizona Cardinals, who are also desperate for some defensive help. No team surrendered more yards on defense last year than the Cardinals, and only one team (the Lions) gave up more yardage through the air.
In the desert, he will not be under nearly as much pressure to produce on a weekly basis, as he will line up alongside All-Pro edge rusher Chandler Jones, who leads the NFL with 60.0 sacks since 2016.
Kennard played primarily a JACK linebacker role with the Lions, and it’s a position that he could likely fill again with Arizona in their odd-man base set. Where prized rookie linebacker Isaiah Simmons sees the majority of his snaps could affect Kennard’s deployment as well.
Perhaps most impactfully, Kennard’s locker room presence and leadership will be sorely missed. A consummate professional both on and off the field, Kennard was the team’s nominee for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award last season. It’ll be difficult not to root for him moving forward, except when the Cardinals host the Lions in Week 3 this Fall.