Detroit Lions decline Jarrad Davis' fifth-year option

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions have declined the fifth-year option on linebacker Jarrad Davis' contract. Unless the team works out a long-term extension, he is now scheduled to become a free agent next offseason. 

Jarrad Davis

Davis was selected by the Lions with the No. 21 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. As a first-rounder, the Lions held a fifth-year option on his rookie contract. Had the team exercised it, Davis' 2021 salary would have been average of the third-25th highest-paid players at his position, currently projected to be slightly more than $10 million. 

At the time the Lions drafted Davis, he was expected to bolster a struggling unit that was trying to recover from the departures of long-time starters Stephen Tulloch and DeAndre Levy. 

Scouting Davis heavily prior to adding him to the roster, the Lions' brass saw an electric athlete run a 4.56-second 40-yard dash and post a 38.5 inch vertical at his pro day. Both measureables were among the best by a linebacker prospect that year. 

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Additionally, the on- and off-the-field character reviews were stellar. 

"They gave the guy glowing remarks in terms of intelligence, work ethic, toughness, leadership, all of those things," general manager Bob Quinn said after drafting Davis. "It was one after another. It wasn't just one source or one coach. It was everybody in the entire building."

When it comes to passion for his profession and overall coachability, Davis has been everything the Lions could have hoped for when they selected him out of the University of Florida. But through three years, his on-field performance has been mixed results.

Immediately thrust into a starting role as a rookie, Davis recorded nine stops and recovered a fumble in his debut against the Arizona Cardinals, but he also missed two tackles.

Missed tackles proved to be a season-long issue. He finished with 19 his first year, including seven games where he failed to wrap up the ball carrier multiple times.

Davis also struggled in coverage, allowing 82.1 percent of the 56 throws his direction to be completed, according to Pro Football Focus. That led to a reduced role during the second half of that season. 

Davis rebounded nicely in his second season. Despite surrendering a long completion to Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter that cost the Lions a game, Davis showed clear improvements in coverage, trimmed his missed tackles and developed into a weapon as a blitzer, tallying 6.0 sacks. 

Expectations were high entering the 2019 season. He added weight, worked with a pass-rush specialist during the offseason, and had the benefit of a season's worth of experience in coach Matt Patricia's defensive scheme. The stars appeared to be aligning for a breakout. 

"I know what was on the surface and to continue to go deeper into what everything entails, I’m just really excited," Davis said last offseason. "I think we can take another step as a defense. Honestly, I can take another step as a player.  I’m really excited to push myself so I can help push the guys around me so we can all become a better unit."

But any momentum he had was derailed in the preseason, when he suffered an ugly ankle injury in the opening minutes of the team's third game. That sidelined him the first two weeks of the regular season, and although he refused to use the injury as an excuse, he struggled to get back to the level he was playing at toward the end of 2018. 

Davis did have two of the better games of his young career late in the season, recording eight tackles in back-to-back contests against Chicago and Dallas without missing an opportunity. He also forced and recovered a fumble in the loss to the Cowboys. 

Three weeks later, after aggravating his injured ankle in a loss to Minnesota, Davis' season was over. In 11 games, he tallied 63 tackles, 2.0 sacks and three forced fumbles. 

The fifth-year option for first-round picks was part of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, first coming in play after the 2014 season. The Lions have exercised the option for their pick four of the previous five years. The lone exception was with guard Laken Tomlinson, who was traded to the 49ers before a decision needed to be made.

Additionally, the team cut tight end Eric Ebron after exercising the option, before the salary became guaranteed. After this year, the fifth-year option will automatically become guaranteed once it is picked up.