The Lions biggest Achilles’ heel this season has been their porous run defense. They ranked 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed and – even more concerning – dead last with 5.3 yards per carry allowed. With every team in the NFC North at .500 or better (Detroit is 3-3), the Lions needed to make a splash before next week’s trade deadline or risk being fizzled out of the divisional race.
Detroit has also seen firsthand just how important a good run defense is. In their three losses, they allowed on average 180.67 rushing yards per game. In their three wins, they allowed just 98 rushing yards per game.
Enter Damon Harrison, one of football’s best run defenders and a man acquired today by the Lions for just a fifth-round pick due to his hefty salary. This season has been much of the same for the 29-year-old. He is tied for second in the NFL with 16 run stops and tied for third (with new teammate A’Shawn Robinson) with a run stop percentage of 14.3, per Pro Football Focus’ metrics. He led the league in run stops from 2015-17
Additionally, he is someone under team control through the 2020 season, so Detroit has landed someone who is a long-term solution to their run defense woes. He will earn $7 million in 2019 and $9.25 million in 2020.
Detroit also had two fifth-round picks after acquiring one from the 49ers last year in the Laken Tomlinson trade. Though at the moment, it’s not clear which pick was sent to the Giants, Detroit was essentially able to spin Laken Tomlinson, who was a bust first round draft pick, into one of the league’s top run defenders. By all accounts, this trade is a big win for Detroit.
For New York, Harrison has become just another Jenga piece removed from Jerry Reese’s tower as new General Manager Dave Gettleman seeks to completely blow up this roster. During the season alone, Ereck Flowers was released, Eli Apple was traded and now Harrison is headed to Motor City. While Harrison is easily the most talented of the bunch, his salary forced the team to get such a meager return. The key factor for trading Harrison was opening up salary cap space. As talented as Harrison is, the Giants are headed to a rebuild and Harrison wouldn’t be around by the time the Giants are ready to compete again. The Giants now have $27.47 million in cap space and will likely do more roster purging before the new league year. Not to mention, New York drafted Harrison’s heir last year in Dalvin Tomlinson.
New York likely isn’t done trading either. Janoris Jenkins should be the next on the block along with Olivier Vernon, while Eli Manning could become a cap casualty in the offseason. If all three of these players depart, the Giants will have more than $78 million in cap space available.