It seems like every year the Detroit Lions enter the offseason needing to make some sort of change at cornerback. After years of Nevin Lawson, the failures of Teez Tabor, Quandre Diggs’ switching positions and a ton of other moves, things have not been the best for the Lions at corner.
The Lions will need to make a move at corner again this offseason. Rashaan Melvin proved to not be the answer playing across Darius Slay, and with Melvin set to hit the open market, Detroit has a chance to make an upgrade.
While Detroit always has a chance to add a cornerback through the draft (most notably Jeff Okudah of the Ohio State Buckeyes), if they plan to go elsewhere with the third pick in the draft, they will need to make a move in free agency.
Here are a few names that will be available in free agency that the Lions should take a look at:
Logan Ryan could be at the top of Bob Quinn’s free agent board this offseason. The Tennessee Titans cornerback previously played under head coach Matt Patricia in New England, and many speculated that he would sign with the Lions when he hit the market in 2017.
Ryan would quickly find himself in a Patriots-esque organization when the Titans handed over the reigns to former New England linebacker Mike Vrabel. While Ryan was not perfect in Nashville, he was a decent man coverage corner and would definitely be the best player Detroit has had across Slay for a very long time.
He is not the biggest corner, though, and he is approaching 30. There are not many younger corner hitting the market, but Ryan’s veteran presence could actually be good for a defensive backfield filled with youngsters.
Jimmy Smith had Hall of Fame potential. The Baltimore Ravens corner was among the league's best during the early parts of his career. Smith was a lockdown corner who looked like he was going to develop into the league’s next star.
Injuries took their toll, though. The corner could rarely stay on the field after a few long-term injuries. Eventually, the injuries caught up to him, and he is no longer the top-tier corner that he once was.
The former first-round pick is set to hit free agency after a long nine years with the Ravens. He will be 32 by the start of the 2020 season as well. He still is a decent corner, though, and the Lions could benefit from him falling off of team’s radars.
Smith still played well in 2019 despite his recent drop in play. His 6-foot-2, 210 pound frame will also make him a perfect fit for what Patricia usually looks for. On top of that, Smith is a great tackler. He is a great candidate for a one-year “prove it” deal to see if he can close out his NFL career on a high. If he can reach his old form, he and Slay could form an elite cornerback duo.
Chris Harris is another name many have been kicking around in regards to the Lions. The team had apparently took interest in a potential deal for the corner last year, and now that he is set to hit the market they get another chance to add him to their ranks.
Harris has played his entire nine-year career in Denver, and has been one of the league’s top nickel corners nearly the entire time. The 31 year old has not lost a step as he has aged either and can still be an elite corner for whichever team signs him.
It is hard to see how he fits in for the Lions, though. Detroit gave Justin Coleman a huge deal last offseason to play nickel, and never gave any sort of indication that he will move outside. Adding Harris means that one of the two would have to move to a position they do not naturally play, and it probably is not worth the premium to play a guy out of position.
After an impressive rookie year, Eli Apple’s career derailed. He was a top-10 selection by the New York Giants in the 2016 draft and managed to live up to his draft status in year one. New York’s locker room became extremely toxic in 2017, though, and he seemed to check out during a disaster season.
Apple was shipped off to the New Orleans Saints halfway through his third NFL season, and things began to click for him. His first year in New Orleans was great, and while he regressed a bit back in 2019, he was still a serviceable CB2.
The corner is only 24 years old as he is set to hit free agency for the first time in his career. If he maintains the same level of play, he will at least be serviceable across Slay. We have already seen in the past that he can play at a top level, though, and we have already seen that a change in scenery can truly boost the young corner’s game.
Apple may attract a few suitors this spring, and if the Lions want him, they may have to ink him to a long-term deal. The risk seems worth it, though, and one could see how the “Patriots Way” mantra of the Lions could get the young corner’s head back in the right place and lead to him returning to his rookie form.