Lions general manager Brad Holmes still mulling Jeff Okudah’s fifth-year option

Detroit News

Allen Park — By NFL standards, Detroit Lions cornerback Jeff Okudah has just finished his third professional season. But in the eyes of Lions general manager Brad Holmes, he just finished his rookie season.

After rehabbing from a torn achilles suffered in last season’s home opener — and making his return in Week 1 this season — Okudah’s 2022 season featured plenty of ups and downs.

On a few select Sundays, it seemed as though you could see his confidence raging forward in real time. His coverage was solid early in the year and he was a big piece of the run defense that helped Detroit stabilize midseason.

On the flip side, he also was benched in the team’s worst defensive showing of the year, a 17-point Christmas Eve loss to the Carolina Panthers that ultimately kept the Lions out of playoff contention, and missed the finale with an elbow injury. He allowed a 97.0 passer rating when targeted in coverage and had one interception with five pass-breakups.

“He’s kind of really getting extensive action for the first time. And he showed some good things, but when I say, ‘basically like a rookie season,’ he’s gonna have lumps,” Holmes said. “He showed some good. He had some things that were not so good. But he’s a really young player. I think he’s still developing.”

For that reason, Holmes was reluctant to indicate whether he planned to pick up Okudah’s fifth-year option, which is one of the more interesting decisions the Lions have on tap this offseason. The former No. 3 pick has a cap hit of $10.7 million next season, which goes to $11.3 million in 2024 if the fifth-year option is picked up — a decision that Holmes must make by May 2.

“I know fifth-year option, all that stuff … is coming up. We’ll address that at the appropriate time,” Holmes said. “But I’m proud of what Jeff did and I know he’ll hold himself accountable for his play, of the good things and the things he needs to work on.”

It’s no secret Detroit’s entire cornerbacks room could use an overhaul. The production of fourth-year corner Amani Oruwariye, one of the lone bright spots of the Lions’ 2021 defense and an impending unrestricted free agent, fell off a cliff. Second-year man Jerry Jacobs was reliable after returning from a torn ACL, but is probably best kept as a depth option. Converted safety Will Harris developed nicely, yet is not someone to be relied on as a No. 1 or 2 heading into camp.

When asked Tuesday about which position groups needs the most improvement, Holmes pointed out “there’s a lot of different areas we can go” from a defense ranked 32nd. But in naming seven promising players on defense off the top of his head, he didn’t name a single cornerback.

Okudah’s improvement this season would seem to suggest that he’ll take another step forward next season, but it’s just as possible that he suffers regression. Generally speaking, cornerback play is extremely volatile. But even if Holmes has full faith Okudah will blossom, the timeline of Detroit’s rebuild makes this decision a bit tricky — the Lions hope to be competing for Super Bowls in 2024, and $11.3 million is a large sum to commit to an unknown under those circumstances.

If the Lions decide to punt on Okudah’s fifth-year option, that doesn’t automatically mean his days in Detroit are numbered. The two parties could still pursue an extension to bring Okudah back on a deal that’s more reflective of his body of work.

The risk there is that Okudah has a breakout 2023 and decides to test the market, rendering the $11.3 million the Lions would have owed him in 2024 a bargain.

Caldwell and Schwartz get coaching looks

Everybody wants themselves a piece of the Lions coaching staff — and that apparently means past and present.

Former Lions head coach Jim Caldwell interviewed with the Denver Broncos Wednesday for the team’s head-coaching vacancy, according to multiple reports, and the Cleveland Browns interviewed Tennessee Titans senior defensive assistant and former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz for their vacant defensive coordinator gig.

Caldwell previously said this round of hires his probably the last kick at the can for a head-coaching gig. He was fired by the Lions in 2017 after four seasons. The Lions went 36-28 and made two wild-card weekend appearances during his tenure. Denver fired first-year head coach Nathaniel Hackett after 15 games, after he and new quarterback Russell Wilson failed to mesh. The Broncos finished 5-12.

If Caldwell is hired by the Broncos, he would become the first former non-interim Lions head coach in the Super Bowl era to land another head-coaching gig after leaving Detroit.

Browns defensive coordinator Joe Woods was fired by the Browns on Monday. Schwartz has held his position with the Titans since 2021 after five seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he won a Super Bowl.

Twitter: @nolanbianchi

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