Former Lions Starting Safety Joins New Team: Report

Safety remains an area of the roster the Detroit Lions could still add to this offseason. But the possibility of the Lions re-signing long-time Lions safety and former starter Will Harris is officially off the table.

NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported on May 1 that Harris signed a 1-year contract with the New Orleans Saints.

“Former Lions DB Will Harris has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the Saints, source says,” wrote Garafolo on X (formerly Twitter). “Former third-round pick out of Boston College heads to New Orleans after five years in Detroit.”

Former #Lions DB Will Harris has agreed to terms on a one-year deal with the #Saints, source says. Former third-round pick out of Boston College (cc: @TomPelissero) heads to New Orleans after five years in Detroit. pic.twitter.com/mKfo6DCNOz

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) May 1, 2024

Harris began his career as the No. 81 overall selection in the 2019 NFL draft. He started 40 contests in five seasons with the Lions, including all 17 games during the 2021 season.

But this past season, Harris saw his defensive playing time greatly diminish. He started a career-low two contests and posted 18 combined tackles, including 1 tackle for loss, 2 pass defenses and 1 interception in 17 games.

Safety Will Harris Signs With New Orleans Saints

At the conclusion of his rookie contract following the 2022 season, Harris signed a 1-year deal to remain in Detroit. But history didn’t repeat itself this offseason.

After seeing their secondary finish 27th in pass defense, the Lions elected to overhaul the back end of their defense. Harris left on his expiring contract, fellow safety Tracy Walker was released and cornerback Jerry Jacobs didn’t receive a tender offer.

Then during the draft, the Lions added cornerbacks Terrion Arnold and Ennis Rakestraw in the first two rounds. Detroit also selected Sione Vaki, who played running back and safety in college, during the fourth round.

Vaki is expected to play a role on special teams, which is where Harris shined while not receiving much playing time on defense in 2023. Harris was fourth on the team with 294 special teams snaps last season.

Harris lined up for just 192 defensive snaps during 2023. His previous career low was 312 defensive snaps in the 2020 season.

Before 2023, Harris was a versatile defensive back, playing safety, cornerback and nickel in his first four seasons. But he didn’t receive much opportunity at any of those positions in 2023.

In fact, Harris played just 20 defensive snaps in Detroit’s final 13 contests, including the postseason.

Lions Safety Depth Heading Into 2024 Minicamps

Harris left behind a vacancy on special teams that the Lions need to fill. And again, the team could probably use another experienced defensive back with the ability to play safety.

But both of Detroit’s starting safeties from the end of last season — Kerby Joseph and Ifeatu Melifonwu — will return in 2024.

Melifonwu emerged as a playmaker in the Lions secondary after Thanksgiving. He started the final eight contests, including the postseason, and posted 42 combined tackles with 4 tackles for loss. He also had 5 sacks, 8 quarterback hits, 7 pass defenses, and 2 interceptions.

Joseph has been a starter in each of his first two seasons for Detroit. He had 82 combined tackles and 4 interceptions during both 2022 and 2023. Last season, he also had 11 pass defenses.

For safety depth, the Lions signed undrafted free agents Chelen Garnes and Loren Strickland following the 2024 NFL draft. They also have Brandon Joseph on the roster.

Brandon Joseph played 14 special teams snaps but no snaps on defense in 2023.

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