Lions mailbag: Exploring some future contract decisions

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

There are two types of Detroit Lions fans — the eternal optimist who is loving every minute of this playoff push and the doubter who has been beaten down by history and is waiting for the other shoe to drop. The good news is we don't discriminate when it comes to our weekly mailbag.

Nevin Lawson has been a reliable No. 2 cornerback for the Lions this season.

@Justin_Rogers How do you think former Lions coach Jim Schwartz would fit as next LA Rams coach? Teryl Austin?

— Ian (@extrapointIan) December 12, 2016

If you hand Jim Schwartz a defensive line with that kind of talent, led by All-Pro tackle Aaron Donald, the former Lions coach would give opposing offensive coordinators nightmares. But here's the thing, Schwartz would be a public relations nightmare for the Rams. Not because he's a bad coach, but because the franchise is going to want to distance themselves from Jeff Fisher and Schwartz is a Fisher disciple.

As for Austin, he has the temperament and character to represent any organization well. Plus, he's a bright guy who players like and respect. That doesn't mean he'd win. There's a lot more that goes into that, including the quality of the roster he inherits, the organization's general manager and the coaching staff Austin is able to assemble, namely his offensive coordinator.

@Justin_Rogers Will the NFL ever suspend a Ref for the stupid mistakes they make?

— Michael Davis (@michaeled2248) December 12, 2016

It happened last year after a clock error in a game between Pittsburgh and San Diego. There was another instance in 2013 that involved an official cursing at a player. It's rare, but it happens.

@Justin_Rogers is it a coincidence that the d got better when Bynes came back? He's looked very good! #whydwecuthim

— Jeff Nafe (@nafej) December 12, 2016

Not a coincidence, but not the only factor. Around the same time Josh Bynes rejoined the team, the Lions also benefited from the return of Haloti Ngata, Ziggy Ansah getting healthier, and the continued development of rookies A'Shawn Robinson, Antwione Williams and Miles Killebrew.

But there's no question about it, Bynes has improved the level of play from the linebacking corps. He's moving well, has cleaned up some of the team's coverage issues and is playing the run at an above-average level. It was a wise move for the team to pay him an injury settlement so they had the option to re-sign him later in the year.

@Justin_Rogers Why the lack of sacks/pressure? Technique? Scheme? Ability? Strength? Injuries?

— Boyd Williams (@PatchingBirder) December 12, 2016

It's not a single factor. First, scheme is part of it. The Lions concede a lot of short passes and opponents are taking what is given to them. That means the ball is coming out quickly, more often than not, negating the pass rush. It also leads to fewer third-and-long situations, so quarterbacks aren't being forced to hold on to the ball as often.

Second, the team's best pass rusher has been hurt most of the season. Ansah had 14.5 sacks last season and none this year. Sure, Kerry Hyder has picked up some of the slack, but there's no confusing the two.

Finally, beyond Hyder, who has stepped up? Devin Taylor has regressed, Anthony Zettel is still developing and there's little pocket push from the interior guys beyond Ngata. Waiver claim Armonty Bryant brought a much-needed boost, but a three-game suspension and a season-ending injury limited his impact.

@Justin_Rogers Say the Lions win in New York and by some miracle the Packers lose to the Bears. Will Caldwell rest players with ailments?

— Sonny-Out of Bounds (@showe_32) December 12, 2016

Not with a first-round bye on the table. The only way Caldwell rests any of his players is if there's nothing at stake for the Lions.

@Justin_Rogers Any chance Calvin could return for the playoffs? #lionsmailbag

— Deplorable Trav (@travism918) December 12, 2016

Come on, now. I know I botched the Joique Bell addition last week, dismissing the idea the team would re-sign the veteran back, but this mailbag has better odds of scoring a Pulitzer than Megatron lacing them up for the Lions again.

@Justin_Rogers Who is the best playoff matchup for the Lions? The worst?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) December 12, 2016

The best playoff matchup involves winning the NFC North and hosting a game. Of the wild card contenders, you probably want the Giants or Bucs.

New York makes for a quality matchup because they can't run the ball, which makes their offense one dimensional. Plus, they don't blow out anyone. We all understand, as long as the game is close, Detroit has a shot. As for Tampa Bay, it's an inexperienced team with a young quarterback.

