By: Will Burchfield
To say Ziggy Ansah finished among the top 10 players in sacks last season is not to say he was one of the top 10 pass rushers in the NFL.
Or is it?
The Lions placed the franchise tag on Ansah on Tuesday, believing his game-by-game stat line in 2017 belied his overall performance. Ansah will make about $17.5 million in the 2018 season, currently an NFL high among defensive ends. The two sides have until mid July to reach a long-term agreement.
The dilemma surrounding Ansah is that he racked up 12 sacks last year, but nine of them came in three games, including six in the final two weeks of the season. He wasn’t much of a factor — on the stat sheet, at least — in the other 11 games he played. But Lions general manager Bob Quinn and his staff saw enough on film to justify bringing Ansah back at a steep price.
“He played well down the stretch. The thing about Ziggy that I think really needs to be put out there, when you really watch the tape the offensive line slides to him all the time. You go back and watch this guy, there’s two guys trying to block him, I’d say, more than half the plays,” Quinn said at the scouting combine on Wednesday. “We talk about production. Alright, there’s production on paper, there’s stats lines, there’s sacks, there’s hurries, all that stuff. That’s great, right?
“But when I watch tape and the coaches watch tape, is he doing his job? Is he occupying two blockers and Anthony Zettel’s making a play or Kerry Hyder or A’Shawn (Robinson) or whoever? I think that’s part of the stuff that when you really dive into and watch it, I thought he had a productive year.”
Ansah was ranked the 40th best edge defender in 2017 by Pro Football Focus. Of course, he was dogged by injuries for the second straight season. In 2016 it was his ankle, which cost him three games, and in 2017 it was his knee and later his back, which cost him two. All told, Ansah has been listed on the Lions’ injury report for 25 weeks over the last two years.
Still, he’s missed only five games over that span, which stands out to Quinn.
“Ziggy’s had some injuries, no question, but when you look over his career he hasn’t missed all that many games. One thing about Ziggy, he’s extremely tough. When he can practice, he practices; when he can play, he plays,” Quinn said. “All the behind-the-scenes things that you guys don’t see in terms of him trying to get his body right, whether it was his ankles in 2016 to this year with the knee and a couple other things that popped up, he works extremely hard behind the scenes to try to get ready for Sundays. I have a great deal of respect for that.”
Quinn and Lions head coach Matt Patricia met with Ansah on Tuesday to finalize the franchise tag before traveling to Indianapolis for the combine.
“Coach and I had a good conversation with him about what the future entails,” Quinn said. “We’re not going to get into talking about it with you guys, but we did talk to him, we told him what our plan was. He understands where we’re coming from, we understand where he’s coming from, and we’re looking forward to having him on the team.”
In all likelihood, the Lions will hold off on considering a long-term deal for the 28-year-old Ansah until after the 2018 season. The onus is on him to prove he can stay healthy and productive over 16 games.