Lions sign defensive tackle D.J. Reader to potential steal of a two-year deal

After he came in for a visit, the Detroit Lions did not let D.J. Reader leave the building without a deal in place on Thursday.

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Things ramped up with the reports he was coming in for a old-school style free agent visit on Thursday, and the Detroit Lions did not let D.J. Reader leave the building with a contract.

According to multiple reports, including NFL media and Bleacher Report's Jordan Schultz, the Lions have agreed to a two-year deal worth up to $27.25 million ($9 million guaranteed) with Reader.

The Lions needed to upgrade their defensive tackle situation next to Alim McNeill. Reader (6-foot-3, 335 pounds) is literally a massive addition, as a stout run defender (Pro Football Focus run defense grade of 70 or above in six of eight seasons) and a sneaky good pass rusher from the inside ( 12 quarterback hits, 18 pressures over the last two seasons).

The question mark with Reader, and probably why he lingered available beyond the initial frenzy of free agency, is health. His 2023 season ended early due to a torn tendon in his right quad, and he had the same injury to his left leg in 2020. In between, a knee injury cost him six games in 2022. Teams weren't going to sign him, for lack of better term, "sight unseen" without vetting his progress from that most recent torn quad tendon.

Lions take a comfortable risk on D.J. Reader

On the face of it, signing Reader to a two-year deal says the Lions are comfortable with where Reader is in his rehab. NFL Network's Mike Garafolo confirmed as much.

"The #Lions wanted to visit with Reader before doing a deal to see how his rehab was going with his quad injury. They were comfortable with the progress and so Reader heads to Detroit to give them a terrific 1-2 punch at DT with Alim McNeill."

After last season, via The Athletic (subscription required), Reader said this most recent quad tendon tear was not as bad as the one he suffered in 2020. The 2020 injury required a sixth-month rehab.

"It feels a lot better early in the stages,” Reader said, “I can make muscles after surgery immediately. It feels really good. I feel pretty good in my progression right now. It’s three weeks out of surgery. I’m excited. This one laid down a little bit more. It kind of stayed, didn’t retract as much. Theoretically it’s not as bad, I guess.”

Only giving Reader about one-third of the reported max value of his contract is not much of a risk for the Lions, with a large chunk of that $9 million likely to be signing bonus. If he's healthy and as dominant as he can be, they'll have gotten incredible value.

Reader becomes the fourth addition to the Lions' defense so far this offseason, joining Marcus Davenport, Carlton Davis and Amik Robertson as general manager Brad Holmes has made the team's weaker side of the ball the priority.

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