The Detroit Lions are in cornerback purgatory, so to speak. It’s not really a pressing need right now, but it could be in a hurry. They likely feel pretty good about last year’s third-round pick Ifeatu Melifonwu, but it’s unclear whether he’ll be ready for a starting role in 2022. Beyond that, it’s even harder to judge.
Amani Oruwariye is coming off his best season yet, but he’s entering a contract year. Jeff Okudah appears like he’ll be ready to play by training camp, but who knows what we’ll see out of the third-year corner following an Achilles injury? Jerry Jacobs is coming off a torn ACL, and the Lions’ starting nickel position is likely still up for grabs despite a promising rookie season from undrafted AJ Parker.
At the very least, the Lions could use some competition at a position filled with unknowns. Detroit could also a veteran presence or even a starter added to one of the youngest rooms in football.
Here are some of the top fits that free agency has to offer.
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A former undrafted prospect out of Alabama, Wallace eventually worked his way to the starting lineup with the Buffalo Bills in his rookie season four years ago and stay there. He’s had two interceptions in each of the last three seasons, and is coming off a career-high 10 passes defended in 2021. That’s especially impressive considering Wallace was bumped up to CB1 duties in Buffalo when Tre’Davious White was lost for the season in November.
Wallace won’t garner a CB1 contract, though. Spotrac estimates a three-year, $28 million contract for Wallace, while PFF is a little more conservative at three years, $22.5 million.
It’s a significant investment for a team that may already have a CB2 they’re happy with (Oruwariye), but it would be welcome competition with CB1 upside.
Capable of playing the nickel or on the outside, King could be a more value-based option for the Lions. He’s coming off a rough season with the Texans, who used him as more of an outside cornerback, but he had some very productive years in the slot with the Chargers.
That’s probably where he’d be best used, and he would be veteran competition for Parker in nickel sets. Last year, King signed a one-year, $3 million deal, but with the struggles he went through with Houston, he’ll probably go for a little less this offseason.
We’re cheating here by listing him as a cornerback, but for good reason. While all the focus has been on Saints safety Marcus Williams as a potential signing for the Lions, P.J. Williams may be an even better fit. But don’t take my word for it. Here’s what current Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn had to say about P.J. Williams in 2020, when serving as his defensive backs coach:
That’s the thing I was talking about with the veterans we have. They just know football, and you just give them some parameters to play in and some ideas on how we have to do certain things, and they’ll go out there and perform for you. And that’s what P.J. did for us. So P.J., in baseball they call them five-tool players. I don’t know if I’m saying it the right way they use it, but P.J. can play safety for us – and that’s either one, free or strong. He can play the nickel, he can play the dime, he can play corner for us. So he’s a very valuable player for our defense. You hear coaches talk about now position-less players, and I see him being one of those guys.
The Lions could use help at safety. They could use help at nickel. They could use help at outside cornerback. As we saw last year, the Lions are not afraid of moving players in the secondary around, and Glenn clearly values that versatility in his players.
Williams will be 29 years old by the time the season starts, so he’ll bring a much-needed veteran presence to Detroit’s secondary, and he won’t break the bank in a way Marcus will.
Witherspoon has never been a full-time starter in his five years in the league, but he’s started 36 games over his career and filled in relatively well when called on. After four productive seasons with the 49ers, he was signed then traded by the Seahawks to the Steelers. He didn’t get a real shot on the field until Week 11, but produced a solid 75.8 PFF grade in nine games and three starts last season.
At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Witherspoon is primarily a tough, physical outside cover corner who could be had for a reasonable price. His experience means he could push for playing time right away, especially if Okudah and Jacobs aren’t ready to go at the start of the season.
The Lions coaching staff did a good job of resurrecting players’ careers last season, and Fuller’s reputation could use some rehabilitation. At 30 years old, his best days might be behind him, but with the right coaching Fuller still has CB1 upside. Pairing him with Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant could just be what Fuller needs after posting three straight seasons with a sub-65.0 PFF grade. Prior to that, though, we’re talking about an All-Pro, No. 1 cornerback.
Given his recent struggles, he won’t break the bank in free agency, either.