Agent: Walker looks to be 'missing piece' for Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

After he showed potential as an interior pass rusher in 2014, Tyrunn Walker's agent, Sean Kiernan, expected the Saints to tender Walker as a restricted free agent.

Last Tuesday, the 4 p.m. deadline passed for New Orleans to lock up the 24-year-old, and interest quickly poured in for Walker's services.

And although 18 teams expressed interest, the Lions were the ones who landed Walker, and the team hopes he — along with Haloti Ngata — can help replace Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

"No pressure at all, man," Walker said on a teleconference Monday of replacing the former first-round picks. "Suh and Fairley, they're great at what they do. I'm coming in just to try and help the team win. I'm not trying to compare, not trying to compete with Suh and Fairley (and) what they did for Detroit, which was outstanding. I'm just trying to come in there and create an impact and do what they ask me to do."

The Lions signed Walker last Thursday to a one-year deal worth $1.75 million, a considerable raise from his $570,000 base salary in 2014. And from Walker's perspective, signing a one-year deal will give him a chance to sign a longer, more lucrative contract in 2016, especially if he earns the starting job in Detroit.

Walker said the Patriots offered him a three-year deal when he visited New England last week.

"I think he just felt for what he can do and for the type of team that (the Lions) have that he could potentially be that missing piece," Kiernan said of Walker by phone Monday.

Walker said he's watched tape of the Lions defensive line and hopes to add to the group's recent success. He's also excited to join a 4-3 defense that give defensive linemen one-gap assignments as opposed to the two-gapping 3-4 the Saints used.

"That's a d-lineman's dream," Walker said. "This is a perfect fit for me."

Because Walker was a restricted free agent, Kiernan couldn't begin negotiating with teams other than the Saints until the new league year officially began.

New Orleans could've used an original-round tender on Walker for $1.542 million plus the right to match any offer he received. Because Walker went undrafted out of Tulsa in 2012, the Saints wouldn't have received any compensation if he signed with another team. Another option was a second-round tender at $2.356 million, which would've give the Saints a second-round pick if he signed with another team.

Instead, the Saints passed on their opportunity to keep him, and after he became an unrestricted free agent, Walker became a hot commodity.

In 2014, Walker played all 16 games with one start and had 19 tackles, one for loss, 2 1/2 sacks and one forced fumble. He didn't play as a rookie in 2012 and played seven games in 2013, and he showed last season that he's following a natural progression.

Kiernan said his plan was to have Walker visit at least two teams. This was Walker's first time as a free agent, so his agent wanted him to experience what it was like to be courted by teams.

By Tuesday night, Kiernan said 18 teams expressed interest, but he whittled the list to three suitors that fit his and Walker's desires.

On Wednesday, Walker visited the New England Patriots, a team that like the Lions needs help at defensive tackle after cutting veteran Vince Wilfork.

On Thursday, Walker flew to Detroit, and Lions general manager Martin Mayhew didn't let him leave without a contract.

"Martin was the instrument that made the whole thing happen," Kiernan said. "He had to impress me to get to the kid."

The Saints did make Walker — a Louisiana native — an offer to return to his hometown team, and Kiernan thought he might have been able to strike a bigger contract if the process played out longer. But, in addition to feeling comfortable with Mayhew and the possibility of learning under Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek, the chance to become a starter helped sell Walker on signing with Detroit.

"What was promised to him was he would be given the best opportunity right now to start," Kiernan said. "Really that's all you can promise as a team."

Currently, Walker has the second-most game experience of any defensive tackle on the Lions, behind only Ngata. They could draft one early and add another veteran in free agency, but Walker is the odds-on favorite to be the starter right now.

Also helping the Lions in the pursuit was the trade for Ngata, whom the team acquired from the Ravens last Tuesday. During his time in New Orleans, Walker latched on to veterans like linebackers Jonathan Vilma and Parys Haralson, and now he can learn from Ngata, a five-time Pro Bowler.

"Haloti Ngata is going to be like very, very important to my game because I'm going to pick his brain, and I'm going to learn what he knows," Walker said.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein