While he was on the phone in free agency, Alex Anzalone might have felt like he was on the field. The clock was ticking, the heat was rising and Anzalone was weighing several options at once, going back and forth with his agent as he plotted his next move. During one brief stretch on Monday, they spoke more than 10 times. It was ultimately Anzalone's call: 34's the MIC!
"It was hectic and decisions had to be made, and I think I made the right one," Anzalone said Wednesday after signing a three-year, $18.75 million deal to stay with the Lions.
It's a substantial raise for Detroit's middle linebacker and defensive captain, up from the $2.25 million prove-it deal he played on last season. And it's a nod to everything he means to the Lions' defense, which goes well beyond his numbers in the box score. As defensive lineman John Cominsky said of Anzalone after re-signing with the Lions himself, "He’s a coach on the field and we need him."
"We need him up front and we need him in the backend. To have that vocal leader, he’s the quarterback of the defense. He commands the plays and communicates, he gets the back end and the D-line on the same page and you need that," Cominsky said.
If not everyone recognizes Anzalone's value to the Lions, he's happy that those who matter do.
"Not everyone sees that. You can’t see it and you can’t hear it because you’re not on the field," Anzalone said. "It’s part of my role here and I love doing it, so I’m glad I came back for that reason. I feel like I can leave my legacy at a place like this, and part of that is getting everyone situated, getting everyone lined up and just being a coach on the field."
Anzalone is coming off his best season in the NFL. He started every game in the middle of Detroit's defense, which got better as the year went on, and posted career highs in tackles (125), QB pressures (21) and defensive stops (32), the latter defined by Pro Football Focus as plays that constitute a failure for the offense. After grading out poorly in 2021, Anzalone was more effective and much more instinctive in his second season in Aaron Glenn's defense.
His goal in 2023 is to "play at that very high level that I know is in me every single Sunday." If he achieves it, the Lions might have a few more Sundays ahead of them.
"To win and win in this city is going to be the focus," Anzalone said. "The goal is to win playoff games, and that’s something that hasn’t been done here. I forget when the last playoff win was, but I know it was a long time ago and I think that’s everyone’s focus, is to get to that point and truly establish what Detroit is."
Told the Lions' last playoff win came in 1991, three years before he was born, Anzalone laughed and said, "And everyone’s calling me older now, I’m 28, so I guess that’s a long time ago."
If he really wants to leave a legacy in this town, he's got three more years to do it.