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Lions should still consider safety in draft

3/25/2014

James Ihedigbo isn't the flashiest player and he might not have been the best safety available when free agency began, but the Detroit Lions focused early on him.

And it would appear they did so with familiarity in mind.

When coaches take new jobs, there seems to be a comfort in bringing in players they already know and who they believe can fit their system. That makes a lot of sense, especially in the case of Detroit, where both offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin are running NFL schemes on their own for the first time.

In Austin's case, he coached Ihedigbo the past two seasons in Baltimore, so he knows what the safety can and can't do. Perhaps they view him as a strong pairing with Glover Quin, whom the team signed last offseason and may have been a better free-agent acquisition for Detroit than the more-heralded Reggie Bush.

The Lions made a smart pairing at safety when they signed Ihedigbo. Quin was the 10th-best coverage safety in the NFL last season according to Pro Football Focus -- one spot ahead of his now-former teammate, Louis Delmas. Neither, though, ranked in the top 50 against the run.

Ihedigbo, meanwhile, was second among safeties against the run last season according to PFF, so the team might have put together a stronger complementary pair than what they had a season ago.

But signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t deter Detroit from going after a safety potentially early in May’s NFL draft. This signing, in some ways, feels like a stop-gap -- a chance to win immediately with an established, experienced player who will know what Austin expects.

But Ihedigbo will turn 31 in December, and while he hasn’t been a starter for a lot of seasons, the body often begins to slow down from the elite levels needed after 30. So the Lions would be wise to search for Ihedigbo's eventual replacement almost as soon as he steps foot inside the Allen Park, Mich., facilities as a Lions player for the first time.

This could mean investigating safeties early -- the team has already brought in former Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix for a visit and went to check out Louisville's Calvin Pryor at his pro day -- and possibly taking one with the intention of that player learning for a season before starting.

Usually, that doesn’t happen with the No. 10 pick in the draft. But Detroit is filling its win-now needs during free agency, so it might be able to afford taking depth for the future -- whether it's in the defensive backfield, at wide receiver or at defensive tackle.

This, of course, is what good teams in the NFL do and something the Lions haven’t had the luxury or ability to do in years past. Signing Ihedigbo shouldn’t keep them from looking to do that, especially at a position where the team has needed help for years.