Eli Harold ready to be 'all hands on deck' for Lions

By Matt Schoch
Special to The Detroit News

Allen Park — With a wife who is eight months pregnant and having recently moved into a new rental house, Eli Harold was ready for a new phase of his career with the San Francisco 49ers.

But then, a missed call and a text message last week from an unknown Colorado phone number brought about even more change.

Linebacker Eli Harold spent his first three seasons with the San Francisco 49ers before last week's trade to Detroit.

On the other end of the return call was 49ers general manager John Lynch, the former Denver and Tampa Bay star safety.

“He basically told me they were moving on and going in another direction and I got traded,” Harold said after Tuesday’s practice, his second with Detroit. “It’s tough, man. But ultimately, I’m doing what I love to do.

“It was kind of surprising. I had been starting there the whole time. But with the new regime, it was kind of a surprise.”

Harold was acquired Thursday for a conditional seventh-round draft pick, one of two recent moves by Lions general manager Bob Quinn to bolster the pass rush. Getting to the opposing quarterback was a question mark coming into training camp, and has proved to be a glaring need in the preseason with one sack in three games.

The Lions other recent acquisition, nine-year veteran free agent defensive end Robert Ayers, was released Tuesday by the team one day after he signed.

A first-round pick by Denver in 2009 out of Tennessee, Ayers has 35.0 sacks and nine forced fumbles in his career, including 9.5-sacks in 2015 with the New York Giants. Ayers, 32, had spent the last two seasons with Tampa Bay, netting a combined 8.5 sacks.

“I think we’re always going to try to take a look at as many guys as possible that we can to bring into the roster and try to make it competitive,” Lions coach Matt Patricia said Tuesday, before Ayers was released. “We’re continuing trying to scheme that up and move it around and try to look at guys in a different position. Certainly with the pass rush, there’s a whole marriage of rush and coverage that’s critically important.”

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In three seasons with San Francisco, playing under three different defensive coordinators and position coaches, Harold had five sacks and 85 tackles in 48 games. In Detroit, he said he has been working at strong-side linebacker and left defensive end.

Harold, 24, said he was 247 pounds at the 2015 draft combine, but was told to gain weight by former San Francisco general manager Trent Baalke after his first season. Harold said he got up to 270 pounds, and said the weight gain could have contributed to a toe injury he had during his second season.

Now back to about 247 pounds, Harold said he was ready for an impact fourth season with the 49ers until last week’s surprise.

“Luckily, it was a trade and not a cut and I’m just excited to be here, and somebody wanted me enough to trade for me,” Harold said. “I’m prepared for anything. Just need to learn the scheme, whatever they want me to do, I’m all hands on deck.”

Harold said his wife, Kelsey, is 34 weeks pregnant and is already in the Detroit area with a new doctor for the early October due date. Harold said the couple is having a daughter, just like the recent additions to families of quarterback Matthew Stafford and tight end Hakeem Valles.

“I feel like I’m lucky with not going into a place with a lot of young guys, actually seasoned vets who have been, maybe not here, but in a familiar system where they can show me the ropes and teach me everything,” Harold said. “That’s a big plus.”

After entering into a national firestorm by taking a knee during the national anthem in 2016 alongside former teammate Colin Kaepernick, Harold said he will stand with the Lions this season, although they did not vet him on his protest plans.

“I respect them for not asking me,” Harold said. “I feel like that says a lot: They’re focused on ball, just like I am. Like I told the people in San Francisco: Me and my wife talked about it, and I just feel like this is the best thing for me to do right now.

“I’ve got a baby on the way, this is my contract year. I just want to take everything slow and just do what I can do.”

Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.