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Akeem Spence could push to be starter on Lions defensive line

Akeem Spence has 5.5 sacks in four NFL seasons. Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions spent the first official day of free agency changing their front seven, and part of that was bringing in Akeem Spence, who could push to become a starter. The former Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle was part of a good group in Florida, and he should be used to the attacking style defensive coordinator Teryl Austin likes in his interior defensive linemen.

Terms (according to ESPN Stats & Information): Three years, $9 million with escalators that could jump it up to $10.5 million. He has a signing bonus of $2.25 million with $3.5 million of his overall deal guaranteed. In 2017, base salary of $1.25 million is fully guaranteed with a roster bonus of $15,625 per game he's on the 46-man roster with a cap at $250,000. In 2018, he has a base salary of $2.4 million with a roster bonus of $15,625 per game he's on the 46-man roster with a $250,000 cap. He also has up to a $750,000 escalator available based on playing time. In 2019, he has a base salary of $2.15 million with the same roster bonus and escalator structure as 2018. His cap hits are $2.25 million for 2017, $3.5 million for 2018 and $3.25 million for 2019.

Grade: B-minus. Spence isn’t a star, but he could fit in Detroit’s defensive tackle rotation quite well. He has had double-digit tackles in each of his four seasons and could be a good potential replacement for Haloti Ngata down the road. His size -- 6-foot-1, 307 pounds -- is intriguing as well because he’s a bigger body in the mold of Ngata and recently re-signed Khyri Thornton.

What it means: The Lions are trying to upgrade their defensive line. Spence started at least four games every season and should be no worse than a rotational player in the middle for the Lions. With what he is reportedly being paid -- although it’s tough to tell without guaranteed cash -- he is getting the type of money that could place him into consideration as either a starter or a key reserve. He’s also young, at 25, so the Lions are trying to sign a player who could spend the prime of his career in Detroit, as they likely believe he is an ascending player. His signing likely means the end of Tyrunn Walker’s time in Detroit and potentially Stefan Charles' as well. Combined with another Thursday signing, Cornelius Washington, it’s clear that general manager Bob Quinn is trying to revamp the depth on the defensive line.

What’s the risk: Spence has already violated the NFL’s substance abuse policy once and was suspended for the season opener in 2015 after an arrest on a possession of marijuana charge. He had back surgery in 2015 after what was his most productive season in 2014, when he had 29 tackles, three sacks and two fumble recoveries. He played the second-fewest snaps of his career last season and had 19 tackles. He wasn’t being used very much in Tampa by the end of the season, as he played 15 or fewer snaps in each of the Bucs' last seven games. Those are things to keep an eye on. This is a signing that has a lot of potential, but the production hasn’t always been there.