The 2023 NFL offseason is rapidly approaching, meaning a flurry of transactions are set to take place in the coming months. Last year saw a number of playmakers change teams via trades and free agency. This class of free agents lacks some of the star power but has a number of intriguing role players.
Detroit Lions wide receiver DJ Chark is among the better playmakers who will be hitting the open market. Let’s break down why the Lions should want to re-sign Chark, where else he could end up if they trade him, and what his contract could look like.
Why Re-Signing DJ Chark Makes Sense for the Lions
The Lions went on a winning streak to end the 2022 season, making a playoff push that most expected them to in the second year of their rebuild. Their massively-improved offense had a big part of that, ranking fourth in scoring and top-11 as a passing and rushing unit. This jump was the direct result of being healthier across the unit but also adding guys like Chark last offseason.
It was still a year of disjointed availability for the Lions’ receiver room. Amon-Ra St. Brown missed two games, Josh Reynolds missed three games, and Chark missed six. 2022 first-round pick Jameson Williams returned from his torn ACL in Week 13 but barely made an impact as he received a small handful of snaps.
It’s fair to expect Detroit to project Williams into a bigger role in 2023 alongside St. Brown. Chark has a void year in his contract, so he needs to be extended or released. Reynolds and Kalif Raymond are also under contract for a combined $7 million in 2023.
Considering Chark was fourth in targets amongst receivers, there’s an argument to be made investing in him when the defense desperately needs help isn’t wise.
But Chark averaged an absurd 18.1 yards per catch, proving to be far more impactful than Raymond or Reynolds. He’s a much higher-upside player, and Detroit could similarly choose Chark over both of them, then backfill their roles through the draft or their own practice squad since Tom Kennedy and Quintez Cephus have shown promise. The negative is sliding Reynolds into the starting lineup instead of Chark is limiting for the offense because he’s not as good.
Though Chark hasn’t played at a Pro Bowl level consistently since he made the team in 2019, he was a standout player when he was on the field in 2022. It’s not an accident the offense suddenly got out of their funk shortly after he returned from injury. This is a better offense with Chark on the field than off.
Teams That Could Be Interested in DJ Chark
The bad news for Detroit is Chark is a unique threat and, therefore, will draw significant attention on the free agent market. Fast 6’4″ receivers aren’t available often and aren’t cheap once they’ve shown they can play. Expect Chark to have a more robust market this offseason.
Cleveland, Chicago, Atlanta, New York Giants, Houston, Baltimore, and Indianapolis immediately stand out as places with cap space that would benefit tremendously from adding Chark as their No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. The Lions boast volume in their unit, but Chark has to consider that he’s not a long-term piece in Detroit. He could pick from playing with Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson compared to someone who could be replaced in the coming years in Jared Goff.
At only 26, Chark could have a long career ahead of him if he can stay healthy. That’s the biggest question mark at this point. Vertical receivers like Chark don’t usually hit the open market at his age, but his injuries have contributed massively to why he’s in this situation.
What Is DJ Chark’s Market Value?
Chark signed a three-year deal worth $10 million last offseason, but the second and third seasons were void years to help ease the cap hit Detroit faced in 2022. Releasing Chark would actually cost the team almost $6 million in dead cap in 2023 and $3 million in 2024. The Lions can instead extend Chark and pay slightly more just to keep him on the roster instead of “paying” him to play elsewhere.
The thing working against Chark’s market value is his durability. He’s played more than 13 games in a season only once in his career. He was solid in his playing time in 2022 but missing six games is a tough factor for any general manager to account for.
And yet, there’s no denying Chark is an explosive enough downfield threat to justify a similar contract that he received last year. The group of receivers in free agency is bare, with Jakobi Meyers, Chark, and JuJu Smith-Shuster as the most interesting options. We saw receivers get overpaid a bit last year because of the dearth of alternatives, and it may happen again.
Considering Robert Woods, Allen Robinson, and Robbie Anderson are getting north of $14.75 million a year, Chark at $10-$13 million a year is a respectable number. I’d expect him to get another short-term deal that allows him to prove himself and possibly the market again in 2024.
Other Lions Options at Wide Receiver
I think Detroit opts to keep Chark or the duo of Reynolds and Raymond, then opts to add cheaper options to replace whoever is gone. They can afford to draft another talent to the position on Day 2 or Day 3 to eventually replace each of them in the future. Replacing Chark is thought because speed is expensive in the draft and free agency.
Some draft options could include Tennesee’s Jalin Hyatt, Washington’s Rome Odunze, Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson, and Maryland’s Rakim Jarrett. The nice part of drafting one of these players is they may not need to step into a major role right away but will need to be ready in 2024, or if injuries strike again. A rotation would make sense if the rookie is ready for part-time snaps.
Some veterans could at least soak up some snaps. But remember that losing Chark will cost the Lions $6 million, and they’ll get worse if he leaves. Signing someone like Allen Lazard is a downgrade and could cost the Lions at least $10 million with Chark’s dead cap hit and Lazard’s salary. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay a higher-end free agent as a replacement.
Instead, Detroit could take a low-risk chance on Parris Campbell, James Washington, or Noah Brown.