Tracy Walker is playing the best football of his career so far this season, creating a potential quandary for Lions general manager Brad Holmes.
Over the course of the first six games this season, the Detroit Lions secondary has shown signs of improvement. The issue has been consistency, especially in terms of big plays allowed. Safety Tracy Walker has been a steady presence though.
Among safeties who have played all six games this season, via the Lions’ website, Walker has the third-highest grade from Pro Football Focus. Among safeties who have played at least two games this season, Walker comes in at No. 8.
Walker is third on the team with 30 tackles, with a tied for team-high three pass breakups and one sack. He has only been credited with allowing three completions allowed on nine targets in is coverage, per PFF, with Pro Football Reference presenting data that’s a little different in that area.
Walker has bounced back from a rough 2020 campaign, and this week he cited a fresh start under a new coaching staff.
“I definitely can admit I’ve improved on and off the field with this coaching staff,” “I’m just trying to build a foundation and let it be set in stone that everybody knows I’m a ball player when I’m out there. For me, I’m just trying to continue to get better each and every day.”
Walker is in the final year of his rookie contract. He was asked about his contract situation this week, with the expected response.
“I don’t worry about that. What I got to go out here and do is do my job and continue to put out good film,” Like I said, if upstairs wants to keep me here, they know how to reach out to my agent. My job is to go out there and execute and do my job, and do it to the best of my ability. As far as the contract talk and the extension, I could care less about that. I still got like 10 more games. I’ll control what I can control.”
What should the Lions do with Tracy Walker?
In the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Walker had missed tackle rates of 11.2 percent and 12.1 percent respectively (according to Pro Football Reference). Through six games this season, his missed tackle rate is 3.2 percent.
At 26 years old, Walker would seem to have a place in the future for the Lions. But with the team at 0-6, and trade deadline in less than two weeks (Nov. 2), the idea of trading him is not ridiculous. SI.com even ran a poll asking the question if he should be traded.
This Lions’ regime can also look at Walker’s 2018 rookie season, when PFF gave him an overall grade of 89.8. Shifting back to free safety this year has made a huge difference, after being used mostly in the box and matched up against tight ends in coverage previously–in line with a drop-off in his play.
The top of the safety market has been reset by Jamal Adams ($17.5 million per year), and 13 safeties are at $10 million a year or more on their full contracts. Of those, 11 are on multi-year deals with two playing on the $10.6 million franchise tag this year.
Franchise tagging Walker would obviously be an option for the Lions, if only to buy extra time to get a multi-year deal done next offseason. Over The Cap has projected the 2022 franchise tag for safeties at $13.543 million. That might be the starting point on a multi-year deal for Walker, hypothetically lining him up for a four-year, $54 million deal with a shade over half (two years of franchise tag) guaranteed.
Walker has 11 more games to prove he’s worth a lucrative multi-year deal, and that he’s someone the Lions should see as a long-term foundational piece of the defense. How it goes from here for Walker can’t be known, but moving him before the trade deadline would be a short-sighted move for Lions general manager Brad Holmes.