In this series, I’ll be looking at the Lions position-by-position, analysing their strengths and weaknesses and looking at what options are available in free agency. Join me as I break down the third position I’ll be looking at…
At the safety position, the Detroit lions find themselves in bind if they do not want to change the scheme significantly. Their starting strong safeties from the 2015 season are both unrestricted free agents, and James Ihedigbo has been told by the team that he is not going to be back. The Lions are well set up at the free safety spot with Pro Bowl caliber play from Glover Quinn, and a workable back up in Don Carey, whose main contribution to the team comes on special teams.
What the Lions need is a thumper, they’re one of the few teams still using an old fashioned strong safety, the bigger guy that moves up in to the box to support the run, and whose main contribution to pass coverage is the threat he poses to an opposing player with the audacity to make a catch within a few yards of him. OK, they do rely on the position for a little more coverage ability than that, and his deficiencies in pass coverage are the reason that Ihedigbo will not be back, but this list is done under the assumption that the Lions just want better play from the role, not to go in a completely new direction.
Free Agency Safety Options:
#1 – George Iloka, Cincinnati Bengals
At 6’4″ and 225lbs, Iloka is a box safety, but a good one. He’s a big hitter, and an underrated player in coverage. You don’t want him playing center field very often, that’s not going to turn out well, but you can put him over most tight ends, and be fairly sure that he’s going to get the job done. He is a younger better version of James Ihedigbo, and the only reason that the Bengals might let him out the door is that a) they’re cheap, and b) both he and Reggie Nelson are free agents, and Iloka is the easier guy to replace in the draft. Not every team uses a player like this, and someone like Jeremy Cash could step right in to Iloka’s spot with a second round pick, Miles Killebrew later.
#2 – Isa Abdul-Quddus, Detroit Lions
Over the last two seasons AQ, as we at the sub-reddit for the Lions have dubbed him, has proven himself a capable player in either the strong or free safety role, and James Ihedigbo’s poor play this season enabled AQ to take the starting job. The staff swore up and down that it wasn’t the case, but all year Ihedigbo was a victim in the passing game after having threatened a holdout, and Abdul-Quddus provided solid play in both aspects of the game leading to a higher snap count as often as not. He is more versatile than most of the players on this list, and knows the defense. Being a known quantity and being position versatile adds to his value in my opinion.
#3 – David Bruton Jr. Denver Broncos
There is plenty of interest in this guy, in part because he is an absolute demon of a special teams player, but he has shown the ability to start on defense recently. I am not usually a proponent of going after guys that just won the Super Bowl, particularly when they’re complementary players, because they tend to get paid too much. I’m willing to make an exception for Bruton because he fits the profile of the Lions strong safety position perfectly, and is likely to end up in Chicago playing for John Fox. It’s a bit of a double whammy to the bears.
#4 – William Moore, Atlanta Falcons
William Moore will give you most of a season of good play. This is the kind of signing you make with the intent to draft or sign a solid back up immediately and hope for the best. While he’s on the field, Moore is going to give you high end play at the strong safety position, that’s not deniable, but the question is at the age of 30 how long is he going to be able to stay on the field at a the Strong Safety position? The last two years have ended with 11 or fewer games played, and he’s likely to be a fairly inexpensive option in relation to his level of play because of the injury history.
#5 – Duke Ihenacho, Washington football team
He has beaten out more highly regarded competition in the pre-season in consecutive years to earn the starting Strong Safety role in Washington, only to have freak injuries (fractured heel bone, and fractured wrist) end his season in three or fewer games. Given that his last two years have been spent playing at or near the league minimum and ended on IR in a very short periods, this guy is likely to cost virtually nothing to bring in for a look, and has flashed pre-season potential. I’d like to see him brought in as a second signing, and insurance policy for one of the above players, he’s certainly not a guy that I’d risk the future of the strong Safety position on, that’s for sure.
So there you have it, my look at the Lions options at the safety position. Strong Safety is a dying art, with most of the guys cut out for the role having gained 20lbs in college and moved to weak side linebacker, or drafted by teams that don’t utilize a box safety with the intention of converting them to a weak side linebacker, as the NFL gets more pass happy, that line becomes more blurred every year, as shown by Mark Barron, who is a linebacker now. Though if the Lions wanted to pick him up, get him to lose some weight and get back to his Alabama roots as a murderously hard hitting safety, I couldn’t deny the appeal. That’s a guy that would have been a legend before the year 2000, spoken of in hushed tones like Steve Atwater or Jack Tatum. There are not many strong safeties in free agency this year that fit the profile of younger and more athletic that Quinn has set forth for the defense (I couldn’t even find five worth mentioning) so I included the most talented old guy available at what will likely be a discounted deal, or per game played bonus laden deal. Next up, is one that hurts my heart to write this year: wide receiver.
Somehow I am still available on twitter @a5hcrack and on reddit yammering about the Lions and the Edmonton Oilers as though I think I know what I’m talking about.