Lions position outlook: Cornerbacks

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
12:00
PM ET
A coach has been hired. A staff is being filled out. The Detroit Lions offseason and planning for the 2014 season is officially here.

To start that process, we will look at each position group over the next two weeks, analyze what worked and what didn’t before projecting what could happen between now and training camp in 2014, which is only a mere seven or so months away.

Today the series continues with cornerbacks.

Previous positions: Quarterbacks; Running backs; Wide receivers; Tight ends; Offensive tackles; Interior linemen; Defensive ends; Defensive tackles; linebackers.

2014 free agents: Rashean Mathis; Chris Greenwood (exclusive rights)

Mathis
The good: Mathis was an inspired late signee. The team brought him in during training camp and the former All-Pro turned into the team’s top cornerback by the middle of the season. He had 47 tackles and also took a mentoring role for rookie Darius Slay, who improved throughout the season and could be ready for a larger role in his second year. Mathis is one of the key free-agent decisions the Lions are going to have to make this offseason. Another surprise was the decent play of the team’s young cornerbacks -- Bill Bentley, Jonte Green and Greenwood -- toward the end of the season when Slay, Mathis and Chris Houston were hurting.

The bad: Houston had a rough season. For every good game he had, he had an equally rough game to follow up. He specifically struggled with double moves from top receivers like A.J. Green. As a unit, there was little consistency except from Mathis. Slay had some rough outings, especially early in the season when teams appeared to pick on him whenever he was in the game. Bentley had some strong moments in the nickel, but also had far too many times where he would struggle as well. It is a position group in need of improvement.

The money (using 2014 cap numbers from Roster Management System): Houston is scheduled to make $4.8 million against the cap this season, more than the rest of the Lions cornerbacks combined. Slay is in line to make $1,202,114 against the cap. Bentley has a cap number of $727,278 and Green is at $594,250. In all, the Lions have $7,323,642 tied into the position right now and expect them to add at least one if not two more cornerbacks through free agency and the draft.

What Caldwell might favor: This might be defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s call as much as Jim Caldwell. With the Ravens the past three seasons, Austin clearly preferred taller cornerbacks. Of his starting corners, only one -- Lardarius Webb -- was not at least 6-foot. It was something Austin had his final year in Arizona as well, when both of his starting corners were 6-foot or taller.

Potential cuts: Houston is a top target here, mostly because of his price tag and his inconsistent play from last season. He is signed through 2017 and is scheduled to make a lot of money in each of those years. If the team doesn’t believe he can be their top cornerback, they could look to make a move. Bentley and Green both showed promise at the end of the season, so they likely stick around. Slay is going nowhere.

Draft priority: Very high. This is probably the biggest position of need for Detroit right now. If the team chooses to use the No. 10 pick on a corner, Justin Gilbert from Oklahoma State might be the target. Either him or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard. It would be very surprising -- unless they make a move in free agency first -- to see the Lions not take a cornerback with one of their first two picks.

Numbers in this post were culled from ESPN Stats & Information and Roster Management System.

Michael Rothstein | email

ESPN Detroit Lions reporter

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