Detroit Lions: Byron Jones is the free agent cornerback to prioritize

(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) /

There is only so much money that the Dallas Cowboys can throw around, star corner Byron Jones is expected to be expendable.  The Detroit Lions should pounce on the opportunity to bring him into town.

The Dallas Cowboys are preparing to offer quarterback Dak Prescott a whopping $105 million guaranteed along with an average of $33 million per season.  Anytime a quarterback breaks the bank, it hampers the depth of an organization.  That’s just the way it goes.  The Detroit Lions may have an opportunity to capitalize on the Cowboys salary situation.

Along with Prescott, the Cowboys have aspirations on signing receiver Amari Cooper leaving cornerback, Byron Jones out of the budget.

There are a lot of moving parts here for the Detroit Lions.  First, the organization needs to find a resolution with its current All-Pro corner Darius Slay if the Lions fail to agree on a long-term contract extension with Slay he’s expected to be traded before the start of the NFL Draft at the end of April.

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If the Lions fail to find a trade partner for Slay’s services, a summer hold-out is imminent.  A hold out doesn’t bode well for an organization that’s expected to ‘win-now’ or shall we say, ‘compete now.’

The Detroit Lions may also have an opportunity to draft Slay’s replacement by selecting Jeffrey Okudah from Ohio State with their first-round pick.  While that’s not a terrible idea, adding a proven star like Byron Jones will allow the Lions to focus elsewhere in the draft; hopefully, Chase Young or Derrick Brown.

Moving Slay and drafting Okudah hasn’t sat well with me.  Why use the first-round draft pick replacing an All-Pro who plays the same position with a top-five draft pick and receive far less in return for said pro-bowler?  I understand how dynamic the defense has the potential to be by adding Okudah and keeping Slay in place, but that seems like a long-shot at this point.

Jones is 27 years old and graded out much better than Slay and Chris Harris Jr, who the Lions are expected to show interest in.  Don’t forget, Harris Jr produced the worst season of his career last year playing exclusively as an outside corner.  He’s elite working out of the slot.  Detroit signed Justin Coleman last summer and made him the highest-paid slot-corner in the league.  Adding Harris would make plenty of sense if Coleman wasn’t already in Detroit.

Jones is an outside corner who thrives in single man-to-man coverage, something Lions head coach Matt Patricia’s defensive scheme demands of its corners.  Darius Slay is a man-to-man corner as well but struggled last season when the Lions defense failed to create any type of pass-rush.

Pro Football Focus (PFF) presented Jones with a 74.1 coverage grade in single coverage with no safety help over the top in the previous two seasons combined, which ranked 11th in the league.

Another odd stat to take note of is Jones’ lack of interceptions.  He’s only made 2 throughout his five-year career, and 0 interceptions in the last two seasons.   He’s not a heavily targeted corner, but you’d think he’d have forced a few more turnovers when considering his overall talent.

That being said, last season Jones was targeted a mere 53 times, allowing just 30 completed passes, which equals just a 56.6 completion percentage against.  That was a career-best in all three categories.  He also allowed a passer rating of 94.1 and committed just three penalties last season; both are second-best career ratings.  According to PFF, Jones posted an overall 76.1 rating last season, which was nearly ten points better than Harris Jr and twenty points above Slay.

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If Slay, Harris Jr, and Jones are all expected to make similar money, taking age, overall talent, most recent on-field success, and defensive impact into consideration;  Jones is the one Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions need to pursue.