Jason Cabinda's NFL story is a terrific example for young players fighting to find their place in this league that perseverance and hard work can one day be rewarded.
The former undrafted linebacker turned fullback in Detroit has risen from the ranks of practice squad player to one of the best fullbacks in the NFL. The Lions have taken notice and rewarded Cabinda with a two-year contract extension Thursday that runs through the 2023 season.
"I've been scratching and crawling, if I'm being honest," Cabinda said Thursday after signing his extension of his NFL journey to this point. "Not a whole lot of people know my story about being undrafted and being on practice squad, the defense to offense. It's been quite a roller coaster of a ride.
"To be in a place I can feel more stable and feel focused on my position and growing and knowing exactly what's expected of me and kind of what I need to focus on is huge for me."
Cabinda originally entered the NFL with the Las Vegas Raiders as an undrafted free agent out of Penn State in 2018. He played linebacker exclusively with the Raiders in 2018 before making his first appearance at fullback with the Lions at the end of the 2019 season.
He's worked and developed his game over the last couple years and was a Pro-Bowl alternate and Lions representative for the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award this year as a jack-of-all-trades under first-year head coach Dan Campbell. Cabinda played fullback, H-back and some tight end for the Lions this past season.
He appeared in 14 games (four starts), recording three rushes for 23 yards (7.7 avg.), four receptions for 16 yards (4.0 avg.) and a touchdown while adding seven special teams tackles (six solo).
Cabinda helped plow the way for Detroit's run game to have one of its more productive seasons in over two decades. The Lions recorded 427 rushing attempts for 1,886 yards (4.4 avg.) and 12 touchdowns in 2021, marking the first time Detroit has topped 1,800 rushing yards, 12 rushing touchdowns and maintained a rushing average of at least 4.4 since 1998.
Cabinda said his decision to re-sign with the Lions was an easy one not only for the stability it brings him and his family, but also because of the culture head coach Dan Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes are building here in Detroit. He wants in. Cabinda said he's never had a head coach like Campbell where he can look him in the eye and know Campbell will go to battle with him.
"I think it starts with Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes and them building this foundation from the ground up. That toughness and grit and that attitude and the mentality that we bring to the field," Cabinda said.
"I feel like you saw it in every single game. It was a group that would absolutely not stop fighting, regardless of the score or what it looks like or what happened last play. Me being the fullback and me being kind of that physical enforcer on the offense. That kind of being my role, I'm happy and ready to expand and continue to grow in my role and continue to be a leader for these guys and do what I can as a vet for the younger guys."
In 44 career games (nine starts), Cabinda has produced four rushes for 23 yards (5.8 avg.), six receptions for 24 yards (4.0 avg.) and a touchdown and has added 21 defensive tackles (14 solo) along with 16 special teams tackles (10 solo).
"I feel like I'm one of the better fullbacks in this league," Cabinda said. "I really feel like I can be the best fullback in this league. Kind of seeing what Kyle Juszczyk does for the 49ers and watching his film and studying him and feeling like, 'Man, I don't think there's anything that he does on the field that I can't do.'
"For me, it's just about continuing to hone my craft, continue to get better and really see how far I can take it."