This is the sixth in a series looking at positional needs for the Detroit Lions in free agency. Teams can begin negotiating with free agents on March 12. The signing period opens March 14 at 4 p.m.
Allen Park – A healthy scratch six of the first nine games last season, there was plenty of gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands from the Detroit Lions fan base each time rookie cornerback Teez Tabor showed up on the inactive list.
The frustration was understandable. No one wants to see a second-round pick wasting away on the bench, but it’s easy to forget that a draft pick is a four-year investment. General manager Bob Quinn knew he had plenty of depth at cornerback when he selected Tabor, and Quinn couldn’t have envisioned the group would be so durable, limiting the rookie’s early opportunities.
The positive from the situation is it allowed Tabor to develop on the practice field and avoid taking his lumps on Sundays, like so many rookie corners do. That includes Darius Slay, who had a brutal welcome to the NFL, before developing into the Pro Bowler he is today.
Tabor started getting more time late in the season, and despite showing plenty of expected inconsistency, he also flashed promising ability. And with D.J. Hayden and Nevin Lawson, the two guys in front of him on the depth chart last year, headed to free agency, Tabor should have every shot of locking down the starting job opposite Slay in 2018.
The team’s nickel situation is more uncertain, dependent on how the Lions want to move forward with Quandre Diggs. After a strong start to the year as the slot corner, he was unexpectedly shifted to free safety as an injury replacement. Even more unexpected, he thrived in the role, recording interceptions in three straight games, the first picks of his three-year career.
If Diggs sticks at safety, the Lions could look to move return man Jamal Agnew into the nickel spot. Like Tabor, Agnew saw very little playing time on defense until late in the year. The former University of San Diego standout set his school record with 48 pass breakups. If he can translate those ball skills to the next level, he’ll thrive.
To complement that promising youth at corner, the Lions will likely want to add some veteran depth to the group.
The free agent market is star-studded at the top, led by Trumaine Johnson and the recently released Richard Sherman.
After franchising him twice, the Rams opted to part ways with Johnson, swinging a pair of trades in recent weeks for Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib. Johnson offers elite size at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, while breaking up double-digits passes each of the past three seasons.
Sherman, one of the best cornerbacks of this generation, will be attempting to come back from a ruptured Achilles. Prior to the injury, he hadn’t missed a game in his seven-year career. The longtime leader of the Legion of Boom ranks first in interceptions, pass breakups and completion percentage allowed since he entered the league in 2011.
The Lions are already being considered a potential landing spot for former Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler because of the connections with coach Matt Patricia. Butler is an above-average cover corner, but it’s difficult to see the Lions paying the inevitably lofty price tag, given the resources already tied up in Slay and Tabor.
More realistically, the Lions will be budget shopping. They could look to bring back Hayden, who offers versatility and is willing to play any role asked.
Lions CBs under contract: Darius Slay, Teez Tabor, Quandre Diggs, Jamal Agnew, Adairius Barnes, Des Lawrence.
Lions free agents: Nevin Lawson, D.J. Hayden.
Top free agents: Trumaine Johnson, Malcolm Butler, Richard Sherman, Prince Amukamara, Patrick Robinson, Bashaud Breeland, Aaron Colvin and Morris Claiborne.