Lions trade former first-rounder Jeff Okudah to Falcons for 5th-round pick

Detroit News

The writing had been on the wall, given the way the Detroit Lions attacked the cornerback position this offseason. On Tuesday, the team made the somewhat anticipated follow-up move to their free-agency additions, parting ways with cornerback Jeff Okudah.

The Lions agreed Tuesday to trade the former first-round pick to the Atlanta Falcons, according to a source familiar with the deal.

Multiple reports indicate the Lions are getting back a 2023 fifth-round pick, No. 159 overall, in the exchange. The move immediately clears nearly $5.2 million in salary-cap space for the Lions, including Okudah’s $4.17 million roster bonus that had been baked into his rookie contract.

The No. 3 overall choice in the 2020 draft, the Okudah pick was viewed as both controversial and safe. While it was the earliest a cornerback had been selected in three decades, he was viewed by many as one of the draft’s most NFL-ready players coming out of Ohio State. The Lions saw a plug-and-play option at a position of need who could best help save the jobs of former general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia, who had been given a one-year mandate from ownership to turn the franchise around or lose their jobs.

Because of that short leash for leadership, the team skipped a chance to draft a potential successor for then-quarterback Matthew Stafford, passing over Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa and Oregon’s Justin Herbert, who have both gone on to become successful NFL starters. Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown was also strongly considered by the team at No. 3 as a potential instant contributor.

Unfortunately for Okudah, his time in Detroit was marred by injuries, limiting his effectiveness. He missed time during his rookie training camp because of a hamstring injury and was ultimately limited to nine subpar appearances before suffering a season-ending core injury.

He looked primed to shake off those rookie struggles in his second season, performing well throughout the offseason program, only to suffer a torn Achilles in the season opener. Impressively rehabbing his way back to play in the season opener last year, he went on to start 15 games in 2022, but found himself ceding playing time to Mike Hughes down the stretch.

While there were some coverage lapses, particularly downfield, Okudah actually performed well, given the previous season’s Achilles injury. He allowed just 59.7% of the 77 throws his direction to be completed in 2022, including one touchdown. Beyond that, he proved to be a key contributor in run support, highlighted by his performance against Dallas, when he spent much of that game in the box and racked up a career-high 15 tackles.

“There is always going to be peaks and valleys when you play that position,” Lions defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn said at the scouting combine in February. “You try to stay at the top as much as you can, but it’s hard. It’s hard. But, I’ll tell you what, he is busting his butt. He’s trying his butt off to be at that top of the peak all the time.”

Publicly, members throughout the organization similarly praised Okudah’s effort and potential, while also acknowledging he was still a developing player, given his lack of game experience. Still, actions spoke louder than words when the team signed three defensive backs in free agency last month, including a pair of outside cornerbacks, Cam Sutton and Emmanuel Mosely. Prior to Tuesday’s trade, the Lions played off those signings as competition.

“Look man, it adds depth, and it adds competition,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said last month. “That’s what it does. That’s what we desperately need. I see those guys coming in and competing, (Okudah) and Jerry (Jacobs). That’s the other thing, just because you acquired these guys that doesn’t mean it’s a lock that they start. Probably a pretty good chance, that’s why you acquired them. But gosh, the best guy is going to play and they all know that. All you do is you raise your level of competition. You raise the floor and that’s a good thing for everybody.”

Okudah wraps his time with the Lions, having appeared in 25 games, racking up 147 tackles and recording 10 pass breakups and two interceptions. With the pick acquired from Atlanta, the Lions now hold nine selections in the draft: 6, 18, 48, 55, 81, 152, 159, 183 and 194

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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