May 5, 2014 at 1:00 am

Bob Wojnowski

No need for Lions to gamble in this year's NFL draft

The Lions shouldn't think about trading all-pro DT Ndamukong Suh. He's too good a player and he won't bring enough value in return. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)

It’s so, so tantalizing. This must be why the NFL pushed the draft back, so everyone could spend more time dreaming up longshot scenarios that make their toes tingle.

The Lions are at the center of the vortex, with trade-up rumors and trade-down rumors and the standard batch of Ndamukong Suh rumors. I’m not here to ruin anyone’s vortex. Really, I’m not. But you know what the Lions probably need most? A perfectly mundane draft.

That means wiping away the drool and resisting the temptation to move up from No. 10 to grab Calvin Johnson 2.0 (aka Sammy Watkins). Would it be a fascinating leap? Yep. Would the Lions’ offense be the talk of the draft? Yep. Would it cost a bounty of draft picks? Yep. Would it make sense to trade Suh for him instead? Nope.

I don’t mind a good healthy gamble, but this would be needlessly extravagant. If Martin Mayhew wants to gamble on receiver talent, he could take a smaller risk and hope Texas A&M’s Mike Evans falls in range for a modest trade up. Mayhew and Jim Caldwell are clear about their win-now mentality, but with all the Lions’ questions on defense, would a blockbuster deal for Watkins be a “win now” approach or a “score now” approach?

I don’t have quite the NFL experience of Mayhew, but this is how I view trades in general — if you’re the one aggressively pursuing, you’re more likely to get ripped off. If you’re the one being courted, you’re more likely to extract a better return. In any Suh deal, the Lions would get ripped off.

That’s why many teams are willing to trade down, patiently waiting for a desperate suitor to call. There’s a decent chance the Lions could get the same player at 15 they could get at 10. If they stay at 10, they could take a perfectly solid safety (Ha Ha Clinton-Dix), or defensive tackle (Aaron Donald), or outside linebacker (Anthony Barr), or cornerback (Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert), or offensive lineman (Zack Martin), or tight end (Eric Ebron).

What to do with Suh?

Are any of those names major needle-movers? Ha Ha. Not really. But the Lions should be more concerned about moving forward than moving needles. There are about five to seven elite prospects in this draft, and if you want Jadeveon Clowney, Watkins or Khalil Mack and you’re not picking in the top seven, you’ll pay a hefty price.

Trading Suh is way too hefty a price, no matter the motive. Because he didn’t show up for a voluntary workout, and because he’s in the last year of his contract and seeks a juicy raise, and because he occasionally acts like a detached diva, some suggest the Lions consider it.

The Lions understand the suggestions and might even listen, but they shouldn’t trade him, and I highly doubt they will. As good as Suh is, and as controversial as he is, it’s impossible to get fair value with only one expensive year left on his contract. Other teams don’t want to assume the cost and the risk without assurance he’d sign long term. The Lions finally have an imposing defensive player, so call me goofy, but I’d actually like to keep him. There is one caveat — if you truly believe he wants to leave, based on his agent’s demands, then you explore options.

Suh is a vexing player, and of course it would’ve been better if he appeared at the workout, happy and hearty. His aloofness can be bothersome, but if that’s his worst flaw, you live with it, and most Lions fans embrace him. He’s been to the Pro Bowl three times in four seasons and has missed only two games in his career — when he was suspended for aggravated stomping.

He toned it down last season, and when the Lions collapsed and cost Jim Schwartz his job, it wasn’t the defense that fell apart. It was the offense, which is why they signed Golden Tate and are enamored with Watkins.

It could be amazing to watch a trio of Johnson, Watkins and Tate catching passes from Matthew Stafford. But the Lions have had two of the most-thrilling offensive talents of the past quarter-century in Johnson and Barry Sanders and haven’t won nearly enough.

Defense needs help

The Lions desperately need secondary help. As it stands now, their starting cornerbacks could be veterans Chris Houston and Rashean Mathis, with young players still trying to learn. They also need a play-making outside linebacker to complement DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch.

And here’s the scary part — they might need another batch of defensive linemen. I think Suh will end up re-signing here, but with his odd whims, who knows. The Lions aren’t sure about Nick Fairley, declining to pick up his fifth-year option, and they lost Willie Young to the Bears. They do have a couple promising pass-rushers in Ziggy Ansah and Devin Taylor.

Mayhew has done a good job upgrading the offensive line, no longer a major weakness. Now the nagging area that never stays upgraded is receiver. When the Lions were down to a hobbled Johnson and random guys named Kris last season, Stafford was lost. That drives the buzz for Watkins, one of the top receiver prospects in years.

The Lions have been buzzing diligently, interviewing all sorts of candidates, discussing all sorts of scenarios. It promises to be busy right up until Thursday night’s first round. My guess — subject to change — is the Lions will buzz-kill and make a solid pick, someone like Donald or Barr or Clinton-Dix. Embracing temptation can be fun, but it’s also very expensive.

bob.wojnowski@detroitnews.com
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