Lions mailbag: Priority shifts to defensive end

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park -- With the Detroit Lions largely done in free agency and turning their attention to the draft, it seemed like a good time to do a mailbag. On to your questions.

@Justin_Rogers More important for us to target next (FA or Draft): DE or CB?

— Andy Carsell (@ajc812) March 17, 2017

The team has a bigger need at defensive end. First, it's the more important position, and second, Detroit's depth is worse at the spot.

People remain down on Nevin Lawson, but he's fine. Plus, he's still young and improving. The nickel situation is more concerning, but D.J. Hayden should increase the competition for the role.

Ziggy Ansah, right, and the Lions could use some reinforcement at defensive end.

At defensive end, where you need a rotation of four, it's Ziggy Ansah, Kerry Hyder, Anthony Zettel and Cornelius Washington. Ansah should bounce back, and Hyder proved to be a valuable piece. Zettel is young, but the upside is limited. And Washington hasn't accomplished much in his four years, but his signing shows the Lions feel they can tap into his potential.

If given the option of two relatively equal talents at a draft slot, the Lions should take the edge defender.

@Justin_Rogers two parter..why is Ngata still on payroll? Why no interest in Zach Brown?

— TBone Stallone (@timbomersh) March 17, 2017

Because Ngata is still one of the best defensive tackles on the roster and there isn't an obvious way to upgrade the group with the $5.5 million in cap space his release would create. Much like defensive end, the Lions lack quality depth at defensive tackle. It's an area the team needs to address in the draft and preferably early.

As for Brown, he's a player who has been undervalued on the open market in back-to-back years and it's tough to understand why after what he accomplished in Buffalo last year. But with Dont'a Hightower scoring a deal that averages $11 million per season, Brown isn't going to come cheap, meaning he's not in the Lions' price range.

@Justin_Rogers What kind of contract is AP looking for? What % chance do you give the lions to land him?

— Wickstafly (@wickstafly) March 17, 2017

I'm not familiar with Adrian Peterson's demands, but I have seen reports suggesting a multi-year contract worth $4-6 million per year. At this point, he's far more likely to land that only if he agrees to a deal loaded with performance-based incentives.

As for Peterson to the Lions, there has been nothing to officially link the two sides, only circumstantial speculation from a few national reporters. The Lions don't have a lot of cap space to waste and the draft is deep at running back, so I wouldn't get your hopes up for the bruising back lacing them up for the Honolulu Blue.

@Justin_Rogers Any chance they resign Kellen Moore?

— Jay C (@Mranthr0pe) March 17, 2017

I wouldn't think so. Moore's connection to Detroit had a lot to do with former offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, who obviously helped bring the quarterback to Dallas. The Lions are ready to roll with Jake Rudock as the backup and are more likely to bring in a rookie into camp than another veteran, at this stage.

@Justin_Rogers How long before Jim Bob Cooter leaves for a head coach position?

— Peter Dumon (@pgdumon) March 17, 2017

I wouldn't worry about it. It's probably a few years away, if it happens. The Lions' offense hasn't shown nearly enough consistency to make him a hot coaching commodity and the young coordinator is still a little rough around the edges when it comes to being the face of the franchise. Cooter's strength is Xs and Os and that's only a small part of running the entire operation.

@Justin_Rogers How big of priority is Boldin to the front office and on the field? Would they rather have a speedster to stretch the field?

— Hermy (@Hermaphro) March 17, 2017

Maybe the upgraded offensive line changes the philosophical mindset of the offense, but the Lions have been far more reliant on the efficiency of quick, short passes in recent years. A vertical threat has value because it spreads out a defense, but a player like Boldin, who knows how to find open space and utilize his frame to consistently convert on third down and in the red zone, has been more valuable in Detroit's scheme.

If Boldin is interested in returning to Detroit, it would be tough to argue against the fit.

@Justin_Rogers is there any chance lions can get a starting caliber lb in FA with left over cap space

— Watson (@Watsonymous) March 17, 2017

Linebacker is a position where you can still find bargains on the market, but the Lions seem to have already landed their target in Paul Worrilow. Given the team intends to be in the nickel 65-75 percent of the time, a third starting linebacker isn't the biggest position of need. As it currently stands, they'll utilize some combination of Worrilow, Tahir Whitehead and Antwione Williams, who is expected to make a significant leap in his second year.

Obviously, an upgrade in the draft cannot be ruled out.

@Justin_Rogers Should we trade Calvin Johnson for some draft picks?

— Nick Sharkey (@sharkey) March 17, 2017

I'm thinking this is a joke, but since there are reports the Oakland Raiders are trying to acquire the rights to retired Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch, I guess there's a shred of validity to the question. That said, Johnson isn't coming back, so he carries no trade value.

@Justin_Rogers is alex carter the odd man out in the secondary next year?

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) March 17, 2017

He was the odd man out last year, so it's fair to assume he faces an uphill battle for a job once again in 2017. Darius Slay, Lawson, Hayden and Bademosi are your locks. That leaves one, maybe two spots for Carter, Quandre Diggs, Adairius Barnes and any rookie the team might bring in via the draft.

Jabrill Peppers

@Justin_Rogers would you pass on a shot at Peppers at 21 to take a chance on Obi Melifonwu at 42?

