Patricia-era Lions draft bust gets rewarded for emergence with Patriots

Jahlani Tavai's career was on the ropes when he landed in New England, and now he has been rewarded for his emergence there over the last couple seasons.
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A second-round pick (No. 43 overall) by the Detroit Lions in the 2019 draft Jahlani Tavai started 16 games over his first two seasons, primarily at middle linebacker. That doesn't mean he was any good though, and he did not make the roster in 2021 as the rebuild started.

Tavani landed on the New England Patriots' practice squad later that year, seeing action in 13 games mostly as a special teamer. After taking a step in 2022, playing all 17 games with 12 starts, he took a bigger step last year, finishing second on the team in total tackles (110) with five tackles for loss and two interceptions. He was also Pro Football Focus' No. 4-graded linebacker (86.6 overall), with top-10 run defense (86.2) and coverage (82.7) grades.

On Tuesday, according to ESPN Patriots' beat writer Mike Reiss, the Patriots and Tavai have agreed to a three-year contract extension worth up to $21 million. That "up to" caveat is always tricky, but Reiss reported the base value of the deal is $15 million.

Tavani was entering the final year of a two-year extension he signed in November 2022. His ability to play inside or outside linebacker, and his role as a core special teamer, is clearly valued by the new regime in New England.

Former Lion Jahlani Tavai gets rewarded for work to resurrect his career

It's been quite a turnaround for Tavai, from the struggling with the speed of the game linebacker he was with the Lions to becoming a legitimate core cog in the Patriots' defense and PFF grading him as one of the best off the ball linebackers in the league last year.

As CBS Sports noted, confirmed by Over The Cap, if Tavai reaches the incentives in his new deal he'd push toward top-15 average money among off-ball linebackers.

For whatever his faults were as a Lion at the end of the Matt Patricia era, Tavai clearly needed a change of scenery if he was going to have any kind of an NFL career. He found it, and he has been rewarded for turning his career around.