Lions mailbag: Potential cap casualties, move on from Martin?

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Lions punter Sam Martin

It's Thursday and therefore Detroit Lions mailbag day. 

Why is Sam Martin still the Lions punter?

— James Anthony (@alldetroit24) November 7, 2018

When the Lions extended Sam Martin's contract in 2016, he was one of the best punters in the game. He finished fourth in the NFL in net average the previous season and rewarded the team's faith in him with the second-best net average in NFL history the following year. 

No one could have expected what happened in 2017, a freak foot injury suffered while on vacation. You just deal with those things as they come along, but that was the key culprit to last year's disappointing performance. 

This season, Martin has bounced back. He's not threatening franchise records, but his 45.4-yard average indicates the leg strength is close to normal. The net is a disaster, and some of that is his fault due to a few mishits, but it's more on shoddy work from the coverage units. 

Financially, Martin's contract extension didn't kick in until 2017 and there was plenty of guaranteed money on the deal heading into this year. It would have cost more cap space to cut him than to keep him. Next year presents a more interesting choice. 

Martin's cap hit is $3 million in 2019. The Lions are responsible for $1 million regardless of whether he's on the roster. If the team feels they could get equal value from a late-round draft pick or undrafted rookie, they could pull the trigger and take the approximately $1.5 million in cap savings. 

Rich Gannon didn't reach his potential until he was 34. Matt Stafford is 30. When are you going to reach your potential, Justin?

— Ryan Larimore (@LarimorePodcast) November 8, 2018

That ship has sailed, Ryan. 

I'm thinking top 10 pick, 12th maybe with how they're playing ... would that be considered a success or failure with the roster they have?

— FrontDeskIssues (@POSCSMF1) November 8, 2018

It would be an obvious failure given preseason expectations, but something tells me you knew that and you just wanted to hear someone else say it. 

Is ZZ going to be a FB now that he looks like a truck?

— Miguel Leite 🇵🇹 (@LeiteMiguel15) November 8, 2018

Yes, Zach Zenner now looks like a body builder, but that doesn't mean he'd suddenly be an excellent blocker. There's some skill set carryover from his special teams duties, but cracking a linebacker out of a run lane requires weight behind those muscles. Zenner is still listed at 220 pounds. Nick Bellore is 250. That's why Bellore is likely to remain at fullback. 

Which veteran players are likely to be cap casualties/viewed expendable by BQ come the offseason? Ansah, Lang, Quin?

— ciandoylefanclub (@ramdoylefanclub) November 8, 2018

Just so we're clear, a cap casualty is letting a player under contract go because it is not financially reasonable to keep them on the roster. That eliminates Ziggy Ansah from the conversation since he's already scheduled to be a free agent. 

T.J. Lang is the leading contender. He has a cap hit of $11.7 million next year and would offer a cap savings of $9 million to cut him. He's an excellent player, but his body is betraying him. The team could easily argue they'd be best served to find a more durable replacement. 

Glover Quin will be an interesting. Moving on would save $6 million, and, honestly, he might make the decision for the team. I don't think anyone should be surprised if he decides to call it a career after this season. 

Other players on the bubble, depending on what replacement options are available, include Nevin Lawson, Theo Riddick, Christian Jones, Tavon Wilson and Kenny Wiggins, who would each offer $3-4 million in cap savings with their releases. 

Lions offensive guard T.J. Lang

Longest streak in NFL history for a team without a 100-yard rusher? Or what is the least total team rushing yards over a 10-year span?

— KillaBee© (@TheBallHog) November 8, 2018

That sounds like a lot of work with little payoff. 

Have you ever seen practice drills to help our QB’s deal with a collapsed pocket or all-out imminent blitzes?

— Markey (@seemark71) November 8, 2018

Sure. You see quarterbacks work on taking a snap, immediately rolling out away from imaginary pressure and making a throw on the move. That's a pretty common drill. 

And here's the thing about preparing for blitzes: The QB is only part of the equation. Additionally, he and the offensive line, namely the center, need to do a good job recognizing the possibility pre-snap and establishing blocking responsibilities. The receivers must also recognize when the coverage is vacating a spot on the field to blitz and run a route to an open spot to give the quarterback a quick read. 

