Thursday, February 21, 2013

Free agent Lions least can least afford to lose (but they might)

Chris Houston: Has been quality corner for Lions
Lately, Lions' general manager Martin Mayhew has received criticism for moves that have gone wrong. It's certainly justfiable. The Lions were 4-12 last year. That fact, alone, says a lot.
However, the seasons prior, the Lions make considerable progress. Their 10-6 record in 2011 and playoff appearance was in part because of solid moves by Mayhew.
One of those was acquiring Houston, a former second-round draft choice of the Atlanta Falcons, prior to the 2010 season for a sixth-round draft pick, and also swapping fifth-round selections in the '11 draft.
The knock on Houston in Atlanta is that he lacked ball skills, but he played a paramount role in the Lions' turnaround, especially in 2011 when he intercepted five passes. Last season, the interceptions dropped to two, but he played reasonably well. This is not to suggest Houston is a classic shutdown cornerback, but the Lions stuggled mightily at the other cornerback spot because of injuries in '12. Opposing QBs didn't throw as much Houston's way, even though he was often assigned the opposition's best receiver man-to-man. Also, Houston has been reasonably priced. His contact, signed before 2011, was at an average of $3 million per year. He will draw much interest in free agency. It is a very weak market for cornerbacks - and the need is always there.
Yet, it is premium position. Houston is not worthy of the franchise tag at more than $10 million for this coming season.
But for all the talk about re-signing free agent defensive end Cliff Avril, I'm not sure if Houston isn't more of a priority. Why? The list of high-end cornerbacks in the upcoming NFL Draft doesn't essentially exit (Alabama's Dee Milliner doesn't qualify, especially now that it's been revealed he has shoulder issues). There are many high-end edge passing rushing hybrid end/linebackers, who have exceptionally high ceilings (LSU's Barkevious Mingo, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, Florida State's Bjoern Werner).
One concern is age. Houston will turn 29 in October (Avril will turn 27 in April).


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