— mstoef (@mstoef) March 17, 2017

I'd pass on Peppers. Not because I think he can't be a good player in the NFL, but because I believe the Lions don't need a strong safety with Tavon Wilson and Miles Killebrew holding down the present and future of the position.

@Justin_Rogers Is it bad to kind of like Peppers due to versatility?? Or is he not good enough at one position?? Also, there are bigger position needs

— Kevin Goodson (@gkgood4) March 17, 2017

No, that's not wrong at all. Versatility is a positive and Peppers has the potential to do a lot of things well. What's not to like is he hasn't proven to be a consistent playmaker on the defensive side of the ball. He's shaky in coverage and rarely gets his hands on passes. And he's not big enough to play linebacker.

He can probably be a good return man out of the box, but he'll need a specific plan and time to develop into a defensive contributor. He has all the athleticism in the world, now it's up to a defensive coordinator to find a way to best deploy it.

@Justin_Rogers New wardrobe and I've started wearing purple, is that weird? Am I betraying my team by not wearing silver and blue anymore?

— Kent Lee Platte (@MathBomb) March 17, 2017

I'm less worried about the incorporation of purple into your wardrobe than the fact you're concerned about how the Lions might feel about it.

@Justin_Rogers After a week of FA, there are still significant needs to fill with limited cap space. Do you anticipate moves to make space? If so, what?

— Samuel Witham (@SamWitham) March 17, 2017

The two contracts that raised the most questions this offseason, beyond the already-released DeAndre Levy, were Ngata and Whitehead. Teams usually release guys prior to the start of free agency, when the funds can best be put to use. I wouldn't anticipate any additional releases.

The team could always restructure a contract, particularly Marvin Jones', if they need to free up some space. But that's not really Bob Quinn's style. Restructuring just kicks the can down the road, increasing cap hits in future years. Quinn is making every effort to be responsible with the team's future spending.

@Justin_Rogers If Taco and Charles Harris are both available, who will be picked by the Lions? I Hope Taco, he would be amazing with Ziggy.

— sdfg (@sergio39157680) March 17, 2017

It's a tough choice because both have a lot of talent, but different strengths. Charlton has impressive size and length while Harris has better burst off the ball and more consistent college production.

Given the option, I'd lean Charlton. You can't teach size and he fits the profile of what the Lions like on the edge. And I would trust defensive line coach Kris Kocurek to iron out some of the inconsistencies in the Michigan standout's game.

@Justin_Rogers Who do you think will be lining up in the backfield when the Lions start the season? Abdullah, Riddick, or someone else?

— John Popovits (@The_Johnny_Pop) March 17, 2017

Until we see how the draft shakes out, we have to presume it will be Abdullah. He looked good in the limited snaps we got to see last year and the hope will be the foot injury was a freak accident and not the beginning of a trend of durability issues.

Now, if the Lions were to land a top running back in the first two rounds of the draft, someone like a Dalvin Cook or even Joe Mixon, if the team opts to roll the dice there, things obviously change.

@Justin_Rogers what is the Lions stance on players in trouble. At first it was a no go but now seems to be different?

— Tim Smith (@tims987) March 17, 2017

Speaking of Mixon...

Quinn took a hard line stance against gun crimes and domestic violence when he was hired as general manager, but walked that back after the season, saying he would evaluate each case on an individual basis.

The Lions aren't going to shy away from a checkered past. Quinn has brought in players with drug issues (Armonty Bryant and Akeem Spence) and a road rage incident (Orson Charles). The team, especially coach Jim Caldwell, has made it clear they believe in second chances.

Mixon would be another level. While not a domestic violence situation, since there wasn't a pre-existing relationship with the victim, he brutally assaulted a female, breaking her jaw with a punch during a 2014 altercation. There's video of the incident and adding the talented running back is going to come with a great deal of merited scrutiny.

@Justin_Rogers Whitehead seems to be getting raw deal about last year's performance. I personally think that's way off. Am I wrong? #mailbag

— The Arrowman (@TheArrowman_) March 17, 2017

I don't know what opinions you've read about Whitehead, but here's my take: The tackle numbers were nice, but somewhat empty. He really struggled in coverage and was regularly attacked by opposing quarterbacks, giving up 53 receptions for 567 yards and five touchdowns, all worst for his position. And of his 132 tackles, only three resulted in a loss of yardage. He had no forced fumbles, no interceptions and no fumble recoveries.

Tackles are nice, but the Lions need more big plays. That's not unique to Whitehead, but given the two-year, $8 million contract he was awarded in free agency last year, expectations are a little higher.

@Justin_Rogers w/ coverage LB being the biggest whole left in Detroit, If Reddick is there, is there any way BQ goes a different direction?

— Zachary Warber (@DetLionsScout) March 17, 2017

Haason Reddick is a fascinating talent. His athleticism is off the charts and in the right scheme, he has the makings of a really dynamic defender. But you asked if the Lions would pass on him, and the answer is absolutely. At pick No. 21, there aren't many things you can guarantee. Even if Reddick was 10th on the Lions' draft board, maybe there's a defensive lineman, cornerback or running back who is eighth. If that's the case, that's the pick.