From 'Butters' to better: Lions' Tracy Walker caps turnaround season with big pick

Nolan Bianchi
The Detroit News

Detroit — Tracy Walker had it rough.

A leader of Detroit’s secondary, the fourth-year safety was stuck with a nickname that no defensive back would find appealing: "Butters" Walker.

Lions safety Tracy Walker races off, after posing for fans with teammates, after intercepting Packers quarterback Jordan Love's pass to seal the Detroit victory over Green Bay.

He dropped that nickname on Sunday when he picked off Jordan Love with under 30 seconds left in the Lions’ 37-30 season-finale win over the Green Bay Packers for his first interception since Week 1, 2019 — an 853-day gap.

“Today we can’t call him ‘Butters,’” said defensive back C.J. Moore, who intercepted Love a drive prior to put Detroit in the driver’s seat. “He actually got one.”

It was an up-and-down game that closed a stellar season for Walker, an impending free agent who's due for a raise after what his nose for bringing down the ballcarrier gave the Lions this season. He even tied a career-high in tackles Sunday, coming up with 13.

“Honestly, I’m just happy we got the win,” Walker said. “That goes to the foundation we’ve been trying to establish all year. We’ve been having all types of ups and downs, but today we were able to go out there and play as one. We played as a team today, and we were able to be successful today.”

Still, Walker’s season and the Lions’ win almost ended after a tackle he didn’t make. 

With the Lions leading 27-22 in the fourth, Walker whiffed on a tackle during a tight end screen to Green Bay’s Josiah Deguara that wound up going for a 62-yard touchdown to put the Packers up, 30-27.

“I know I gotta make the tackle, but I’m human, too,” Walker said. “He gets paid on the other side of the ball as well, so shoutout to him for making me miss. … I made up for it in the long run.”

That he did, and he’s got those two late interceptions — plus a rushing touchdown from D’Andre Swift that regained the lead — to thank for why Detroit closed the last six weeks of its season on a 3-3 run. 

For Walker, that final stretch of the season represented growth of a team that asked him to do a lot of heavy lifting, and didn’t always have top-flight talent alongside him in the secondary. The former third-round pick out of Louisiana led the team in tackles and set a single-season career high with 107. 

That’s quite a bounce-back season after the Matt Patricia-led Lions took him away from free safety in 2020, the place on the field where he’s most impactful. Now comes the wait, as it’s still unclear whether exactly what Walker’s future holds.

More: Ranking the Lions' impending unrestricted free agents

But given his postgame comments, one would have a hard time believing that he wants to play anywhere else. He certainly doesn’t talk like someone who plans on starting all over again in someplace new.

“We’ve had so many ups and downs this year, that I don’t think we give enough credit to Dan Campbell. He’s a hell of a coach,” Walker said. 

“He’s always preparing us, each and every week, to go out and compete against the best of the best. At the end of the day, I feel like things are coming together, and we see that. … Sometimes life doesn’t go your way, but hey, life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you respond. And we responded the right way today, so that’s how we look at it.”

And he definitely doesn’t sound like someone who’s interested in trying to jibe with a third coaching staff in three years. 

“I feel like with these coaches, they believe in the players,” Walker said. “They understand what it’s like to be a player, first off, so they’re open ears. Sometimes we might not be right as players, but they’re still open to hear it. That’s the biggest thing for me. That was the biggest difference, honestly. I respect these coaches for that, giving me a voice, and allowing me to voice my opinions, and hearing me out, regardless if I’m right or wrong.

“That’s the difference between these coaches. That’s why I respect them the way I do.”

Nolan Bianchi is a freelance writer.