Devin Taylor came into the 2016 season with high expectations. In 2015, he was the team’s second best run defender and second best pass rusher in the defensive end group. Stepping into the the full time role as the starter opposite Ziggy Ansah was supposed to propel Taylor into the NFL’s second tier of pass rushers. The Lions were supposed to have a tough choice on how much they wanted to spend on a second starter at the defensive end spot. None of those things happened. Lions fans have gone from anointing him as the next budding superstar, to blaming him for the Lions’ pass rushing woes.
Devin Taylor’s Performance
Taylor had a down season but he was far from worthless. He logged more snaps than any other Lions defensive lineman, edging Kerry Hyder by eleven snaps. Taylor was forced into a role he was not prepared for with the injury to Ziggy Ansah. Devin Taylor is a competent secondary pass rusher and not capable of overcoming the extra attention he garnered at the top of the Lions defensive end rotation. That has led some to call this a bad year but Taylor’s production was equal to the man he replaced in the Lions starting line up.
Jason Jones averaged 4.75 sacks and 26.5 tackles in his two seasons as the Lions starting left defensive end. Devin Taylor had 28 tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2016 playing the same role. He did that while shouldering additional pass coverage responsibilities that were never a part of Jones’ job description. The Lions defense ran a more zone blitz heavy scheme than in previous years under Teryl Austin. They were routinely dropping players like Taylor and Haloti Ngata into pass coverage while blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Taylor is not a bad player, but he certainly did not develop into the double digit sack artist Lions fans were hoping for.
Devin Taylor’s Contract
The 2016 contracts of Jason Jones and Carolina Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson are likely comparables for Taylor. Jones was coming off successive seasons similar to the one Taylor just had. Taylor however, has shown more ability as a pass rusher, which would likely get him slightly higher offers. Johnson was coming off an injury plagued and ineffective season but has a history of pass rush ability and stayed with the team that drafted him. Jones found himself without a contract when the large deals were being given out. He was forced to settle for a one year deal for about $1.4 million. Johnson received a one year $3 million contract.
Devin Taylor is not going to garner any offers for lucrative multi-year deals and the guaranteed money he receives is likely to be minimal. I would suggest that the Lions could retain Taylor for between $1.75-2.25 million for one more year. He may even sign a multi-season deal at a very low price tag for a relatively small amount of guaranteed money. This salary level would be in the range of a 250-300% raise for Taylor who was a spectacular value even in this down year.
So Should the Lions Keep Devin Taylor?
This really comes down to where the blame for the breakdown of the Lions defense lies. Did the pass coverage fail because of a lack of pressure from the defensive line? Alternatively, was it unreasonable to expect the line to pressure quarterbacks whose first read was always open for an easy completion? I believe that both are true. Those factors combined with the injury plagued linebacker corps make this season a write-off. Taylor has been successful in the Lions defensive scheme.
Taylor, Kerry Hyder, and a healthy Ansah could be an effective defensive end rotation. Taylor is not a top-tier priority in free agency; if he is willing to sign a reasonable deal he is a good option for the Lions. Signing Taylor would not preclude spending an early draft pick on a pass rusher, but would reduce the necessity. Anthony Zettel also improved as the season went on but may require another season to develop. Signing Taylor would also prevent the Lions from forcing Zettel into a role for which he is not ready.
Bottom Line: The Lions should keep Devin Taylor.