Lions keep starting DE Okwara on two-year deal

The Detroit Lions had to make a potential restricted free-agency decision on defensive end Romeo Okwara. On Friday, the team bypassed all of that, signing him to a new, two-year deal instead.

Okwara, 23, was a massive find for Detroit last season after he was claimed off waivers following his release by the Giants during the cutdown churn in September. He started 14 games for the Lions and led the franchise with 7.5 sacks.

It was a breakout year for Okwara, who played college football at Notre Dame. After starting four games in two seasons with the Giants, he had a career year, with 14 quarterback hits to go with the 7.5 sacks he registered. He also forced the first fumble of his career.

General manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia praised Okwara throughout the past two months, making him sound like part of the future of the organization instead of someone who might not be around. That echoed what Patricia's assistants said during the season.

"I see in growth in Romeo. I see growth every week. He's a guy that goes out there and tries to get better and does get better," defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said. "He's got a terrific skill set, he's explosive, he's got long arms, he's got a long torso, he's a tall guy, he's a big guy. He will develop and put on more bulk as he goes that will really help him because he plays with his hand in the dirt a lot.

"But a really good instinctive player, very explosive player. A guy who competes very hard, and he's got a tremendous personality. He's a great guy to be around, he's a real positive guy. He's a very good, young player who we really like."

Bringing back Okwara gives the Lions at least some stability at edge rusher, with Ezekiel Ansah expected to become a free agent later this month and not many proven options behind him.

Having Okwara on the roster at least gives Detroit some flexibility, but the club is expected to pursue pass-rushers in the draft and free agency.

Had the Lions chosen to give him a restricted free-agency tender, they would have had to do so at either $2.025 million for an original round tender (which would have netted the Lions nothing in return if a team matched) or a second-round tender of $3.095 million. Now the club doesn't have to worry about re-signing him again until after the 2020 season.