The Detroit Lions have many critical roster decisions to make this offseason, both in free agency and through the draft. One free agent that has caught the attention of many teams is 49ers linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair.
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Johnny Holland, San Francisco’s linebackers coach, calls linebacker Fred Warner “Tesla” because “you can plug him in and he goes all day, and he can get from zero to 60 really fast.” He calls Greenlaw and Al-Shaair “wolf dogs” because “a wolf dog is going to hunt all the time, because a wolf dog is a survivor.”
Since going undrafted in 2019, Al-Shaair has shined in part-time duty behind Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw. He has racked up 199 tackles (11 for loss) in just 31 NFL starts. At 25, his best football is ahead of him and the Detroit Lions may want to hop on that train.
“I sometimes would call him a dirty player,” said Holland. “He was relentless, always trying to take someone’s head off. But why? I realized it was because of his background. Dre (Greenlaw) was the exact same way. They’ve got that chip, but they’ve learned to corral that anger and become really good football players.”
Al-Shaair has proven to be a strong speed-based linebacker in his four seasons with the 49ers, often utilized in passing situations or against spread-out offensive formations. He has the quickness and instincts to excel in this role and could potentially share a starting position with Lions’ LB Malcolm Rodriguez, who struggled with coverage as his rookie season progressed.
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The 49ers have already signed linebacker Fred Warner to a lucrative contract extension last offseason. This offseason, Dre Greenlaw is eligible for a new contract for the first time. The 49ers will have to determine whether they can afford to keep all three players. Experts estimate that Al-Shaair will command an annual salary of between $4-6 million.
The $5 million a year would put Al-Shaair in line with Jordan Hicks of the Minnesota Vikings, who got $5.95 million in guaranteed money. It lands him close to Christian Kirksey of the Houston Texans. Kirksey gets $4 million, all fully guaranteed. It’s safe to say we can expect Al-Shaair to command somewhere in the $4.5 million to $6 million range for, mainly because he’s much younger than Hicks, & Kirksey, who are both 30.
Does Al-Shaair make sense for the Detroit Lions?
Azeez Al-Shaair fits well alongside Malcolm Rodriguez. Al-Shaair’s strengths compensate for Rodrigo’s weaknesses, especially in the passing game where Rodrigo struggled throughout the year. He is a tackling machine, who you will consistently see around the ball regardless if he is the one making the play. He matches the attitude and playing style of the foundation being built on the defensive side of the ball in Detroit. Al-Shaair is consistently overlooked throughout his football career, but there is no denying the size of the chip on his shoulder. Should the Lions reward him and give him a chance?
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