clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 thoughts on the Detroit Lions’ trade of Jeff Okudah

Breaking down the Jeff Okudah trade and what it means for the Detroit Lions’ future, NFL draft, and beyond.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that Detroit Lions are trading cornerback Jeff Okudah to the Atlanta Falcons for a fifth-round pick in return. While Okudah was not a star player in Detroit, any time a team trades a former third-overall pick before their rookie contract expires, it’s big news.

Okudah has now become the third former Lions first-round pick to be traded by general manager Brad Holmes, joining Matthew Stafford and T.J. Hockenson. Three top-10 picks are gone in just over two years—of course, none of those picks were made by Holmes himself. It’s clear Holmes is continuing to put his stamp on the roster.

Here are five more thoughts I have on the move.

Not surprising

Last year at the NFL owners meetings, Lions general manager Brad Holmes was asked if the team was going to pick up T.J. Hockenson’s fifth-year option. His response was quite clear:

“Unless (an extension) doesn’t happen, then we would have an intention to get that fifth-year option done,” Holmes said.

When Holmes was asked at this year’s owners meetings about Okudah’s fifth-year option, he gave a very different answer.

“We’ll update you as soon as we make that choice.”

It was pretty clear the Lions were never going to pick up his $11.5 million fifth-year option, but there may have been some hope that he still had an opportunity to turn around his Lions career. In fact, both Holmes and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn continued to bring up this offseason about Okudah’s youth, and how he was still very much in the process of developing.

“I hate just saying he’s a young player, but he is a young player,” Glenn said at the end of the 2022 season. “And he still has a ways to go. He came in and he got hurt his first year. Obviously, he got hurt his second year. And he had a chance to really play this year. He understands there’s always going to be competition. And we’re always going to create that competition, regardless of who we have. But, yes, he has to improve, I will say that. Along with everybody else on our defense. And he knows that, and he did improve.”

But after the Lions loaded up the cornerback room with Cameron Sutton, C.J. Gardner-Johnson, and Emmanuel Moseley, it became clear that Okudah may never even get the opportunity to develop on the field in Detroit.

Return of fifth-round draft pick was about right

After pure speculation arose this week that the Lions could trade Okudah for a third-round pick, some may look at this trade as a failure of value for Detroit. But that was never going to be a realistic option for someone with such a short resume.

In three years, Okudah has started just 22 games, tallied only 10 passes defended, and two interceptions. He’s had two offseason surgeries and had one of the most impactful injuries in an Achilles tear just two years ago. He was benched toward the end of last year and hasn’t graded out particularly well when he was on the field.

The allure of a 24-year-old former top-three pick will always bring a market, but the price will be low if the production isn’t there.

There are similar trades of this value. Former first-round pick (30th overall) Mike Hughes and a seventh-round pick were traded to the Chiefs for a sixth-round pick after an injury-plagued career in Minnesota. Even Eli Apple (10th overall pick)—who wasn’t dealing with any major injuries—was traded midway through his third season for a fourth and seventh-round pick.

A fifth-round pick is a totally fair value for this trade.

But should the Lions have still made it?

I don’t feel particularly strongly either way. I was asked in our site Slack room a few weeks ago what I thought the Lions could get in a hypothetical trade for Okudah, and my response was “I don’t think you could get more than a fifth.” [editor’s note: I have the screenshots to back that up].

There is part of me that wanted the Lions to keep Okudah for the final year of his contract in the hopes that he would finally find his footing. If he did, great! You have another cornerback option in free agency, and if you still want to move on, there’s a small chance at a compensatory pick. If he didn’t work out in his final year, you move on with little harm other than a significant cap hit for 2023.

But as I laid out earlier, Okudah would have had a hard time seeing the field with all of Detroit’s offseason additions. Sure, he would’ve been solid depth in case of injury, but spending over $10 million on a backup cornerback is not good business.

So would you rather have an extra $5 million in cap space and a fifth-round pick or $5 million less in cap space and Jeff Okudah for likely only one more year?

Despite the Lions having a potential window to compete right now, this team is continuing to prioritize the future and I think that’s smart. The Lions aren’t looking to make a run, they’re looking to be a model franchise for years and years to come. So, overall, while it’s hard to give up on Okudah—a player who was easy to root for—this seems like a smart move for Detroit, and a low-risk, high-reward trade for the Falcons. Win-win.

What does this mean for the draft?

Outside of having an extra Day 3 pick? Not much.

Folks will say this makes a cornerback more likely early in the draft, but that position was always in play early. Okudah was very clearly not part of this team’s long-term plans, and with C.J. Gardner-Johnson, Emmanuel Moseley, and Jerry Jacobs all on deals that expire after the season, there is no guaranteed long-term solution at cornerback.

So, yes, Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, or whatever cornerback you have at the top of your board is in play for the sixth overall pick, just as it was yesterday.

Tough to say goodbye

Okudah was an easy player to like and root for. He’s gone through a tremendous amount in his young life. I cannot even imagine trying to overcome the amount of mental and physical adversity he has faced at such an early age. If he had pushed through all of that and become the star he was drafted to be, it would have made for one hell of an inspirational story.

Now, a certain subset of fans will just see him and think of the word “bust.” And while Okudah has plenty to be proud of in his life and still has an opportunity to re-write his NFL story, the uncomfortable truth is that, yes, he is now officially a bust in Detroit. It’s not necessarily Okudah’s fault or the Lions’ fault for drafting him. It just didn’t work out, and it sucks to finally admit that.