It took nearly two weeks, but the Detroit Lions were finally able to agree to terms with ex-Baltimore Ravens safety James Ihedigbo.
After cutting safety Louis Delmas, the Lions had a glaring hole at the free safety position. Detroit was in hopes of bringing back Delmas at a reduced rate, but he eventually signed with the Miami Dolphins in the beginning of free agency.
While the Lions were striking up a deal with Golden Tate, the best free agent safeties were flying off the market. Ihedigbo initially met with Detroit but left the Lions’ facilities without a deal.
As it turns out, the Lions were competing with at least three other teams (including the Ravens) over the hard-hitting safety. The two sides have a two-year deal in place.
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who was Ihedigbo’s positional coach for the past two seasons, had decided that the Lions will reinstate formal safety positions. Ihedigbo will take on the role of strong safety and Glover Quinn will move to free safety.
Although Ihedigbo is positioned to be the starting strong safety, coach Jim Caldwell emphasized that he and Quinn will not be limited to their designed roles; Kyle Meinke of MLive explains.
In 2013, the veteran safety had the most productive year of his career. Ihedigbo made 101 tackles, had three interceptions, and forced two fumbles.
Having two guys on the back end of the defense, who can each make plays in the run game as well as defend against the pass, provides the Lions defensive coaching staff with great flexibility.
Not only is Ihedigbo valuable because of his production, but in terms of introducing and executing the new-look defense, he also has the capability to bridge the coaching gap between Austin and his players.
The familiarity of Austin and Ihedigbo also gives the Lions defensive coordinator a head start on learning his players’ capabilities when he goes to install defensive schemes. Austin knows what he can expect out of Ihedigbo and Ihedigbo knows what Austin demands as a coach.
The addition also gives the Lions some freedom in the early stages of the upcoming draft, they will no longer need to pursue an NFL-ready safety.
The depth at safety still needs to be addressed but that takes a back seat to the other positions that are of immediate need.
Detroit still needs help at cornerback, there’s no way around that, there’s inconsistencies regarding health and production across the board at that position.
The Lions could also use a pass-rushing specialist at the linebacker position.
DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch provide great support in the run game along with assisting in coverage but they lack in their abilities to be a force rushing the passer.
If the Lions can land the right players to fit those needs in the draft, their defense would easily have the potential to be one of the league’s best.