Allen Park — The Detroit Lions have found a veteran tight end, signing Darren Fells to a one-year, $1.5 million deal. The news was first reported by NFL.com.
Fells, 30, tried basketball first, playing internationally for more than four years before signing with the Seattle Seahawks in 2013. He was waived after two months, but caught on with the Arizona Cardinals, where he’s spent the past three seasons.
A high school defensive end and tight end, Fells didn't play football in college. When he decided he wanted to give the NFL a shot, he tried out as a defensive end, before settling in at tight end. He anticipated the physicality of professional football would be the toughest adjustment, but it was the mental requirements that overwhelmed him at first.
"Coming in trying to try and learn the language of football and integrating myself into that system, just figuring out how to identify different types of defenses," Fells said.
He admits it wasn't until his second season with the Cardinals where things started to click.
The 6-foot-7, 281-pounder has appeared in 38 games, starting 24. He’s recorded 40 catches for 536 yards and four touchdowns. He’s also considered an above-average blocker, particularly in pass protection. Pro Football Focus ranked him fourth in that area among tight ends last season.
Most former basketball players — guys like Jimmy Graham and Antonio Gates — are known for their receiving skills, but Fells said he's worked hard to buck that trend.
"Mostly because that’s the stereotype, that basketball players can’t block, so I put a lot of emphasis on that," he said.
Blocking also meshed with the way Fells played basketball — physical and happy to do the dirty work.
"I always prided myself on being a great offensive rebounder," Fells said. "It takes a lot of effort getting to the rim."
That physicality also got him in trouble on the court. According to Fells, he fouled out of his first international game, drawing a steady stream of whistles for offensive charging. That isn't an issue on the gridiron.
The signing gives the Lions much-needed depth, and more capable blocker, at the tight end position behind starter Eric Ebron.
Fells’ brother, Daniel, played seven seasons in the NFL before announcing his retirement last year.