Wojo: Lions GM Quinn opts not to gamble, for now

Bob Wojnowski
The Detroit News
Taylor Decker shares the stage with Roger Goodell Thursday night in Chicago.

Allen Park — No gambling here, not with the first pick, not right now. For a new Lions regime hoping to undo mistakes of the past, that’s fine. Not flashy or foolish, just fine.

In his first draft as GM, Bob Quinn went for safe and sound and big, with a pick that looked true to the plan. Ohio State offensive tackle Taylor Decker, all 6-foot-7, 310 pounds of him, was the choice with the 16th overall pick Thursday night. The Lions desperately needed a tackle, and while they didn’t get the best one – he was the fourth taken – they grabbed him quickly, not using their full 10 minutes to decide.

In a draft featuring all sorts of drama, the Lions didn’t budge, and got the guy many expected they’d get. Quinn will take more risks as he gets more comfortable in his job, but he admitted his first draft as GM was “nerve-wracking,” and he saw no good reason to join the dealing frenzy.

“I think at certain times during my reign here, there might be a certain time to take a risk,” Quinn said. “But I think the first couple years, I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

He almost faced a fascinating deliberation when touted Mississippi offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil plummeted after someone posted a video on his Twitter account, showing him wearing a gas mask apparently smoking marijuana. Tunsil finally went to the Dolphins at No. 13, saving Quinn from a tough decision, although he said he would’ve considered taking him.

Quinn was absolutely right to grab a tackle, but was there a way to move up or down for more picks or a better prospect, maybe Michigan State’s Jack Conklin? That’s my nagging question, because while Decker is perfectly solid, it’s unclear if he’ll supplant Riley Reiff at left tackle or move to the right side, a competition that’ll play out in training camp.

“I was tempted (to make a trade), but I don’t think it was a situation where I felt a need to go up and get one player,” Quinn said. “I thought there was a cluster of players across the board that I would feel comfortable with at 16. Taylor was really well rounded, one of the more versatile tackles in the draft.”

Making necessary moves

Someone has to toughen that line, and Quinn knew it immediately after watching tape of last year’s Lions. They ranked last in the league in rushing offense, and Matthew Stafford was sacked 89 times the past two seasons.

That’s why I have no problem with Quinn’s selection of Decker over defensive prizes such as Clemson’s Shaq Lawson. No one should ever, ever complain when the Lions attempt to upgrade their woeful offensive line. Last year, they took guard Laken Tomlinson in the first round, and have invested high picks in Reiff, Larry Warford and Travis Swanson, with mixed results.

Decker was a three-year starter and captain at Ohio State, and his size is a tremendous asset. He’s considered a better run-blocker than pass-blocker, and on the ESPN broadcast, Jon Gruden said Decker showed “inconsistent effort.” Quinn disagreed, and by most accounts, Decker is a mauler and a leader.

Those are characteristics Quinn says he seeks, but until now, he’s been a mystery tutored by an enigma, wrapped in the cloak of The Patriot Way. That New England connection — 16 years sitting with Bill Belichick in the draft room — buys Quinn cover and credibility, even if he’s only 39 and never been a GM. Less than four months on the job, he hadn’t had to make many major personnel decisions, other than signing receiver Marvin Jones, a solid move. He entered the draft with 10 picks and must hit a higher percentage than any GM the Lions have ever employed, which isn’t asking for much.

The concept of Quinn is encouraging — bright guy from the brightest organization. Now we get our first true peek under the cover, or behind the curtain. The draft isn’t the only way to acquire players, obviously, but Quinn acknowledged it’s the most important. “I think it’s the lifeline of your team,” he said, which explains why the Lions desperately needed a lifeline.

Of course it’s silly to judge a pick moments after it’s made, but this is where Quinn must make a significant impact. Many think drafting is a spin of the roulette wheel, and teams that pin everything on one number (one player) might hit it big, but generally lose out to those who play all sorts of numbers.

Prudence still counts

That’s been Belichick’s general philosophy, increasing odds by collecting picks, trading down for more options. In 16 years, Belichick has made 56 draft-day trades, so the Patriot Way is not to grab for shiny pieces.

The Lions only made a mini-splash in free-agency, landing Jones, and that was a move of necessity because of Calvin Johnson’s retirement. Everything else, so far, has been prudent and purposeful, just like the Decker choice. Keeping Jim Caldwell was prudent, not dazzling. Making hires and firings in personnel and scouting departments was prudent and necessary, but hardly headline news.

Lions general manager Bob Quinn said there might be a time where he's willing to take a risk, but he'd "rather be safe than sorry" the first few years.

Most of the free-agents signed by Quinn are depth guys, versatile and affordable. That’s one thing he emphasized when hired in January, that the bottom half of the roster had to be upgraded. There’s nothing scintillating to the average fan about landing special-teams stalwarts and decent backups, but let’s go back to the Patriot Way. How many years have the Patriots suffered loads of injuries, yet still found bodies to keep Tom Brady effective?

Even with the extra $11 million in cap space from Johnson’s retirement, Quinn hasn’t spent it wildly, and hasn’t come close to spending it all. Being sensible and sound works when building the offensive and defensive lines, and you save your risks for the skill positions. Quinn strongly backs Stafford, as he should, but also recognizes the quarterback has taken a lot of hits, and planting a 6-7 guy in front of him might help.

There’s more than one way to build a football team, but there is a wrong way and a right way. Quinn was part of the right way in New England for a long time, and the Lions hope they get to see what it looks like.

Twitter: @bobwojnowski