The Detroit Lions desperate need at cornerback may have cost them more than anything else last season. While Darius Slay was fine, even in a down year, the revolving door of below-average corners across from him cost them dearly down the stretch.
If the Lions hope to compete for a title in 2019 they must address their need at CB2. With the 2019 draft class shaping up to be weaker than we once expected, Detroit may have to find their answer on the free agent market.
Today we will take a look at a few free agents who Detroit may be interested in. Fist, let’s go over some names that are excluded from the list:
Ronald Darby: Arguably one of the best corners in the NFL in recent seasons. The Philadelphia Eagles plan to let Darby hit the open market after he tore his ACL last November. Darby would command a huge deal if healthy, but with him set to miss the first half of the season, he does not give the Lions the immediate help they need.
Bryce Callahan: Callahan is one the best players to hit the open market this offseason and will command a huge deal from the team that nabs him. The corner lined up at nickel for the most part, though, and with Quandre Diggs and Nevin Lawson already on the roster the team should instead invest in an outside corner.
Jason Verrett: Verrett was an elite corner in his first two NFL seasons — 2014 and 2015 — but he has not been able to stay on the field ever since. He missed out on the entire 2018 season, and while he does have potential to be a star if he can stay healthy, it is hard to see Detroit investing into him.
Bradley Roby: He is not good, he just went to Ohio State so people think he’s good.
Now for the list:
Kareem Jackson (Houston Texans)
Jackson was an underrated player in a lackluster Texans secondary last season. He intercepted two passes and tied his career high with 17 pass break-ups in 2018. The corner has not missed a game in over two seasons and has never played less than 12 games in any of his nine seasons. Availability has never been an issue for him.
He will be 31 by Week 1, though, so Jackson is not a long term fix for Detroit. While he is arguably the best healthy outside corner on the open market, he may not command a huge deal because of his age. Jackson may have a lot of suitors, but if Detroit does land him they may not have to pay much of a premium.
Morris Claiborne (New York Jets)
Clairborne is another veteran free agent set to hit the market. The 29-year-old corner intercepted two passes and defended 14 others in 2018. He is worse than Jackson in virtually every aspect, including availability, but that also may mean he is cheaper and an easier get for general manager Bob Quinn.
If Detroit chooses to draft a corner on either of the first two days of the draft, signing Claiborne to a one-year deal to a be veteran presence that a rookie can learn under could be valuable. He will not be great, but he has shown that he can do a lot more than anyone Detroit had at CB2 last season.
Jason McCourty (New England Patriots)
McCourty emerged as a star in the backfield of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last season. He will be 32 by the time the season starts, though, and has never been a consistently great player in 10 NFL seasons.
The corner has potential to step into the Lions defense and instantly be a great starting level CB2. There is also a chance that he was only good last season because of the Patriots system™️ and regresses back to the below-average level he played at for the Tennessee Titans years ago. It would be a risky signing, but one with a lot of upside.
Steven Nelson (Kansas City Chiefs)
The Chiefs traded away Marcus Peters last offseason and Nelson stepped up to be the perfect play-making corner they needed to replace him. He intercepted four passes and broke up 15 passes last season. He has some of the boom-or-bust qualities that his predecessor did, but the 26-year-old corner has potential to only get better from here.
Nelson may get paid well this offseason. A team with an abundance of cap space may take a risk and overpay him, banking on his potential. Detroit may be priced out of Nelson’s market, but if they are not, he could be a worthwhile pick-up to play across Slay.
Eric Rowe (New England Patriots)
Many Lions fans may remember Rowe from Thanksgiving 2015, when Calvin Johnson dominated him for a three touchdowns in a commanding Detroit victory.
The corner was later traded to the Patriots and ended up winning a pair of Super Bowls, though, and now is hitting the open market for the first time in his career.
Rowe is not a great player, but he an affordable option that can do a decent job as a starter. There may not be too many suitors for his services and his experience playing with head coach Matt Patricia in the past may make Detroit the favorites for signing him.
Rowe only has two career interceptions and 16 career pass breakups. He would be nothing more than a stop gap in Detroit, as the team would probably draft a rookie to wait in the wings behind him.