With the start of the new league year less than a week away and the 2021 salary cap officially set at $182.5 million, teams across the league are being forced to make some tough decisions and shed some of their veteran contracts.
During Thursday’s wave of notable releases, news broke that Detroit Lions’ slot cornerback Justin Coleman will be hitting the open market very soon. The six-year veteran defensive back is coming off the second season of the four-year deal worth $36 million that he signed during the 2019 offseason.
The #Lions plan to release CB Justin Coleman in the coming days, source said. One of the NFL’s highest-paid slot corners heads back to the market.— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) March 11, 2021
For the vast majority of the last two seasons, the Baltimore Ravens have had their top outside cornerback, Marlon Humphrey, split time in the slot because starting nickelback Tavon Young has suffered season-ending injuries in consecutive years. With the proliferation of opposing offenses using three-receiver sets on an increasingly regular basis, it has meant that the two-time Pro Bowl perimeter corner has had to spend most of his time inside.
While Humphrey was still able to maintain his high level of play when in the slot, not playing his natural position that he is best suited for is to the detriment of the defense as a whole. The Ravens need a reliable second slot option to backup Young, who is arguably the best nickel in the league when healthy.
Young spent a brief time as the highest-paid slot corner after signing a three-year extension worth $25.8 million two years ago, only to be outdone by Coleman a month later. Instead of returning to the Seattle Seahawks, he decided to join his former defensive coordinator with New England Patriots, Matt Patricia, in Detroit. Coleman didn’t quite live up to his lofty contract with the Lions and injuries have prevented Young from living up to his.
At 27-years-old, Coleman is still relatively young and can provide the Ravens with an experienced insurance policy in the slot. He would likely come cheap and won’t count against the compensatory pick formula either since he was a salary cap casualty.
He appeared in 11 games with Detroit last season including five starts and recorded 30 total tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pass breakup.
Some other recent salary cap casualty nickel options that the Ravens could pursue include Buster Skrine and Robert Alford. And there’s always the draft route.
Nevertheless, in order to provide the defense with optimal flexibility in the secondary, depth at both slot corner and safety need to be addressed this offseason. Signing Coleman can at least fill one of those needs.