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NFL Detroit Lions

Potential Cortland Finnegan Free Agency Teases Detroit Lions Fans

When Cortland Finnegan talks these days, Lions fans listen. Late last week, The Tennessean reported that the Titans cornerback “remains pessimistic about his chances of returning to the team in 2012,” even following the recent executive shuffling in Tennessee’s front office. Feeding off the news, interested Lions fans turned to Twitter and online forums to satisfy their cravings for any indication of whether the Lions might pursue and sign Finnegan.

We’ll have to wait until at least March 13 to find out for sure. The Titans can negotiate exclusively with their free agents until that date. To retain Finnegan with a franchise tag would cost the Titans an estimated $10.3 million. From the perspective of the Lions salary cap, that’s not cheap. Contending with free agent issues surrounding Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch and a likely salary adjustment for Calvin Johnson, the Lions would have to juggle a tricky combination of contracts to fit Finnegan under the cap.

Another issue of fit has to do with how Finnegan would impact the Lions’ system. Finnegan’s familiarity with the defensive scheme is a plus—he played under Head Coach Jim Schwartz when Schwartz was defensive coordinator at Tennessee. But the Lions should be cautious in considering Finnegan. He’s an antagonist, which is not in itself necessarily a bad trait on the field. But with the high number of personal fouls committed by the Lions defense in 2011, signing Finnegan would be like signing the John Starks of football to a squad that’s already a highly visible target for league officials and officiating crews. Adding Finnegan to the backfield could make the Lions next year’s version of the Oakland Raiders.

On the surface, I find the prospect of Finnegan in Honolulu blue exciting. I like his age—he’ll turn 28 next month—and his robust number of tackles this year, at 75. Looking deeper, the price tag to acquire him could translate into an opportunity cost, compromising the Lions’ ability to retain one of their own highly valued free agents. Couple the financial impact with the expected increase in penalties, and the addition of Finnegan to the defense could be prohibitively pricey.