By: Eric Thomas
It’s early, very early, but if signals are to be believed, the Lions are thinking in the right direction so far this off season.
A few reports this weekend indicated that the Lions kicked the tires on Browns safety T.J. Ward and Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner, both players who will draw significant interest when the NFL’s free agent period opens tomorrow (3/11). This bodes well when attempting to discern what the team is seeking to address. The Lions seem ready to (FINALLY) address the defensive secondary, a sore spot since…um…wow it’s been a long time…maybe since Dre Bly left for Denver. During the Schwartz era, the Lions had a curious blindness to the defensive secondary. They were among the early bidders on Jonathan Joseph, but passed when they thought the price got too rich. There was some rumored interest in DeAngelo Hall and Courtland Finnegan, but the Lions never seemed to have their heart in it, and they chose instead to address the problem in the draft and hyper-develop the defensive line.
It’s always better to address the defensive secondary through free agency. Rookie defensive backs are hit or miss, the learning curve in the NFL is especially steep for them, since the league has adjusted the rules to allow more passing. Players either get it or they don’t. Richard Sherman, the current gold standard for “shut-down” corners, was picked in the fifth round, with players like Prince Amukamara, Brandon Harris and Rod Issac* picked ahead of him. Corners are a dice-roll, and it’s best to get one you can count on because they’ve played somewhere else.
This year is especially rich with aging cornerbacks. Antonio Cromartie, Champ Bailey and Charles Woodson (seriously?!) are all looking for teams next year. The Lions have a ton of young defensive backs, so some veteran presence could pay dividends, the same way Champ Bailey did last year with the Broncos. Cromartie would probably the best option here, as he’s a veteran and can play the position well. He was good for the Jets; he earned back to back Pro Bowl appearances in the last two years.
There’s no guarantee that the Lions will land any of these players, but seeing an early interest in veteran members of the defensive secondary is encouraging. Lets hope they land one of these guys in the next 24 hours.
*Issac is now playing for the Tampa Bay Storm, an Arena League team.