Mayhew finally snags coveted corner Josh Wilson

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Detroit — Over the past few years, cornerback Josh Wilson essentially became Lions general manager Martin Mayhew's White Whale.

As a free agent in 2011, the Lions pursued Wilson, but he chose to sign a three-year, $13.5 million deal with Washington, his hometown team. The Lions chased Wilson again in 2014, but Wilson opted to join Atlanta on a one-year deal.

"I felt like I was definitely wanted the two times they tried to get me before," Wilson said Tuesday at the Taste of the Lions. "And this time, 'Martin said, Hey man, are we going to finally seal this deal or what?' So I came up here.'"

The Lions signed Wilson in April to a one-year, $950,000 contract, and while the 30-year-old will have competition, he'll likely open training camp as the favorite to earn nickel duties.

In addition to feeling wanted, Wilson said Mayhew always made him feel comfortable with the prospect of playing in Detroit. Having Teryl Austin back for his second year as defensive coordinator helped sell Wilson on the Lions, too.

Wilson has never played for Austin, but their paths have nearly crossed a couple times and he said he's known him his entire career. A second-round pick by the Seahawks in 2007, Wilson arrived in Seattle just as Austin's four years there ended. But, Austin remained in the NFC West with the Arizona Cardinals, so they saw each other twice a year.

In 2010, the Seahawks traded Wilson to the Ravens. He spent one year in Baltimore before signing with Washington, and Austin joined the Ravens' staff in 2011.

In addition to his relationship with Mayhew and Austin, Wilson said he wanted to join a team with good safeties, which the Lions proved to have in 2014. Glover Quin was a second-team All-Pro after leading the NFL with seven interceptions, and James Ihedigbo was a renaissance man with seven tackles for loss, four interceptions, three forced fumbles and two sacks.

"Just seeing them having their safety play last year, that's the most important thing as a corner or a nickel," Wilson said. "You want to see some guys that have good safeties that can get to the quarterback. Last year, I saw these guys getting to the quarterback when we played them in London, so I thought that'd be fun to play with."

When the Lions beat the Falcons last year in London, Wilson had two tackles, including one for loss.

Though he's 5-foot-9 and will likely compete for slot duties the Lions as he did the Falcons, Wilson has played outside in his career and adds a versatile piece to a cornerback room lacking depth in 2014. After Bill Bentley and Nevin Lawson suffered season-ending injuries early in the year, the Lions had to rely on Cassius Vaughn at nickel even though he's better on the outside.

While the Lions are hopeful Lawson, Bentley or rookies Alex Carter or Quandre Diggs can contribute in 2014, Wilson has by far the most experience with 118 games played in eight seasons.

Wilson also knows some Lions history. Growing up in Washington, he remembers watching the local team beat the Lions, 41-10, in the 1991 NFC Championship. With Mayhew as a starting cornerback, Washington went on to win Super Bowl XXVI.

"I've known him as a player for a long time," Wilson said.

And now, Wilson will know Mayhew as a boss for the first time.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein