Ex-Lions LB Who ‘Washed Out’ in Detroit Scores Big Contract With Patriots

Jahlani Tavai during training camp in 2021.

Jahlani Tavai struggled to find a role with the Detroit Lions after being selected in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft, playing just two seasons before being waived before the 2021 season.

But the linebacker found a new home with the New England Patriots and has now scored a significant contract after a career-best season. The Patriots just signed Tavai to a three-year contract extension worth up to $21 million with incentives, according to Jeff Risdon of USA Today’s Lions Wire.

It’s a hefty investment for a player who “washed out” in Detroit, Risdon wrote.

“The $15 million base extension is slightly more than what the Lions are paying 2023 first-round rookie Jack Campbell for the same timeframe,” Risdon noted. “It’s a good redemptive deal for Tavai, who has made himself into a quality NFL starter after a very inauspicious start for the Lions.”

Jahlani Tavai’s Short Stint in Detroit

Tavai appeared in 31 total games over the course of two seasons in Detroit, making 116 total tackles and 2.0 sacks. The middle linebacker had a regular role, appearing in 57% of defensive snaps his rookie season and 56% in his second year, but he failed to make the team the following year as the team began a defensive overhaul under new head coach Dan Campbell.

At the time Tavai was released, the Hawaiian-born linebacker ranked 80th out of 83 linebackers by Pro Football Focus, according to John Maakaron of SI.com’s All Lions.

The #Patriots and LB Jahlani Tavai have agreed to a 3-year extension worth $15M, with the potential to reach $21M via incentives, per @MikeReiss. Tavai, a former 2nd-round pick of the Lions, had a career year with 110 tackles and 16 starts last season. 

The Lions tried to find a role for Tavai. Campbell said before he was waived that the team needed to find a way to put Tavai in a position to be successful.

“I think there are certain things he does well. He’s really a hammer. Particularly, he’s probably a first-, second-down inside linebacker,” Campbell said, according to Maakaron. “So, there are things he can do, and I think it’s up to us to put him in the best situation to have success too. So, it’s twofold. He does everything you ask him to do and he gives it everything that he has got.”

Tavai also seemed willing to do whatever the Lions needed from him.

“My goal is to be on defense,” Tavai told reporters just before he was waived. “I want to be a starter, that’s the biggest thing. I’m also going to make sure I’m good with Dave Fipp on special teams. I’ll do whatever, basically, to make this squad.”

Tavai joined the Patriots after leaving Detroit, eventually growing into one of the team’s most reliable linebackers. He started 16 games last season, making 110 total tackles with 1.0 sack and 2 interceptions.

Lions Leaning on Their Own Young Linebacker

The Lions could be leaning on another high draft pick at linebacker. Jack Campbell, a first-round pick in 2023, is expected to take on a bigger role after starting 12 games and making 95 total tackles his rookie season.

Campbell earned some big praise from Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn, who lauded both his play and leadership at the team’s practices in June.

“Let me tell you, first off, he’s a man,” Glenn said, via Colton Pouncy of The Athletic. “He’s a grown man. He’s really taken control of this offseason the way he should take control of it. He’s a true Mike backer. He’s a guy that lives, breathes, green-dot mentality as a Mike backer. …Then just watching him on the field, his zone drop, his mentality as far as going after the football is outstanding.”

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