Our 2024 Detroit Lions free agent series continues, where we break down every single individual decision the team must make with their free agent class.
We continue with one of the more interesting decisions to be made. In 2023, the Lions signed Emmanuel Moseley, hoping he’d eventually be their starting cornerback. Safe to say, that plan didn’t work out. But should the Lions give it another shot this year?
Let’s take a closer look.
Expectations heading into 2023
The Lions handed Mosely a one-year, $4.3 million contract, hoping that he could eventually be a starter on the team. Moseley suffered a torn ACL in early October of 2022, so it wasn’t clear if he’d be ready to start the 2023 season on schedule. But Detroit built enough incentives into the contract that if Moseley was going to play a lot, he’d see a nice pay raise. If he didn’t, though, Detroit wasn’t on the hook for too much.
But word out of San Francisco was that Detroit may have gotten the steal of free agency. Take this quote from a conversation we had with 49ers beat writer Matt Maiocco.
“He’s just a really good player,” Maiocco said. “I was expecting him to really cash in and probably be the most sought-after cornerback on the free agent market had he made it through this past (2022) season injury-free.”
With the Lions signing Cameron Sutton and trading away Jeff Okudah, Moseley was expected to compete with Jerry Jacobs for the CB2 spot—and most expected him to win the job once healthy.
Actual role in 2023
Regular season — 1 game: 2 snaps, no stats
Moseley missed all of training camp with his injury, but was taken off the Physically Unable to Perform list prior to the start of the season, giving hope that he would play in the first month of the season. It took him just longer than that to finally see the field, appearing in Detroit’s Week 5 game against the Carolina Panthers.
Unfortunately, tragedy struck in that game, as he collapsed to the turf just two snaps into his season, tearing the ACL of his other leg in a non-contact injury.
But while that ended his season on the field, Moseley deserves a ton of credit for sticking around Allen Park. After suffering a season-ending injury, most players would return home, start rehab on their own, and focus on the next season, but not Moseley. As one of the veterans in the cornerback room, Moseley stayed in Detroit and offered everything he possibly could from a mental and preparation standpoint.
Justin Rogers of the Detroit News caught up with Moseley in January and outlined his off-the-field contributions to the team, including sitting in on every defensive meeting and offering advice to Detroit’s young players.
“I’ve found joy in coming around, being around my teammates, seeing them excited, being excited about going to the playoffs,” Moseley told Rogers. “It’s the little things like that, that haven’t been done in a while. Just being around, making sure I’m helping out the guys out as much as I can with what I see on film. I’m sticking around to help them because that’s what guys did for me.”
Outlook for 2024
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Pros of re-signing
The Lions desperately need competition and talent at the cornerback position. Detroit finished with PFF’s third-worst coverage grade, and here were the stats of each individual outside cornerback, per the analytics site.
- Cameron Sutton: 113 targets, 77 completions, 1,173 yard allowed, 8 TDs, 1 INT, 122 passer rating
- Jerry Jacobs: 71 targets, 47 completions, 602 yards allowed, 7 TDs, 3 INTs, 107.8 passer rating
- Kindle Vildor: 34 targets, 21 receptions, 448 yards allowed, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 135.0 passer rating
Vildor and Will Harris are set to become unrestricted free agents, while Jerry Jacobs and Khalil Dorsey are restricted free agents. In terms of future, developmental talent, all they have is Steven Gilmore—who spent the entire season on the 53-man roster, but saw just two defensive snaps all year.
Quite simply: they need all the help they can get at the position.
And Moseley actually provides some optimism at the position. He was one of the 49ers’ best cornerbacks in 2021 and for the first few games of the 2022 season. Compare his stats to the ones above:
2021: 74 targets, 45 receptions, 468 yards allowed, 1 TD, 1 INT, 78.0 passer rating
2022: 20 targets, 13 receptions, 135 yards allowed, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 63.5 passer rating
Additionally, Moseley gives the Lions another veteran in the room. As pointed out in the Rogers piece, he’s already been serving as an example an mentor to players in the secondary.
“Man, I’m so appreciative of that player always wanting to be around, then imparting some of his wisdom into some of the young guys we have,” defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said. “Gilly (Gilmore), for example. Gilly has latched on to E-Man quite a bit.”
Additionally, this is the ultimate buy-low opportunity. Moseley will come even cheaper than his $4 million deal last year, and that comes with a potential high ceiling.
Cons of re-signing
Given his recovery speed last year and the fact that Moseley’s second ACL tear happened almost exactly a year from the one before, it’s logical to believe that he’s set to miss the first month of the 2024 season again.
Beyond that, it’s fair to wonder if Moseley will ever reach his full potential now that he’s had two torn ACLs. For many players, it takes over a year to feel like themselves again. For older players (Moseley will turn 28 in March), they may never feel the same again. The Lions don’t have time to wait. They need a starting-level cornerback now.
Additionally, the Lions don’t have a great history of rolling the dice on injured players. Josh Paschal, Levi Onwuzurike, Tyrell Williams, etc. Detroit has a serious problem at outside cornerback, and a high-risk re-signing cannot be their Plan A. They could, instead, use those resources on a player they can trust to be available to them, be it in free agency or the NFL Draft.
Is there interest from both sides?
Here’s another quote from Glenn, suggesting this team really respects and loves what Moseley can offer off the field.
“Man, let me tell you something, that player – that person, take the player out, that person is a really caring person. He cares about his teammates. He wants to see his guys do well. Man, you sit there and you watch him in the meetings and how he talks and how he interacts with everybody that, man you want that guy to be around because he’s a vet and he’s been around.”
We know how much character matters to this team, so don’t count out this team’s interest in bringing him back.
As for Moseley’s desire to return, he certainly sounded like he enjoyed being here based on that interview with the Detroit News.
“This team is amazing,” Moseley said. “If I’m welcomed back, that’s definitely an option. When that time comes, it will come.”
I think the Lions should give him another shot. He’s gotten a taste of the culture here, he can see that there’s a path towards playing in 2024, and he knows Detroit is firmly in contention for a Super Bowl. That’s plenty of motivation for him to sign an incentive-laden deal. Because he only played two snaps in 2023, those types of bonuses in a contract would classify as not-likely-to-be-earned, and wouldn’t hit on this year’s cap—only next year’s, if he earns them.
Now, as I mentioned, Moseley cannot be this team’s primary plan for a starting position. Detroit absolutely needs to invest high capital—either via the NFL Draft or free agency—on a positional upgrade. But this team is all about creating competition at every position, so I think re-signing Moseley to a modest contract would be a good way to kick off the offseason plan at cornerback.
Should the Lions re-sign Emmanuel Moseley?