D.J. Hayden is a former first-round pick. He’s a player that still has a bunch of potential, but injuries kept him off of the field for stretches of his four years in Oakland. The Raiders didn’t pick up his fifth-year option, which turned him into a free agent. The Lions are signing him to essentially a one-year, "prove it" deal.
That’s what happens when you’re a player with potential, but questionable production.
Hayden’s name might be familiar because of another reason beyond his draft status. When he was in college at Houston, he almost died during a freak collision in practice that tore the inferior vena cava in his heart -- an injury that is fatal 95 percent of the time according to this 2012 story. He recovered well enough to be picked 12th overall by Oakland and to play his rookie season, less than a year after the injury.
Terms: One year, up to $5.25 million, as reported by ESPN Insider Adam Caplan.
Grade: C. This seems to be another decent move by Lions general manager Bob Quinn, as he’s bringing in a former first-round pick with some positional versatility to play both outside and as a slot cornerback, a spot Detroit needs to upgrade. The reason for the average grade for this signing is Hayden’s injury history, having only played in 16 games in one full season, 2015, and the potential dollar amount. Until the actual contract details are in, that number seems high. But it could be full of incentives and escalators that make it much more reasonable. There’s also his PFF QB rating-against of 85.5, which was ranked 75th among cornerbacks.
What it means: Cornerback has been a position where it seemed like the Lions would make a move for months. Logan Ryan appeared to be a logical target from the jump, but late Thursday he signed with Tennessee. Hayden is a player full of potential, but he has had trouble staying on the field. Given it is a one-year deal and likely full of incentives, this contract might not be as much of a risk as it would appear to be on paper. That said, it’s a worthwhile chance because if the 26-year-old can find the form that made him a first-round pick, he could be a steal for the Lions. But considering his career in Oakland, that is a big "if." For a secondary that struggled to force interceptions, his three picks overall in four seasons is not an impressive number. He has forced three fumbles, though, so he clearly knows how to strip the football. It’s worth bringing him in at the very least to push Nevin Lawson and Quandre Diggs while putting players such as Adairius Barnes and Alex Carter on notice that roster spots are not safe.
What’s the risk: There’s a decent amount here. After winning the slot role last year in Oakland, he was done for the season with a hamstring injury after 11 games. Hayden also had a foot injury in 2014 and a groin injury as a rookie in 2013. That’s a big concern. This SFGate.com story says he played well when he was healthy, but that’s always been the worry. Again, depending on the contract numbers, signing a player with that many injuries in four seasons is something to be wary about.