The Detroit Lions have a cornerback problem and they know it. They have reportedly already told veteran cornerback Desmond Trufant they will be releasing him at the start of the new year, and nickel corner Justin Coleman may be right behind him. And while Lions coaches have already sung the praises of young corners Jeff Okudah and Amani Oruwariye, they know the cupboard is bare when it comes to depth.
“Look, you can go through the roster and it’s no secret that (wide) receiver is somewhat of a need, cornerback, we don’t have a lot of depth,” head coach Dan Campbell said just last week.
The Lions did re-sign Mike Ford this week, who will help with depth but mostly special teams. However, that’s not going to suddenly solve the Lions’ issues at the position. There’s a very good chance they dip into the free agency pool, so here are six available cornerbacks who have previous ties to this team’s new staff.
Connection: Drafted in the second round by Rams in 2014 (Brad Holmes, Ray Agnew)
The Las Vegas Raiders will reportedly cut Joyner in a cap-saving move expected to clear up $8.7 million.
Joiner is a talented player who never truly found his way with the Raiders. After five somewhat successful years with the Rams, he inked a four-year, $42 million deal with Jon Gruden’s team and just never seemed to mesh well.
Reunited with the man who had a huge hand in drafting him in Detroit could be a mutually beneficial move. The question is simply where would he play? He has the most experience at the nickel cornerback position, which would fill a huge need should Detroit release Justin Coleman. However, his best football has actually been played at safety in Los Angeles. Either way, the Lions could use an upgrade at both positions.
Connection: Played with Rams since 2016 season (Holmes, Agnew)
Hill went undrafted in 2015, and after short stints on the Bengals and Patriots his rookie season, he found his way to the Rams just before Week 17. Since then, Hill has developed into an extremely competent player. He has started 32 games in the past three seasons, including all 16 games in 2020.
Per PFF, he’s been almost shutdown-worthy over the past two seasons, specifically. When targeting Hill’s receiver, quarterbacks completed just 53.3 percent of passes for three touchdowns, five interceptions, and a passer rating of just 66.8.
Of course, coming off his best statistical season may mean he enters free agency with a significant price tag. Spotrac has his market value at $6.3 million, and with the Lions taking on $6 million in dead cap for Trufant and possibly another $5 million if they cut Coleman, that’s not as thrifty of a move as they may be seeking.
Still, Hill is someone who could start at nickel in 2021 while also giving the team depth on the outside.
Connection: Played with Jaguars last year under defensive coordinator Todd Wash (now Lions DL coach)
A former second-round pick, Jones struggled to find his footing with the team that drafted him, the Philadelphia Eagles. He was cut just two years into his career there, but the Jaguars swooped him up and gave him a chance. There, he actually thrived. In just nine game appearances, Jones notched nine passes defended, and two interceptions to go along with 26 tackles and a forced fumble. His PFF grade of 68.1 was the highest of his career.
Unfortunately, Jones’ 2020 season also highlighted the biggest struggle of his NFL career: staying healthy. It started when he tore his Achilles at his pro day, and it hasn’t stopped since. In four seasons, Jones has just made 31 game appearances and 14 starts. He’s dealt with a lingering hamstring injury and he lost six of the final seven games of 2020 due to another Achilles injury.
All that being said, he’s a guy that Todd Wash will likely vouch for. Here’s what the Lions’ defensive line coach said about Jones last year as the Jags’ defensive coordinator at the time:
“He’s getting his hands on balls, I think he’s being disruptive. He’s really doing a nice job in man coverage and getting disruption at the line of scrimmage. Obviously, some plays you don’t even see that he gets great disruption at the line of scrimmage and the quarterback goes away from him. So, he’s playing [consistently], which is really good to see and hopefully he’s going to be a Jaguar for a while.”
Connection: Played with Saints in 2015 (Dan Campbell, Aaron Glenn)
For almost his entire career, Williams has had Glenn as his defensive backs coach, so that already makes him a very serious contender to land in Detroit.
Williams is a versatile piece, as he served plenty of roles with New Orleans in the past six seasons including nickel corner, free safety, outside corner, and special teamer. In fact, here’s what Glenn had to say about Williams back in July after the Saints decided to re-sign him to a one-year, $2 million deal.
“And then P.J., just the ultimate Swiss army knife for us. He’s a guy that I think sometimes is taken for granted, but I’m glad that we have him back.”
However, in terms of his actual coverage ability, he’s struggled throughout most of his career. In his past three seasons, he’s recorded PFF coverage grades of 38.0, 47.6, and 48.0.
If Detroit wants an affordable depth piece that can serve multiple roles, Williams may be their guy. But if they’re looking for a starter at nickel or safety, they may want to look elsewhere.
Connection: 4 years with the Chargers (Anthony Lynn)
If the Lions want to splurge on a free agent that could push Okudah and Oruwariye further down the depth chart, Davis may be the best option available. In the past two seasons, Davis has recorded 23 pass breakups and five interceptions.
Davis is big (6-foot-2) and incredibly fast (reportedly recorded a 4.34 40-yard dash) and is just hitting his prime at 26 years old. He could pull in a payday upwards of $9 million a year, which is not ideal for a team tight against the cap and likely looking to develop the young talent they already have.
That being said, the Lions said they wanted competition at cornerback and neither Okudah nor Oruwariye are a sure thing. Davis would make it a three-way competition at outside corner, and give Detroit some flexibility and much-needed depth.
Connection: Spent 3 years with the Rams (Holmes, Agnew), 1 year with Eagles (Dave Fipp)
Of the group, Robey-Coleman brings the most experience. An eight-year veteran, Robey-Coleman has served as a “starting” nickel cornerback for the entirety of his career.
Our own Erik Schlitt made a compelling case for Robey-Coleman last week:
“Nickell Robey-Coleman was with the Philadelphia Eagles last season—where he worked with Lions’ new special teams coach Dave Fipp—but the three seasons prior, he was also a Rams cornerback under Pleasant. In his three seasons playing under Pleasant in L.A., Robey-Coleman played at least 673 snaps each season and had PFF overall grades of 74.5 and above.”
Given that his best playing days were with the Rams, there’s a good chance Detroit will have a strong interest in Robey-Coleman. And seeing that the Eagles handed him a small one-year, $1.35 million contract last year, he could be an affordable short-term option for the Lions.