Lions' Miles Killebrew thrust into union role during NFL's most challenging offseason

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

It's been a busy offseason for Detroit Lions safety Miles Killebrew.

On the personal side, he got married, while professionally, he navigated the waters of NFL free agency for the first time in his career, opting to re-sign with the Lions for a fifth season.

And on top of all that, he was unexpectedly thrust into a leadership role as the team's NFLPA representative during one of the most uniquely challenging offseason's in league history. 

Miles Killebrew

To be fair, Killebrew was both prepared and well-suited for the role. Each offseason, the league's players union holds an annual meeting open to all members. Attendance includes a flight to the location and board. Encouraged by former teammate Don Carey to take an interest in his rights as a player, Killebrew began attending the meetings early in his career. 

Carey, who last played in 2018, has transitioned into a political career. He was elected to the Chesapeake (Virginia) City Council earlier this year. 

As for Killebrew, he served as one of the team's three alternates for team representative Devon Kennard in 2019. That hierarchy would have stayed in place had the Lions not released Kennard, the team's most-recent Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee, back in March. 

Enter Killebrew, who now serves as the voice of his teammates as the league and its player union worked through adjustments to financial and safety measures surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. 

More: Lions activate Kenny Golladay off COVID-19 reserve list

"We would be in meetings every single day, or every other day, these last couple months leading up to report day," Killebrew said in a Wednesday phone call with The Detroit News. "Because everyone wanted to know, hey, are we reporting or are we not? You know what does that look like? That was a that was a question a week away from coming out to Detroit."

Ultimately, the two sides were able to hash out a plan, with players reporting to training camps around the league July 28. Included in that plan was the ability to opt out of the 2020 season. Players exercising that option receive a $150,000 stipend against future earning to bridge their temporary unemployment. 

This isn't the first time Killebrew, 27, has been steered into a leadership role outside the lines of the field. While at Southern Utah University, classmates encouraged the affable football player majoring in engineering to run for class government, where he won a seat as a senator. 

It's the mix of intelligence, inquisitiveness and congeniality that make him a good fit to represent his teammates in labor discussions. Along with his educational background in math, Killebrew also took his share of business courses, so he's comfortable with the economic concerns players face in negotiations, particularly as a mid-round draft pick empathetic with the needs of the league's middle class.

But this year, more than usual, financial considerations had to be balanced against safety protocols as the NFL tries to play the 2020 season amid an ongoing pandemic. 

"I care about the guys and that's why I'm doing all this," Killebrew said. "Whenever we started talking numbers, as much as I love numbers, as much as I love talking about that and all the hypothetical situations and stuff, at the end of the day, I was like, well, I want to make sure my guys are good and safe."

More: Kicker Matt Prater adjusts to changing winds entering seventh season with Lions

And while there are no guarantees against the nondiscriminatory nature of the COVID-19 virus, Killebrew feels the Lions have made things easy on the safety end. He's been impressed by how thorough the organization has been in preparations around the facility. 

"I didn't have much objection because I don't know how familiar you are with it, but it's the safest place in the world right now inside that practice facility," Killebrew said. "They make it so easy. They definitely didn't you can tell when people are trying to cut corners. And there were definitely no, no corners cut.

"I'm one of those guys where I can't, I don't want to get my wife sick, if I ever got sick," he continued. 

"That kind of has a perspective where I'm like hey, if I if I can go in there feel uncomfortable like my wife's sick then I'm good."

So far, the Lions have had eight players land on the league's COVID-19 reserve list, which means they either tested positive for the virus or knowingly came in close contact with someone else who did. Four of those players have already been cleared to rejoin the team for conditioning, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, who the team empathically declared experienced a false-positive during testing.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers