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Custom Devon Kennard Jersey Large

Devon Kennard has heard the joke before.

The Detroit Lions linebacker is involved with so many causes that help metro Detroit youth — from funding scholarships, encouraging reading, raising money for worthy causes, adopting a family at Thanksgiving and working on social-justice and social-resiliency initiatives — it wouldn’t be hard to believe that being a role model is Kennard’s full-time job and that his NFL gig is just a side hustle.

“Hey, I’m very efficient,” the Lions’ co-leader in sacks said with a laugh. “People joke all the time. I’m not a guy that wastes a lot of time. Like I’ve got extra film to (study), I lock in, turn the phone off, get the film done. I go home and spend some time with my family. Then I got the off-the-field stuff. Definitely stay busy.”

Because of all his good deeds, Kennard recently was named the Lions’ nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. The winner will be announced Feb. 1. All nominees received a donation of up to $50,000 for their charity of choice, which for Kennard is the Midnight Golf Program of Detroit.

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Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

“He’s always been a guy that wants to make an impact off the field in the community,” Lions defensive end Romeo Okwara said. “That’s something I definitely look up to as well. As a teammate he’s definitely someone I look up to as far as setting a good example for what it takes to be a real pro.”

The NFL encourages its players to be active in their communities. Some give money. Some give their time. Kennard gives both.

In August 2018, his first season with the Lions, Kennard met Midnight Golf students at training camp and he was instantly taken with them. In 2001, Renee Fluker founded the program that mentors 265 high school seniors four nights a week at Marygrove College through life-skills training and proactive coaching.

“I just go and hang out with the kids,” Kennard said. “Honestly, they’re operating so well that it’s cool just to sit back and watch for a while. Every time I go, I end up speaking to the kids, sharing whatever’s in my ear that day and opening it up for Q and A.”

Kennard makes it seem like it’s not a big deal. But Fluker knows better.
Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard speaks with kids during a Midnight Golf event. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

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“Last (week) he came out and did a presentation,” she said. “The kids were so excited he was there. He told his story about how he went to college and became an NFL player. Just a little background about how passionate he is about young people.

“They’re so excited about him. He’s a great young man, a great role model.”

In the spring, Kennard attended the Midnight Golf closing ceremony and gave $5,000 scholarships to Maya Solomon, who has a 4.0 grade-point average at Florida A&M, and to Jalen Fountain, who has a 3.5 GPA at Eastern Michigan.

But Kennard didn’t make it easy. He has a passion for reading. Last year, he was featured on the PBS series “The Great American Read” and spoke about Gary Paulson’s inspiring young-adult novel “Hatchet.” He wanted the scholarship applicants to explain how they were inspired by a book and they in turn didn’t make it easy for him to choose two winners.
Lions linebacker Devon Kennard awards two scholarships at the Midnight Golf graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 9, 2019, in Detroit.

Lions linebacker Devon Kennard awards two scholarships at the Midnight Golf graduation ceremony on Wednesday, May 9, 2019, in Detroit. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Midnight Golf)

“I just loved the work they were doing,” he said of Midnight Golf. “I felt there was a need there and there are some very bright kids. I wanted to encourage them to read books and really reflect on some books they read, so I created a scholarship.

“So I asked them to choose a book, read it and not only give me a summary of the book but talk about the impact it had on their life, what they learned from the book, how they can apply it to their life. I ended up getting over 60 applications. I read every single one personally myself.”

Need comes in different forms. Kennard met D’Anyra Jones through Midnight Golf and when her mother wasn’t working during Thanksgiving in 2018, Kennard adopted the family and provided them with a Thanksgiving meal and gave them tickets to a Lions game. Jones is a freshman at Bowling Green University and has a 4.0 GPA.

Kennard also donates his time at the Downtown Boxing Gym, which serves about 150 students from 57 schools across metro Detroit. Around Thanksgiving, Kennard joined Matthew Stafford, Danny Amendola and Jarrad Davis to surprise the gym with a new Ford Transit 15-passenger van to transport students.
Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard picks up a fumble for touchdown against the Giants during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019.

Lions outside linebacker Devon Kennard picks up a fumble for touchdown against the Giants during the first half at Ford Field in Detroit, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (Photo: Junfu Han, Detroit Free Press)

Another important cause for Kennard is Detroit Lions Inspire Change, a player-driven social justice initiative he was instrumental in launching after the 2018 season. This summer, Kennard and some teammates met with Detroit police and a panel of male students to discuss finding success despite negative circumstances.

“We had real talks about social resiliency,” he said, “what they’re going through, how to overcome adversity, some challenges they’re facing and how to deal with it.

“And a message I really wanted to send is they’re at a pivotal point in their lives and the decisions I made at their age are having a ripple effect now. And I had friends who made bad decisions at their age and they’re dealing with the repercussions of that as well. So the decisions they make will greatly impact their lives. Moving forward, what kind of decisions are you going to make?”

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Kennard said the players’ efforts in 2018 helped support several organizations that Lions owner Martha Ford also has helped support.

“Last year, we raised a bunch of money between what we did in the locker room and Mrs. Ford matching it,” he said. “We want to do the same this year and really start to take strides with that and raise more money.”

The money is great. So are causes. But mostly, to Kennard, it’s about time. He makes sure not to waste it so that he can spend it being around kids and doing whatever he can to help.

“My approach has always been that the best thing you can give to our youth is time,” he said. “I take the position I’m in seriously of being a role model to kids like that. Just be there. Just hang out for a while and shoot the (breeze) for a little while and just talk.”

Custom Don Muhlbach Jersey Large

ALLEN PARK — Don Muhlbach was working at a bank in East Texas when he got the call from the Detroit Lions. He hopped on a plane, played for the club the following Sunday and has served as the team’s long snapper ever since.

That call, by the way, happened in 2004.

Muhlbach has gone on to play 244 games for Detroit, which ties him for 56th on the NFL’s all-time games played list. He didn’t miss a single game in the last decade, starting all 160 games. And by all accounts, he remains one of the top players at the position at 38 years old.

But general manager Bob Quinn acquired competition for the job once before, selecting long snapper Jimmy Landes in the sixth round of the 2016 draft, and now he’s done it again, signing former North Dakota State long snapper James Fisher to a futures contract on Monday. Fisher has not appeared in an NFL game since turning pro last year.

Punters Jack Fox and Matt Wile were also signed to futures deals, as Detroit begins to rework its special teams. Sam Martin has handled the punting duties since Detroit took him in the fifth round of the 2013 draft, but is eligible to hit free agency in March.

Detroit signed 11 players to futures deals overall, including receiver Victor Bolden, receiver Jonathan Duhart, safety A.J. Howard, receiver Tom Kennedy, defensive tackle Olive Sagapolu, linebacker Christian Sam and guard Casey Tucker.

That’s basically Detroit’s practice squad to finish the regular season, minus quarterback Joe Callahan.

Any player not on a team at the end of the regular season is eligible to be signed to a futures contract, while everybody else is off limits until the start of free agency in March. Futures contracts work just like regular contracts, except they count against the next season’s salary cap and roster limit. Teams can begin signing players to such deals once their season is over.

Custom Jalen Reeves-Maybin Jersey Large

Reeves-Maybin racked up nine tackles on a career-high 65 defensive snaps during Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the Broncos.

Down starting linebackers Jarrad Davis (ankle) and Christian Jones (shoulder), the Lions turned to Reeves-Maybin to handle a large role and the 24-year-old produced nicely. He wasn’t perfect, of course, but he at minimum made for a solid source of production. With Jahlani Tavai (shoulder) now on the shelf as well, Reeves-Maybin should get all the playing time he can handle during Sunday’s season finale against the Packers.

Custom Taylor Decker Jersey Large

Detroit has seen its 2019 season hit rock bottom at 3-9-1, and a bulk of the blame can be directed towards its defense’s poor performance.

With an offseason full of decisions looming, not all of general manager’s Bob Quinn moves will be defense-oriented.

The most impactful decisions he’ll have to make on offense are deciding what to do with the contracts of veteran right tackle Rick Wagner and fourth-year left tackle Taylor Decker.

Both will be cashing a sizable paycheck in 2020.

Are they worth it, though?

Let’s assess and first with Wagner.

Per Spotrac.com, Wagner will be responsible for an $11.9 million cap hit in 2020 — the fourth year on his five-year deal with the organization.

Should the Lions cut him following June 1, they will save $9M in cap with $2.9M of dead money in 2020 and 2021, respectively.

The veteran tackle was recognized by Pro Football Focus as one of the best at his position when he signed in 2017.

However, Wagner presently owns an overall grade of 59.1, along with a 60.2 pass-blocking grade and a 53.9 run-blocking grade.

It adds up to him being ranked the 58th-best tackle in the game, although he possesses the fifth-highest average annual value contract among right tackles and the 21st-highest among all tackles.

The Lions would be taking a risk ridding themselves of a veteran tackle, but they’d be saving a wad of cash by moving on from him after June 1.

Perhaps deploying this plan leads to the signing of another tackle to a less expensive deal or investing the same amount of money or more on a more productive one.

Otherwise, Detroit will be looking towards the draft to find a remedy for its vacant right tackle position or will be asking second-year pro Tyrell Crosby to fill the void.

As for Decker, his cap hit of $3.48 million in 2019 is spiking to $10.35 million in 2020 — the final year of his rookie contract.

At his current level of production, Decker is an above-average tackle making what above-average tackles should make.

However, will the fifth-year pro be worth the price tag next season?

It’s not as definitive of a case as Wagner’s is.

Decker is only 25, and his best football likely has yet to come.

Meanwhile, Wagner is 30, and his best football looks to be behind him.

The common misconception with Decker’s 2019 campaign stems from his atrocious start to the season, allowing two sacks and seven total pressures while committing four penalties in Week 1 at Arizona.

Since then, he’s allowed four sacks, and has committed six penalties across 12 games.

Additionally, he has an overall grade of 75.5, with a 75.0 pass-blocking grade and 70.9 run-blocking grade.

Overall, he grades out as the 13th-best tackle in football, according to Pro Football Focus.

He has bad outings, like most any tackle in the league.

However, with him being just 25 and grading out as one of the league’s top-15 tackles, it’s well worth it for the Lions to go forward with him in 2020.