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2020 Detroit Lions positional preview: The future at cornerback hangs in the balance this offseason

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What is the future at CB in Detroit? The next three months will tell us a lot.

NFL: DEC 29 Packers at Lions Photo by Steven King/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

For the last few years, Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn have desperately tried to get a top cornerback in Detroit. They went after Richard Sherman a couple years ago, and they followed it up by nearly trading for Chris Harris Jr. at the 2019 deadline.

It’s become abundantly clear that the Lions value the cornerback position. Their failure to land a cornerback over the past two seasons has put them into an urgent situation: Darius Slay—their Pro Bowl cornerback—is facing an uncertain future and there doesn’t appear to be many, if any, in-house options to replace him.

In other words, the future at cornerback will likely be decided in the next three months.

Previous positional breakdowns: QB, RB, TE, WR, OT, G/C, DE, DT, LB

Cornerback

(Final year under contract in parentheses)

Under contract: Darius Slay (2020), Justin Coleman (2022), Jamal Agnew (2020), Amani Oruwariye (2022), Michael Jackson (2020)

Free agents: Rashaan Melvin (UFA), Mike Ford (ERFA), Dee Virgin (ERFA)

There are more Lions cornerbacks facing free agency than there are signed beyond 2020. This offseason presents a crossroads for the Lions and the player at the focal point is Darius Slay. Slay obviously wants a pretty lucrative deal this offseason, but it’s not an easy contract to justify given Detroit’s needs and Slay’s age. But the prospect of losing him—with no clear successor or backup—is equally troubling.

Outside of Slay, Coleman is the only player this team is currently tied to long term, and he’s coming off a fairly disappointing season in Detroit. Amani Oruwariye is signed for a few more years, but as a fifth-round pick, he has a lot to prove, and his job security is anything but stable. The fact that Detroit opted to start Rashaan Melvin instead of giving Oruwariye some late-season reps shows that the coaching staff still believes Oruwariye has a long ways to come.

As for the free agents, Melvin is a tough re-signing to justify after an up-and-down season. Mike Ford and Dee Virgin bring enough special teams talent to earn new deals in Detroit, especially as exclusive rights free agents, who are both easy and cheap to re-sign.

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Level of need: 9/10

The Lions are virtually guaranteed to add at least one starter-level quality cornerback this offseason. Free agency provides plenty of options, especially with defensive coordinator Cory Undlin now on the coaching staff. The Lions could make a run at a few of his former players, including Chris Harris Jr. or Ronald Darby.

Then, of course, there’s Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah, who will likely be sitting there for the taking with the Lions’ No. 3 overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Okudah has everything the Lions want in a cornerback, the only question being his value at three. Ideally, the Lions would trade down a few spots and still snag Okudah, but there’s always a risk in not just grabbing the guy when you have a chance.

One thing is for certain, though. The Lions need a No. 2 cornerback, and they may need a No. 1 cornerback, too. That makes cornerback one of the biggest priorities this team will have in 2020.