NFL free agency preview: Rams S John Johnson should be one of Detroit Lions' top targets

Dave Birkett
Detroit Free Press
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The free agent negotiating period opens Monday and the Detroit Lions have holes to fill on both sides of the ball. Here is the sixth in a series of position-by-position breakdowns on the top players available in free agency and what the Lions might do at each position.

Defensive backs

On the Lions’ roster for 2021: CB: Jeff Okudah, Amani Oruwariye, Mike Ford. S: Tracy Walker, Will Harris, C.J. Moore, Bobby Price, Jalen Elliott, Godwin Igwebuike.

Pending Lions free agents: CB: Darryl Roberts, Tony McRae. S: Duron Harmon.

Top free agents: CB: William Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals; Shaquill Griffin, Seattle Seahawks; Richard Sherman, San Francisco 49ers. S: John Johnson, Los Angeles Rams; Anthony Harris, Minnesota Vikings; 

Others who may interest Lions: CB: Troy Hill, Los Angeles Rams; Nickell Robey-Coleman, Philadelphia Eagles; Desmond King, Tennessee Titans. S: Jaquiski Tartt, San Francisco 49ers; Rayshawn Jenkins, New York Jets.

Rams safety John Johnson III breaks up a pass intended for Bears receiver Anthony Miller.

Market watch: The Lions will not be major players in free agency, but there are several defensive backs set to hit the market with strong ties to the coaching staff who would make sense as upgrades or depth plays. Among those currently on the roster, Okudah and Oruwariye appear ticketed for starting cornerback duties in 2021, while Trufant is expected to be released or traded before next week. Coleman has reportedly been told he'll be released, and at safety, the Lions need a starter to pair with Walker.

Johnson, 25 years old, is the type of young free agent the Lions should feel comfortable splurging on. Lions GM Brad Holmes engineered Johnson’s draft selection with the Rams, and Lions secondary coach Aubrey Pleasant worked closely with him the past four seasons in L.A. Holmes has said this year’s draft is deep at safety, so if the Lions cannot lure Johnson to town, they might keep Will Harris as a second starter and look to attack the position early in the draft. The three best free agent safeties, Justin Simmons, Marcus Williams and Marcus Maye, were franchise tagged, thinning out what once looked to be a deep class.  

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At cornerback, Hill and Robey-Coleman played for Pleasant and could be cheap alternatives to Coleman. Mike Hilton is the best slot corner on the market, but there are enough options at that position that several good players could wind up with one-year deals in hopes of cashing in again in 2022. The Lions need another outside cornerback to replace Trufant, but Jackson, Griffin and Sherman are likely too pricey for their taste. One wildcard to watch is New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who was rumored to be on the trading block but is recovering from a season-ending quad injury. McRae, who tore his ACL last fall for the Lions, should be all clear by the start of training camp, and will interest teams because of his special teams value.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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