The worst matchup is the Packers, with the nightmare being a road trip to Lambeau. The Lions can say they're an indoor team with an outdoor mentality all they want, but it doesn't make it true. Heading to Atlanta to play the Falcons could be tough, too. That offense is legit and can hang 30 on you in a hurry.

Reply to @Justin_Rogers Would you expect Quinn to rebuild the Defensive line this offseason similar to what he did with the O-line ?

— Big Biting Pig (@BigBitingPig) December 12, 2016

I'm sure Bob Quinn would love for the draft board to fall that way, but you can't reach based on want or need. That's the quickest way to water down the roster. The Lions still have some holes on offense, but a defense-heavy draft just makes sense. Any time you can get a quality edge rusher, that's a bonus, but it would be difficult to find fault in a three-down linebacker, a safety or cornerback, especially one versatile enough to play inside.

@Justin_Rogers How do you expect the Lions this offseason to handle Lawson and Swanson entering the final years of their rookie deals?

— maeby (@seenable) December 12, 2016

It's a good question and we've learned that Quinn is willing to pay key contributors, like he did with Theo Riddick and Sam Martin this year. That said, we still don't have a full grasp on which position groups  the general manager values in free agency. The Patriots, his former team, rarely overpaid talent, and it has seemed like there's been a willingness to pinch pennies along the offensive line. It doesn't mean Quinn will follow this philosophy, but it's something to watch.

At this point, I'd try to get deals done with both. The two young players are trending up and relatively durable. Nevin Lawson doesn't get enough credit for how he's performed. He's been a reliable No. 2 corner this season and has only gotten better as the season has progressed. And we've sung Travis Swanson's praises plenty. He's really stepped up his overall game in his third season, and while you have Graham Glasgow waiting in the wings if the price tag is too high, you'd really like to find a way to keep as much of that unit together as possible.

Josh Bynes breaks up a pass intended for Jordan Howard in the fourth quarter Sunday.

@Justin_Rogers Which unrestricted lions FA is a priority after the season? We have Boldin, Reiff, Warford, Bynes and other role players?

— Motown Mauler (@Motown_Mauler) December 12, 2016

It's too early to say who Quinn views as a priority, but if I'm making the list, here are my top five:

1. Riley Reiff — The transition to right tackle hasn't been without its bumps, particularly in pass protection, but Reiff has stabilized a position that has troubled the Lions for years. And as I mentioned above, there's value in keeping your line together. Continuity matters.

2. Josh Bynes — Three years running, Bynes has proven to be valuable. He's more than a depth linebacker, he's an above-average starter, whether it's in the middle or on the weakside.

3. Armonty Bryant — Yeah, we know the history of drug issues, including a pair of suspensions this year, but he has been praised for being a model citizen during his short time in Detroit. Edge rushers are so difficult to find and Bryant could come cheap, especially if he agrees to an incentive-laden deal.

4. Larry Warford — The unintentional consequence of Warford's mauling style have been some durability issues. And we haven't seen the same consistency or dominance we did his rookie year. Still, Warford is solid and going to Joe Dahl would be a downgrade, at least initially.

5. Anquan Boldin — He turns 37 next year, so it's difficult to call him a high priority, but Boldin has been remarkably reliable during his first season in Detroit and sets the tone in the weight room and on the practice field with his work ethic.

@Justin_Rogers thoughts on Staffords hand and having to play outdoors at New York next week?

— Cole Counts (@ColeCounts3) December 12, 2016

It's better than playing in a blizzard in Philadelphia, but only slightly. Stafford fumbled five times in that game. But he doesn't have a great resume wearing a glove in inclement conditions, either. In 2011, one of his best seasons, he threw four interceptions in windy Chicago.

@Justin_Rogers with Rudock on the roster now and Stafford missing a finger or whatever, who's the backup, Rudock or Orlovsky?

— nate pedder (@natepedder) December 13, 2016

It's Dan Orlovsky and it's not changing this season outside of an unexpected injury. Jake Rudock was promoted from the practice squad to prevent him from leaving for another opportunity, but he won't get a shot at backing up Stafford until next training camp.