Lions general manager Bob Quinn will meet with the media Wednesday morning in Indianapolis ahead of the annual NFL scouting combine.
But he answered one of his team’s most pressing offseason questions Tuesday when the Lions announced they’ll use the franchise player designation on defensive end Ezekiel Ansah.
The 14-day window to use the franchise tag ends next Tuesday, but Quinn didn’t feel the need to wait in committing to lock up Ansah, the team’s top pass rusher who was eligible for unrestricted free agency next month.
The tag doesn’t rule out the possibility of a contract extension for Ansah. The two sides will have until mid-July to work out a deal. But if Ansah does sign the franchise tender, he’ll be guaranteed about $17.5 million next season — the official numbers won’t be known until the league sets its salary cap in March.
The Lions haven’t utilized the franchise tag since 2012, when they used it to keep another defensive end, Cliff Avril, in the fold. But in Ansah’s case, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.
He has been plagued by nagging injuries — ankle, knee and back — the past two seasons after a breakout Pro Bowl campaign (141/2 sacks) in 2015. Yet while his production has been spotty since, the former fifth overall pick (2013) likely would’ve been the best available pass rusher had the Lions allowed him to test the market.
The Dallas Cowboys are expected to tag Demarcus Lawrence if they can’t lock him up with an extension, and beyond that, the list is pretty thin, with aging vets like Julius Peppers and others coming off injuries like Trent Murphy and Alex Okafor.
Ansah, who turns 29 in May, ranked eighth in the league with 12 sacks last season, but the bulk of those splash plays came in a trio of games against struggling opponents, recording three sacks against the Giants in the Lions’ road opener and three more in each of the final two games against Cincinnati and Green Bay. Still, his 12 sacks accounted for more than a third of the team’s season total — ranked 20th in the league — and with Kerry Hyder coming off a torn Achilles, the other ends in the rotation last season were Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington.
A relatively weak draft class at the position likely played a factor in the Lions’ decision as well.
But even with the tag in place, Quinn still has more than $30 million in cap space to use in free agency and on his rookie draft picks.