Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
A new hole opened up on the Detroit Lions roster after the release of safety Louis Delmas. Cutting Delmas wasn’t an unexpected move, but now Detroit needs to find a true starting safety for the back end of the defense. Like wide receiver, safety is a position that could see an addition in both free agency and the draft. Part three of the Lions Free Agent Focus will focus on the free agent safeties that could be wearing Honolulu blue in 2014.
Jairus Byrd, Buffalo Bills:
Pros: Among the best safeties in the NFL, great ballhawk.
Cons: Price tag.
Byrd is the cream of the crop of players that are set to become a free agent this offseason. The former second round pick out of Oregon has picked off 22 passes in 73 games in his five season career. However, that production and talent comes with a steep price tag. Buffalo tendered Byrd with the franchise tag last season and may do it again this season due to the high asking price Byrd is making. Overall great talent and would be a nice fit in Detroit, but even if the Bills don’t franchise tag him, it isn’t very much in the cards for the Lions to sign him.
TJ Ward, Cleveland Browns:
Pros: Solid in run defense and respectable in pass defense, still very young.
Cons: Could use some work in coverage.
Another former second round pick out of Oregon, TJ Ward is a solid option to plug in next to Glover Quin. Very good in run defense, but isn’t as complete in pass coverage as his former college teammate, Jairus Byrd. Five career interceptions, but that won’t force the Lions to look away from Ward. Cleveland will very likely make it a priority to re-sign Ward, but it is very much in the realm of possibility for him to be in Detroit.
James Ihedigbo, Baltimore Ravens:
Pros: Familiar with the coaching staff, brings veteran experience.
Cons: Not too much starting experience, would only be a stopgap.
Staying around the AFC North, James Ihedigbo appears to be the a very attractive option to plug and play. Although last season was the first time Ihedigbo had been a full-time starter at safety, he is very familiar with Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, as Austin was Ihedigbo’s position coach in Baltimore. Should be a cheap option considering the lack of full-time starting experience, and is the most likely of the bunch for the Lions to sign.
Louis Delmas, Detroit Lions:
Pros: Solid in run support, 2013 was best season in career.
Cons: Still takes bad angles in coverage, health still a concern.
Just because the Lions released Delmas does not rule out his return to the team. The 2013 season was by far Delmas’ best season as a pro, and the key being he played all 16 games for the first time in his career. Greatest weakness remains to be the poor angles that are constantly taken to the ball. On top of that, there is still concern over his health, despite starting every game a season ago. Although his kamikaze style of play can be a tough gamble on the field, he has been an important player and leader to the defense the last few year. If Ihedigbo isn’t signed, then Delmas is a highly likely target to return to the team.
Adding a safety may be more important to improving the secondary than adding a cornerback. The free agents listed above, just like the cornerbacks, will either be only a stopgap or rotational player for the Lions if they are targeted and signed. The next Free Agent Focus will involve the free agent defensive ends.