Should Lions Go After CB Byron Jones in Free Agency?

Logan Lamorandier

With NFL free agency quickly approaching, there are plenty of options and directions the Lions could go in. 

One of the biggest question marks on the team is the cornerback spot -- mostly due to the uncertainty with cornerback Darius Slay's future.

Yes, Slay is under contract in 2020, but general manager Bob Quinn has been fielding trade offers for the Pro Bowl cornerback.

Even if Slay is a Lion at the start of the season, there still is a hole that will need to likely be filled at the other outside cornerback spot.

One free-agent name that keeps popping up among Lions fans is Cowboys corner Bryon Jones. 

Make no mistake, at 27 years old and with a couple of solid years in the league already, someone is going to pay handsomely for Jones' services. 

In all likelihood, he will receive more than the $15 million per year price tag that the NFL's top-paid corner -- the Dolphins' Xavien Howard -- currently earns ($15.05M/year). 

Would Quinn and the Lions be interested in paying Jones that kind of money? 

Even with Slay under contract in the past, it hasn't stopped Quinn from going after high-priced corners in free agency, such as Malcolm Butler and Richard Sherman. 

In Detroit head coach Matt Patricia's defense, guys that can cover are vital. 

It's not out of the realm of possibility that Quinn will look to add another top cover corner this offseason. 

Important to note, if Slay is moved, his vacated contract would free up another $10.5 million in open cap space this year. 

That is quite the chunk of change the Lions could work with for 2020 and beyond. 

So, in theory, Jones isn't out of the question -- if the Lions would rather invest heavily in a corner that is a couple of years younger than Slay.

Now, let's take a look at Jones' potential fit in the Motor City. 

As a rookie, Jones played solely as a corner.

He then switched over to safety for two years, and then, converted back to corner in 2018 for the Cowboys. 

That is some serious versatility -- which Quinn and Patricia often covet. 

The Cowboys tend to run more zone coverage than the Lions do, but that is not to say Jones can't play in a man-heavy scheme. 

He has the athleticism, length and football IQ to perform well with what the Lions ask of their cornerbacks.

The one caveat with Jones has been his ball production -- or lack thereof.

Jones has been targeted 125 times over the past two years, and hasn't recorded a single interception. 

Not that interceptions are the only metric for a productive cornerback, though. 

Remember, low interception numbers were the biggest knock on Slay until his phenomenal 2017 season. In saying that, Slay has definitely gotten his hands on passes at a much higher rate than Jones. 

Jones has only allowed 67 receptions (54.9%), 812 yards and five touchdowns over his last two years at corner. He’s also accounted for 20 passes defensed in that span. 

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© David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

In comparison, Slay has allowed 94 receptions (55.2%), 1,220 yards and nine touchdowns. 

The main difference with Slay is that he has picked off five passes along with accounting for 30 pass break-ups during the same time. 

When looking at those numbers of Jones in juxtaposition with Slay, they look quite alright. 

But, very important to note, Slay traveled with opponents' top wideouts more than almost any corner in the league in 2019. Meanwhile, Jones didn't heavily shadow a top receiver once. 

On top of that, the Lions' defensive front allowed quarterbacks more time to throw than any other team in the NFL a season ago. 

That makes life much more painful for a defensive back. 

It will be very difficult for the Lions to both afford a contract extension for Slay and to be able to sign Jones to the type of deal he is looking for. 

Slay would be the odd man out in such a scenario. 

Maybe that is just what Quinn would like before he pulls the trigger on trading Slay -- the definition of a solid succession plan.

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