Jeff Okudah has a new home. The Detroit Lions have traded the former first-round cornerback to the Atlanta Falcons, according to Field Yates of ESPN. Okudah will get a fresh start in a new city, while the Lions will pick up draft capital for a player who was no longer in their plans. Let’s grade the trade!
Grading the Jeff Okudah Trade From Lions to Falcons
Atlanta will send a 2023 fifth-round pick to Detroit in exchange for Okudah, reports Tom Pelissero of NFL Network. While the Falcons no longer own their own fifth-round choice, they did pick up an extra fifth (No. 159) when they traded wide receiver Calvin Ridley to the Jacksonville Jaguars. That pick will now head to the Lions.
Falcons Take a Flier on a Top-End Talent
Okudah has never lived up to his draft billing after being selected third overall in 2020, but the Ohio State product had to overcome numerous obstacles during his time in Detroit. He missed most of his rookie training camp after suffering a hamstring injury, then tore his Achilles tendon in the first game of the 2021 campaign.
Fully healthy in 2022, Okudah played extremely well to start the season, but he seemed to lose confidence as the year progressed. He was benched by the end of the season, and it seemed evident that the Lions would try to move on.
For the Falcons, Okudah represents a worthwhile risk. While he’s struggled in the NFL, Atlanta is unlikely to find a player with Okudah’s skill set and talent base in the fifth round. Even if he disappoints, the Falcons aren’t giving up anything of note to acquire him.
The Falcons already have one excellent cornerback in A.J. Terrell, but they need to find a long-term tag-team partner. Veteran Casey Hayward is currently playing that role in Atlanta, but he’s 33 years old and entering the final year of his contract.
Okudah is also entering his contract year, and the Falcons will have to decide on his 2024 fifth-year option by the beginning of May. Atlanta would be on the hook for a fully guaranteed salary of $11+ million if they exercise Okudah’s option, which seems unlikely. Instead, the Falcons will probably take a look at Okudah in 2023 and attempt to re-sign him next offseason if he plays well.
By adding Okudah, Atlanta can free itself up to consider positions besides cornerback with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2023 draft. Corner would have likely been high on the Falcons’ priority list, but with Okudah in tow, Atlanta might be more willing to target an edge rusher or a different position inside the top 10.
Why Did the Lions Trade Okudah?
The Lions were active in the cornerback free agent market this offseason, which was a strong indication that Okudah wasn’t in their long-term plans.
Detroit first signed former Pittsburgh Steelers corner Cam Sutton to a three-year, $33 million deal, then added ex-San Francisco 49er Emmanuel Moseley — who is rehabbing from a torn ACL — on a one-year pact.
Okudah could have still found a role in the Lions’ secondary, but the current Detroit regime of general manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campell didn’t draft Okudah. Former GM Bob Quinn and HC Matt Patricia did. It’s never surprising to see decision-makers move on from players who they didn’t personally acquire.
For the Lions, trading Okudah does two things. First, the chances of Detroit drafting a cornerback at No. 6 overall just drastically increased. The Lions may have considered a defensive back like Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez or Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon even if Okudah was still on their roster. With Okudah gone, Detroit’s need for an extra corner is only more defined.
Second, the Lions grabbed a bit of extra draft capital that could be used to trade up. While a fifth-round pick doesn’t have all that much value, the newly-acquired selection could be deployed as filler in a draft-day trade. If Detroit wants to move the board for a quarterback or another pass catcher, they now have more ammunition to do so.
An ideal solution for the Lions would have seen Okudah take another step forward in 2023 and finally develop into a CB1. But if Detroit didn’t feel that outcome was a possibility, they did well to pick up draft capital in exchange for a potentially failed prospect.