The Vikings used creative stunts and blitzes against the Lions on their way to 10 sacks. Since Patricia is a defensive coach, like Zimmer, how come the Lions don’t confuse the opponent with creative schemes?

— Mike Steggerda (@SparkTheUSA) November 8, 2018

The Lions do plenty to try to confuse their opponents, both up front and in the secondary. There's a reason they have so many sacks without having a truly reliable pass rusher. 

In the end, Matt Patricia's scheme is wildly different from Mike Zimmer's, and, if we're being reasonable, the Vikings have significantly better personnel to execute what's being asked of them. 

If Stafford can change plays at the line, why is it they still try to run against 8 or 9 in the box? Seems like there is no creativity in Cooter’s offense.

— Mike Steggerda (@SparkTheUSA) November 8, 2018

That's probably a bit of a fallacy. According to data tracked by the NFL, Kerryon Johnson runs against an eight-man box on 21.4 percent of his carries, a pretty typical rate. And you have to consider many of those designs, with three tight ends or two tight ends and a fullback, might have encouraged that type of defensive response. 

LeGarrette Blount, on the other hand, faces an eight-man box 35.4 percent of the time. That's near the top of the league. Then again, is this unexpected? How many of Blount's 65 carries have been of the short-yardage variety? 

At some point, you have to be able to impose your will when the situation dictates it. 

What do you think of the Lions going hurry up on offense to try and create urgency for Stafford, since he thrives in the 4Q? Would also take advantage of their superior physical conditioning. Hope I got at least one out of three.

— Chris Dolan (@cgd1959) November 8, 2018

Running hurry-up offense in the first quarter is not the same as running it in the fourth quarter, down multiple scores. What's lost in the translation is how the defense plays the Lions in those situations, conceding short passes across the middle where the primary objective is to use clock. 

There's value to playing with tempo at other stages of the game. You can wear down a defense and you can also prevent substitutions, trapping mismatches on the field. But what it doesn't do is alter a quarterback's mindset, tricking him into a false sense of urgency. 

To an average fan the recent moves by Lions management appear incongruous. How much if any explanation are NFL fans owed by their GM and HC about the direction of the team?

— James C Meyer (@trumanfrancis) November 8, 2018

Personally, I think paying customers appreciate a little transparency from their teams, but they aren't compelled or required to share anything. If fans don't like that, they have the ability to respond with their wallets. 

It's obvious from watching Matthew Stafford week after week he is the most overrated (overpaid) player in the league. Why not trade him now and go for a total rebuild? With the Lions nowhere near contending what would Stafford's trade value be at this point?

— DB (@DB04369668) November 8, 2018

Both extreme viewpoints of Matthew Stafford are irrational. He's not the most overrated/overpaid player in the league, but he's also not an elite quarterback who has been hamstrung for a decade by an organization failing to give him a right setup to succeed. 

Stafford is an above-average quarterback who is good enough to win a Super Bowl in ideal circumstances and not good enough to consistently elevate a below-average roster to playoff contention on his own, like an Aaron Rodgers. 

Stafford's salary is the going rate for what he brings to the table. While the skill sets are different, the open-market value of Kirk Cousins shows you what an above-average QB is worth. 

You don't trade Stafford because it's so hard to find an above-average quarterback. Ask the Browns, Bills, Cardinals, Titans, Buccaneers, Jets and others.

Even when you think you have that guy, after three or four years of stagnated development, you often find out you don't and you have to begin the process over again.

What happened with A’Shawn’s angry scenes in the locker room last week and after the game? Is it fair to say the atmosphere is turning toxic? And do you think the players honestly believe in Patricia?

— Josh Farrington (@joshfarrington) November 8, 2018

A'Shawn Robinson's actions reflect the immaturity of an individual and not a toxic locker room culture. The third-year defensive tackle was never particularly friendly with the media, but things went into the gutter right around the time TMZ reported he was sued for bailing on a nearly $10,000 bar tab. 

When he was a rookie, we'd have an occasional casual conversation about college football or some other meaningless topic. Now, he won't even return a greeting when passing in the hall.

