The NFL combine begins Wednesday, and not long after that the free agency period will begin with the start of the new league year. It’s time for the Detroit Lions -- and every other team in the NFL -- to take stock of what they have and where they can upgrade.
With that in mind, we’ll do that with every position on the Lions roster leading into the combine. Just a reminder that things can change incredibly quickly over the next few weeks as Detroit decides which players to re-sign and let go.
Today we’ll look at a position group where Detroit will likely add pieces for the present and future: Defensive back.
The position group under contract: Darius Slay (starting CB), Nevin Lawson (starting CB), Quandre Diggs (starting nickel), Glover Quin (starting FS), Tavon Wilson (starting SS), Johnson Bademosi, Adairius Barnes, Alex Carter, Ian Wells, Rolan Milligan, Don Carey, Miles Killebrew, Charles Washington
What are the chances the Lions bring back their own free agents here: Not good. Jackson and Butler were brought in late in the season and didn’t contribute much, although if they do come back it would likely be at a veteran minimum salary for depth. Bush showed enough during his season in Detroit that he could command a larger role elsewhere, particularly if the Lions believe Killebrew is ready to take on a larger role in the defense.
What do the Lions need between free agency and the draft: Though there are a lot of players already under contract, the Lions have to look toward the future here. Three of the four safeties – including both starters -- are entering the final years of their contracts. So is Lawson. Plus, Detroit allowed the highest completion percentage in NFL history last season, so the chance to upgrade should be taken. This is a spot where the Lions could make a bigger splash to give them position flexibility at cornerback with Lawson, who can play the slot as well as outside.
Four free agents to look at:
Logan Ryan, CB, New England: He’s been a popular player linked to Detroit because of GM Bob Quinn's familiarity with the Patriots (a theme throughout many of these previews, because familiarity breeds comfort). Ryan is a talented cornerback who likely won’t pull down top-level money. He’d be a strong complement to Slay and would give the Lions the flexibility to possibly move Lawson into the slot. Ryan has had at least two interceptions every season of his career and had 92 tackles in 2016. He is 26, so pairing him with Slay would give the Lions a strong cornerback duo for the next few years.
A.J. Bouye, CB, Houston: The market for Bouye is going to be high as he’s turned into one of the top players available. This might make him too expensive for Detroit to really become players here, but unless Ryan (or another cornerback) ends up being their clear top target, it’s worth investigating the 6-footer. He’s a strong cornerback who has severely limited an opponent's top receiver. If he were to be paired with Slay, the Lions would have one of the better cornerback tandems in the league.
T.J. McDonald, S, Los Angeles Rams: McDonald would be an interesting pairing with Quin and would likely push Wilson to a third safety role -- a job it looked like he would have initially when signing with the Lions. McDonald might have a strong list of suitors, but he would be an interesting safety for Detroit to look at. He’s had 60-plus tackles the past three seasons, including 104 stops in 2014. Tony Jefferson could be another player to pay attention to here.
Duron Harmon, S, New England: Yes, another Patriots player, but the 6-foot-1 safety would fill a need for Detroit and could be a strong fit. Harmon started all three playoff games for the Patriots this past season and has been a big nickel defender for New England. While his more natural position is free safety, where Quin plays, Harmon has enough versatility to be able to play either spot. Depending on what Detroit does with Bush and how it feels about Killebrew's development, Harmon could be a player to watch with the Lions.
Four combine rookies who could be considered:
Marlon Humphrey, Alabama: He would immediately give the Lions more athleticism and size (he’s 6-foot-1) in the secondary. He’s an extremely fast player with a track background. Humphrey is a player who has already been linked to Detroit in mock drafts this offseason and will likely be on the radar for the Lions in the first round unless they make a big move at the position in free agency.
Jabrill Peppers, Michigan: Peppers is listed as a linebacker for combine workouts, but he’s more likely a hybrid linebacker/safety -- similar to how Detroit used Killebrew last season. Having Killebrew already on the roster and primed for a jump in playing time might eliminate taking Peppers, but he’s an incredible athlete who could be Detroit’s main return man right away. For a creative defensive coordinator like Teryl Austin, who has had success placing players in packages to bring out their strengths, Peppers has to be an intriguing player.
Jourdan Lewis, Michigan: He’s likely a second-day pick, but the Thorpe Award finalist has the toughness the Lions like to see in their cornerbacks -- particularly someone who will play on the interior. He showed throughout his college career that he can play bigger than his size and he’s shown a willingness to tackle. If Lewis displays enough at the combine to show he can play on the outside at 5-foot-9 1/2, he’s a versatile cornerback who could be intriguing for Detroit.
Marcus Williams, Utah: He’s an intriguing player who, if the Lions were to take him on Day 2 (or early Day 3 if he somehow lasted that long), could be the heir apparent to Quin. He’s a true free safety who had 189 tackles, 19 passes defended and 11 interceptions. He has good height at 6-foot and would be able to work his way into the lineup over time. A player like Williams would give the Lions roster and position flexibility in the future with Quin, too.