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Detroit Lions mailbag: Ansah or Ebron, which one's a keeper?

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions tight end Eric Ebron had 53 catches for 574 yards and four touchdowns last season.

While we wait for the New England Patriots' season to end, so the Detroit Lions can officially hire their next head coach, let's knock out a mailbag.

Who is more likely to be wearing Honolulu blue and playing at Ford Field in 2019, Ebron or Ansah?

— Harry (@503LionsFan) 

Can I vote neither? OK, fine. If I had to choose, I'd lean toward Eric Ebron.

After Ziggy Ansah's injury-riddled past two seasons, I'd be surprised if the two sides come to terms on a multi-year deal this offseason. The franchise tag is a realistic possibility, but using it two consecutive years means you're looking at something like a $22 million cap hit in 2019.

More: Justin Rogers’ NFL mock draft 1.0

As for Ebron, he'll be 26 to start the 2019 season, in the prime of his career. If he continues to produce like he did in the second half of last season, you'd like to find a way to keep him on the roster.

How do the Detroit Lions become the next Eagles/Jaguars/Vikings and contend for a Super Bowl bid?

— Mius Flint (@MiusFlint) 

When you look at the rosters of the two NFC teams, it's difficult to find a real weakness. You can't say the same for the Lions, who can't run the ball, struggle to protect quarterback Matthew Stafford and can't consistently rush the passer. So, first and foremost, the team must continue to successfully fill needs in the draft and free agency. Simple enough, right?

The Jaguars are a little bit different. They have some clear deficiencies on offense, but make up for it with a top-tier running back and defense. In fact, all three defenses are really, really good. I don't think that's lost on the Lions, who are bringing in a defensive mind as head coach.

More: Lions' T.J. Lang named to Pro Bowl squad

As for the personnel on that side of the ball, there's plenty of work to be done. Darius Slay and Glover Quin are stars, Jarrad Davis has shown flashes and represents the mindset the team wants, but the Lions have to focus on its front seven this and next offseason, and need a high hit rate on their acquisitions, to close the gap with the three teams you mention.

Can the Lions hire other coaches with the new coach approval before Patriots season ends?

— Dan Carnahan (@Danthemancarnah) 

Given the team can't formally agree to a contract with Matt Patricia, or even acknowledge they intend to execute a contract, it would be a classic case of tampering if the Lions went out and contacted his staff targets before a deal is formalized.

I'll throw one your way for you to hammer at ... who is the leading candidate for defensive coordinator?
Will he be picked by BOTH Quinn and Patricia or just Patricia?
(Okay, there's more than one)

— hockeyman (@hockeyredwhite) 

I don't have a leading candidate. My gut instinct is to look at someone Patricia has worked with in the past, like Detroit native Pepper Johnson, or one of the Patriots' current position coaches not named Brian Flores, who would likely be promoted to replace Patricia if he doesn't get the head coaching job in Arizona. And while there's no connection, you have to at least consider Kris Richard, who was let go by Seattle this week.

What is the Lions' cap space looking like and who may be some likely FA pickups this offseason?

— K  (@KarlAlden) 

I normally maintain my own salary cap spreadsheet but haven't got around to making it for this offseason, coaching search and all. You understand. That said, Over the Cap and Spotrac do a pretty good job of tracking the information and have the Lions sitting between $46.5-$49.5 million. That's a good chunk of change.

First and foremost, the Lions need to decide what to do with Ansah. Franchising him will eat up about $18 million. Other notable free agents the team could consider re-signing include Tahir Whitehead, Tavon Wilson and Haloti Ngata.

As for outside options, the first thing you look at is the Patriots roster. I doubt the Lions pull out all the stops and make a run at cornerback Malcolm Butler. There's a need, but the team already has a lot of resources tied up in its secondary. There are a couple role players, guys like Ricky Jean-Francois and Marquis Flowers, who could find their way to Detroit.

A player who might be worth going all-in on would be Carolina guard Andrew Norwell. He's young, dominant and would be a significant upgrade from Travis Swanson, with Graham Glasgow sliding over to center.

If the Lions want more multiplicity to their defense, a traditional nose tackle like Dontari Poe could be appealing. Nickell Robey-Coleman offers an ascending talent to man the slot corner, making Quandre Diggs shift to safety a permanent move. And Isaiah Crowell, Dion Lewis or Carlos Hyde each offer a potential backfield upgrade.

If Quinn were to trade someone on the current roster before or during the draft, who might it be?

— John McNally (@TrueJMC) 

Probably Ameer Abdullah. There's enough talent and versatility, at a reasonable price tag, that Quinn could find a buyer if the back is put on the block.

Do you believe Cooter's playbook was bridled by a conservative Caldwell?

— Alright, Alright, Alright.. (@sleepsW3LL) 

Not as much as I did when Joe Lombardi was running the offense. But Jim Caldwell's imprints were on everything, both positive and negative, with the offense. Matthew Stafford's improvement and the team's success in crunch time are directly related to Caldwell's influence. But so is the team's lack of a running game and insistence on trying to establish it week in and week out.

I don't believe the Lions lacked downfield aggression, they simply lacked a run game and the balance that comes with that. That's long been the flaw of Caldwell's teams, and by extension his offensive coordinators. That will be a puzzle for Patricia to solve.

Under which circumstances would you pull the trigger on Derrius Guice in the 1st round? Aside from the obvious top 10 guys: Landry, Hurst, Vea, off the board?

— Derek (@steeztabor) 

I wouldn't draft a running back in the first round, or at least not at No. 20. If the Lions traded down seven or more spots, picking up some extra draft equity in the process, and Guice is still there at the end of the first, maybe. It depends who else is on the board.

What is the minimum threshold for considering Patricia's first season in Detroit a success? Has to be "win a playoff game," right?

— Derek (@steeztabor) 

Ten wins or a playoff appearance. I think you temper expectations slightly in a first season. That's not to say they can't be exceeded.

Best beard in sports?

— Donald Sutherland (@dsutherland6214) 

Well, Brett Keisel retired, and former closer Brian Wilson shaved his before his comeback attempt as a knuckleballer, so I guess I'll go with either James Harden or Justin Turner.

How are you Justin?

— Lions_Analysis (@Lions_Stuff1) 

I'd rather not think about it. I don't have the time to cope with an existential crisis at the moment.

I feel bad for asking this question, but I see it a lot in my own industry and it’s demonstrably on people’s minds: What do you see as the impact on Patricia’s credibility with ownership or players that he doesn’t look the part? Notwithstanding how fair that is, since it’s not.

— Grant Bonin (@grantbonin) 

Matt Patricia's looks won't impact his ability to win over his players or win games. He'll probably need to trim the beard up a touch for some of the corporate responsibilities of being coach, just like he'll have to slap on a suit and tie for his introductory news conference. But this is football, not banking. And as someone who wears hoodies just about every day it's weather appropriate, I approve of his attire of choice.

My season ticket renewal will cost $1,800. Do I a) renew at the price? b) throw so more cash in and upgrade? c) put those $ toward a Hawaiian vacation?

— Mary Lamos (@lamos_mary) 

Mary, do what makes you happy. If you enjoy going to Lions games, and can afford it, you should renew. But if you opt for Hawaii, I'd recommend Kauai.