Lions release cornerback Chris Houston

Chris Houston had surgery for a toe injury a few weeks ago and did not attend the team's mandatory mini-camp.

Jeff Hanisch

Many analysts wondered why the Detroit Lions passed on drafting a cornerback in the first round this year.

That question becomes even more relevant now.

The Lions announced Friday afternoon that they have released seven-year veteran Chris Houston, 29, who had been re-signed as an unrestricted free agent a year ago with the intention that he would be the team’s top cornerback for at least the short term.

Houston, however, struggled much of last season, even got benched at one point, and then had surgery for a toe injury a few weeks ago. He did not attend the team’s mandatory mini-camp earlier this week.

The Lions released a statement that read: "Chris Houston underwent a significant medical procedure this spring. Both parties felt that the best course of action at this time was to release Chris and allow him to rehabilitate away from the club.  The Lions appreciate Chris’ contributions over the years and wish him the best in his recovery."

Lions sign first-round pick Eric Ebron

Houston, a second-round draft pick by Atlanta in 2007 coming out of Arkansas, was acquired in a trade and spent the last four seasons in Detroit.

The contract he signed a year ago was for five years and $25 million, but only $7.5 million was guaranteed.

The Lions will now rely heavily on Darius Slay, who had an inconsistent rookie season after being drafted in the second round last year, and Rashean Mathis, 33, entering his 12th season in the NFL. They were the first-team cornerbacks during recent offseason practices with Houston out.

The other cornerbacks on the roster include Bill Bentley (third-round pick in 2012), four-year NFL veteran Cassius Vaughn (signed as a free agent this offseason after spending the last two years with Indianapolis), Jonte Green (sixth-round pick in 2012), Chris Greenwood (fifth-year pick in 2012) and rookie Nevin Lawson (fourth-round pick this year).

Detroit had a chance to draft either Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard or Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller in the first round this year, but opted to take tight end Eric Ebron instead.

Dennard, who won the Jim Thorpe award as the top defensive back in college football last season, ended up going No. 24 overall to Cincinnati while Fuller went 14th to division rival Chicago.

Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert, another of the top corners coming out, was selected by Cleveland two spots before Detroit took Ebron.

The secondary has been a long-time weak link for the Lions. The potential for the problems to be even worse have only increased with the confirmation that they won’t be able to count on Houston bouncing back to his previous form.