D.J. Hayden was a key free agent grab for the Detroit Lions, and he's now set to feel major heat during training camp.
This offseason, the team added Hayden on short-term contract. They paid him starter-level money and littered his contract with incentives. It's not often such a player would be feeling the crunch of a roster battle. Still, Hayden might not be the starter when the season begins on September 10.
Why is that? None other than rookie Teez Tabor. It's likely that Tabor will be pushing his veteran counterpart greatly, possibly immediately for a starting role.
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At cornerback, Tabor is looking and sounding the part of a player ready to begin a dominating career. He intercepted Matthew Stafford twice during OTAs, opening plenty of eyes. He's also taken no prisoners with his doubters and shown the right mindset, not allowing himself to get too high with success nor too low as he learns.
Hayden, meanwhile, will bring his own pedigree as a former top-10 pick. He's struggled with injuries in his career and has been inconsistent on the field as one of the most penalized players in the league, but has captured the attention of Darius Slay by training hard in the offseason. On the surface, his best days of football could still be in the future
The situation sets up a major question. Who emerges? On the surface, Hayden could still have the advantage thanks to the contract and his status as a veteran. But Tabor has the look of a rising star at cornerback, and it might be impossible to keep a player of his caliber off the field long. He's got the "it" factor that football people crave.
Whoever wins the role opposite Slay will have earned it in the end, but it's clear either will still have another player over their shoulder waiting to pounce.