The Detroit Lions could use some help at cornerback this upcoming season. But would they sign a free agent who hasn’t recorded an interception in two years?
Despite the Detroit Lions posting the third-worst record in the NFL last season at 3-12-1, their pass defense showed potential. The Lions finished last season ranked eighth in passing yards allowed giving up just 224.9 yards per game.
Unfortunately, that’s where the good news ends for this unit. The Detroit defense also allowed 29 passing touchdowns, tied for eighth-most in the NFL, and allowed the third-highest passer rating (102.7) to opposing quarterbacks.
One area where the Lions’ secondary specifically struggled was in creating takeaways. The team recorded just seven interceptions on the season, which was tied for 29th lowest in the league. Their total takeaways, which includes both picks and fumbles recovered combined for a total of 14, ranking Detroit next to last in the NFL.
The Lions’ secondary in 2019 was a mix of veteran and rookie talent. Starting cornerback Darius Slay earned his third Pro Bowl invitation despite playing in only 14 games and posting just two interceptions.
Free-agent signing Justin Coleman had an inconsistent first season in Detroit recording 54 tackles, 13 pass defends, and a single interception in 16 games. Fellow free-agent add Rashaan Melvin was a 12-game starter for the Lions, and also struggled to post 11 pass defends and no picks. Finally, rookie Amani Oruwariye came on strong late last season, recording two interceptions in the team’s final six games.
Scheduled to make a salary cap hit of $13.3 million in 2020 according to Sportrac.com, it’s possible that the Lions could choose to move on from Slay as the 29-year old cornerback skipped OTAs and minicamp last offseason in a reported pursuit of a new contract.
The 30-year old Melvin is an unrestricted free agent this offseason, putting the status of two of the Lions top cornerbacks from last year in jeopardy for 2020. It’s believed even if Slay is retained for another season, Detroit will still be looking for cornerback help when the free agency market opens in March.
"“The Lions need a cornerback, no matter what they decide to do with Darius Slay, and Byron Jones might be the best option. He tackles, he’s got size, and I don’t know how the Dallas Cowboys can bring him back given the other contracts they have to hand out.”"
A first-round selection by the Cowboys back in 2015, Jones spent his first season in Dallas shuffling between cornerback and safety. The team ended up sticking him at safety for the following two years with mediocre results.
In 2018, new passing game coordinator and defensive backs coach Kris Richard, who had been a vital part of the legendary Legion of Boom in Seattle, shifted Jones back to corner, earning him a Pro Bowl nod that season.
This past year, Jones played all 16-games in Dallas despite having offseason hip surgery. And he continues to receive high marks from the analytics site Pro Football Focus as a premier cover corner.
Due to several high-profile players needing new contracts in Dallas, Jones is expected to hit the free agency market this offseason. But one area of concern for prospective teams will be his distinct lack of takeaways. Jones hasn’t recorded a single interception in two years. And he’s recorded just two picks in five seasons.
Yet, Jones is an uber-athletic defender who is capable of shutting down an opposing offense’s top receiving threat, whether that be wide receivers or tight ends, due to his unique physical traits. The 27-year old set the World Record for the standing broad jump during the NFL Scouting Combine in 2015.
If the Detroit Lions sign Byron Jones this offseason, the Motor City will be getting a shutdown corner who’ll do little in the way of creating turnovers. But based on how this unit performed this past season, Jones would fit right in.