Lions re-sign fullback Jason Cabinda

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

The Detroit Lions made a move to keep a piece of the team's puzzle in place ahead of free agency, re-signing fullback and top special teams contributor Jason Cabinda to a two-year contract. Additional terms of the deal weren't immediately available. 

Undrafted as a linebacker out of Penn State in 2018, Cabinda spent his rookie season with the Raiders, prior to being released after his second training camp with the team. He signed on with the Lions practice squad days later, spending much of the year with the unit before a late-season promotion to the active roster, where he primarily contributed on special teams. 

The Detroit Lions made a move to keep a piece of the team's puzzle in place ahead of free agency, re-signing fullback and top special teams contributor Jason Cabinda to a two-year contract.

Cabinda's trajectory changed significantly the following season when the Lions asked him to make the switch to fullback after injury issues created a need. He not only went on to make the roster at that spot, but played more than 400 offensive and special teams combined. 

He maintained that job this past season, the team's first under Dan Campbell, while becoming a fast favorite of the coaching staff for his intensity, coachability and versatility. Seeing a slight expansion of his role in the offense, including some late-season work at tight end to help out a depleted depth chart, Cabinda scored the first touchdown of his career, hauling in a 6-yard pass in the team's victory over the Arizona Cardinals

Cabinda believes those reps at tight end played a key role in the team's decision to keep him. 

"My role was expanding in that sense," he said during a Thursday conference call. "I was lining up in the backfield. I was lining up outside. I was lining up as a tight end. As I saw my versatility in the offense continue to grow, and the coaches were liking the way I was playing and the physicality that I was playing with

"...That's where I really felt like, 'You know, I feel like I'm really one of the fullbacks in this league.' I really feel like I can be the best fullback in this league."

The two-year extension could keep Cabinda in a Lions uniform through the 2023 season. Five years with the same franchise is rare stability for an undrafted player, particularly one who switched positions like Cabinda. 

"It's been quite a roller coaster of a ride," he said. "To be in a place where I can feel more stable, I can feel focused on my position and growing in it, knowing exactly what's expected of me and what I need to focus on is huge for me.

"...It relieves a whole lot of anxiety off of me. I think not a lot of guys talk about mental health and what that toll can be, being on practice squad, being cut, being released, not knowing what next year might look like, things like that. To be in a place where I can just focus on getting better every single day is a blessing."

In addition to his on-field contributions, Cabinda is well-liked in the locker room, even if that wasn't always the case. As a linebacker on the practice squad in 2019, he had a reputation for playing with an over-the-top intensity that rubbed some of the veteran starters the wrong way. 

"I mean, even (former quarterback Matthew) Stafford for a little bit hated me," Cabinda said with a smile. "But I think he understood where I was coming from, man. I was just trying to play, you know? Yeah, those guys hated me. I tried to give them hell every day."

Cabinda also has made an impact in the community during his time with the Lions. He focused his philanthropic efforts on chipping away at childhood illiteracy, leading a summer book drive and participating in weekly virtual reading sessions for Davidson Elementary in Detroit. Cabinda has also run food drives for communities in Oakland, Detroit and Florida. 

For those efforts, the team named him their Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee in 2021. 

"Guys like Jason Cabinda can change the world," Campbell said in a statement when the nomination was announced. "He is a man of principle who sets such a positive example for our entire locker room. Since the day I met him, he has embodied what it means to be a leader on and off the field. With our platform in today's NFL, it is our duty to help lift up the lives of others, and Jason carries this responsibility with dignity and honor."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers