What a difference a week makes.
Before free agency kicked off, the Detroit Lions were looking at a massive lack of talent in their defensive secondary. Of the cornerbacks under contract, only two of them—Jeff Okudah and Jerry Jacobs—had starting experience. The safety group was looking stronger thanks to a breakout debut from Kerby Joseph, but the Lions still had some questions regarding the health of Tracy Walker and DeShon Elliott’s status as an unrestricted free agent. Coupled with questionable depth, it was a group the Lions needed to address this offseason.
As the first week of free agency wraps up, the Lions secondary is suddenly looking like a new beast.
The Lions had a double-whammy start to free agency by signing Cameron Sutton and Emmanuel Moseley. Sutton, a versatile chess piece on defense, figures to be the Lions’ top outside cornerback with the ability to play in the slot and in the box. That alone gives defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn a lot to work with, but the Lions went and added Moseley as well. Moseley may be recovering from an ACL injury, but his recovery timeline puts him well on track to compete for a starting role come August. He gives Detroit yet another starting-caliber cornerback.
That was all fine and dandy, especially with a productive cornerback draft class upcoming. The Lions could add a prospect and be sitting pretty as training camp slowly approaches.
Not so fast.
General manager Brad Holmes pulled the trigger on another massive secondary signing on Sunday night. Arguably one of the top remaining free agents, the Lions reportedly signed defensive back C.J. Gardner-Johnson to a one-year deal. With CJGJ added to the mix, the Lions not only get a third safety to replace Elliott but a very viable nickel corner to boot. Much like Sutton, the Lions added another defensive back with a versatile skillset:
Outside: Sutton and Okudah or Moseley or Jacobs— Erik Schlitt (@erikschlitt) March 20, 2023
Nickel: Gardner-Johnson (Will Harris backup)
Safety: Tracy and Kerby
O. Ver. Haul.
Overhaul indeed. The Lions' secondary went from a significant weakness to very talented in a heartbeat. Not only did the Lions improve their top-end starters, but they also improved the depth as a result of said moves. Regardless of who wins which starting role, the Lions should have a plethora of talent behind them.
The question now is, how will that translate to the field?
Today’s Question of the Day is:
What are your expectations for the Lions secondary in 2023?
My answer: With this roster, I think the ceiling is a top-five secondary, while the floor is top-16.
Starting with the floor, it’s worth noting how bad the Lions secondary has been in recent years. Frequently among the worst units in the NFL, the Lions rightfully made massive free agent moves to correct this problem. If anything, the Lions achieving an average secondary would be a notable improvement over previous seasons. Because I want to exercise some caution, I think expecting them to be a middle-of-the-road secondary at worst is reasonable.
As for ceiling, it’s hard not to imagine this as an elite unit down the road. Joseph and Walker are a phenomenal safety tandem on paper—if Joseph can build on his rookie year and Walker recovers quickly from his injury, watch out. As for the cornerbacks, the Lions now have plenty of options. Gardner-Johnson will play a significant role on defense regardless of where he lines up. The outside cornerback group of Sutton, Moseley, Okudah, and Jacobs is talented and deep. For Okudah in particular, the offseason additions could greatly improve his play, as he will finally have support around him.
After years of being a major weakness of defense, the Lions secondary is finally shaping up into something formidable.