Despite the fact that the Detroit Lions and Ezekiel Ansah have yet to make progress toward a new contract, there is no immediate cause for concern.
The 2017 season will play a key role in determining the NFL future of defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Over the course of his four seasons as a member of the Detroit Lions, Ansah has proven to be one of the better pass rushers in the league, and he would likely be closing in on a lucrative new deal at this very moment if his 2016 season had been productive. Unfortunately, in what was largely a lost year, things didn’t unfold the way anyone had envisioned for the former BYU standout.
Ansah, the fifth overall pick of the 2013 NFL Draft, struggled with injuries for much of last season, and while he missed only three games, it wasn’t until the later stages of the year that he began to flash the form that made him the Pro Bowler he had once been. After notching 30 sacks in his first three seasons in the league, he only recorded two in 2016, as he dealt with ankle and shoulder injuries along the way. While there is no reason to believe he won’t bounce back to the dominant defender he was in years past, the Lions likely want to see this play out on the field before making a significant financial commitment to him.
As such, Ansah will likely be playing the 2017 season under the fifth-year option of his rookie contract, that the Lions exercised last May. Per Sportrac, he will earn $12,734,000 in the coming year, a lot of money to be sure, but it affords him no security for the future. If the Lions and Ansah don’t agree to a new deal in the months to come, the team could be forced to apply the 2018 franchise tag, which carries an expected value of approximately $16.9 million.
It is likely the team would prefer to avoid the year-to-year approach by locking Ansah up for seasons to come, and it’s certain he feels the same way, but this could very well prove to be a long process. This reality is reflected by recent reports that the organization hasn’t even opened contract discussions with Ansah, as of yet (per the Detroit Free Press):
Working against Ansah is the fact that his extension will take a backseat to the team’s ongoing contract negotiations with Matthew Stafford. While a dominant pass rusher is valued at a premium, a franchise quarterback will always be an organization’s top priority in matters such as these. It seems a certainty that after spending big in free agency, the Lions brass will want to see what sort of financial arrangement they will have to make with Stafford before awarding big money to any other current members of the roster.
Still, in spite of any hurdles that he might face, Ansah likely isn’t going anywhere. What he has put on tape when healthy is a clear illustration of a high-end pass rushing dynamo. At only 27, Ansah stands as one of the franchise’s key homegrown building blocks, alongside Stafford, top cornerback Darius Slay, and sophomore left tackle Taylor Decker.
These are the players that will likely define the team’s success or failure in the seasons to come, and the Lions are very aware of it. Decker still has three years left on his rookie deal (prior to his own fifth-year option) and Slay has already been awarded a long-term contract. Stafford is the longest-tenured Lion on the roster (outside of veteran long snapper Don Muhlbach), and is certainly due a raise, but Ansah isn’t far behind him in terms of worthiness.
The NFL is a business, and financial matters such as these are often the driving force behind offseason storylines. However, it is very important to avoid reading too deeply into the fact that no progress towards a long-term deal has been made with Ansah, as of yet. The Lions know what sort of player he is capable of being, and when he steps onto the field and proves it once again in 2017, any concerns will have been quelled. In spite of the current lack of movement on his contract, Ezekiel Ansah will almost certainly be a Detroit Lion in 2018 and for many years to come.