It's safe to say neither of us are losing sleep over the lost interactions.  

What is the depth on the returners now, without Tate or Abdullah.

— Michael Jackson (@mdjaxon) November 7, 2018

TJ Jones can obviously handle both duties, Kerryon Johnson did some work on that front in training camp and Marvin Jones was randomly fielding punts before the Vikings game. So the Lions have options. 

Did we not look at Dez for WR because we only want to sign upstanding team players?

— Jared Schmidt (@CalvinballRef) November 7, 2018

Dez Bryant is not a slot receiver, having played very little inside during his career. That lack of versatility was the first knock. The second, as you note, is there's a character concern. Matt Patricia is a team-first guy, and he wants his roster filled with team-first guys. Bryant has a knack for drifting into me-first territory when things are going poorly.

Justin, is there any evidence to support the DC's opinion that Teez is improving? I haven't seen it, but maybe you have.

— Monte' White (@TayyWhite1) November 7, 2018

I've never heard a bad thing said about Teez Tabor's practice habits and preparation, so you can understand why a coaching staff wouldn't want to throw a guy under the bus when he's busting his butt every day to get better.

But the film isn't kind to Tabor. The one thing I can say is he's been in really good position on several throws where he's allowed completions. If he can improve on finishing, it would make some of his ugly coverage numbers more respectable. 

Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, right, and quarterback Matthew Stafford

Is JBC gone if they don’t win more than 6 games this year? It feels like there are too many weapons to not be scoring in the red zone.

— Anthony Albano (@NJdetlionsfan) November 7, 2018

That's a blanket statement that doesn't consider the number of variables. Is Jim Bob Cooter to blame if the Lions lose three or four shootouts in the second half of the season? And I would argue the Lions are lacking in red-zone weapons, even more so with Golden Tate gone. They don't really have a reliable option to attack the middle of the field in those short areas. 

Cooter's seat is undeniably warming right now, more than Patricia is letting on, and if the Lions' offense struggles down the stretch, I would anticipate a change in 2019. While Stafford has thrived under the offensive coordinator, and the run game finally seems to have some juice, the unit's overall production has rarely been above average. 

And it's conceivable, maybe even expected, that Patricia will want to do a more thorough job of remaking his staff with his own guys, now that he has a full offseason to do so. 

Do the Lions extend Decker? Seems to be another Backus/Reiff in that he’s just above average.

— Erik Kaseta (@ekaseta) November 7, 2018

With Taylor Decker, you probably pick up the fifth-year option, which is guaranteed only for injury, and you see where you're at after next season. 

Last year's shoulder injury has proven to be a significant bump in the road, and it's difficult to say Decker is better now than he was as a rookie. If the development doesn't get back on track through 2019, it wouldn't be unexpected to see the Lions consider an alternative, possibly even Tyrell Crosby. 

Are we back in Ed Oliver/ Nick Bosa position? Might as well fire up your draft preview.

— tony tuccini (@TonyTuccini) November 7, 2018

Where have you been, Tony? I've been doing draft previews each week during the college football season. We've looked at 50 prospects already. Get with the program. 

As for Oliver and Bosa, I'm not willing to predict the Lions will be in contention for the No. 1 pick, or even the top-five choice. But this class is loaded with good defensive talent at the top, so even if they're picking closer to No. 15, there should be a good piece to be had. 

Why didn’t we just trade Tate for Fowler, and why didn’t we pickup Irvin at DE?

— Ker vue (@vue_ker) November 8, 2018

It takes two to tango and the Jaguars weren't looking for a slot receiver rental. They wanted draft equity in exchange for Dante Fowler Jr. and got a good offer from the Rams.

As for Bruce Irvin, he wanted to play for a winner, according to reports. The Falcons are on the outside looking in on the NFC race right now, but they've won three straight.

Plus, two additional factors gave Atlanta the leg up: That is Irvin's hometown and coach Dan Quinn was Irvin's defensive coordinator in Seattle. 

Do you think spouses and/or parents of athletes need to speak out or should they?

— Rwingswin (@Rwingswin) November 8, 2018

What's necessary is up for debate, but I can't criticize a parent or spouse defending their loved one. We should all be so lucky to have a spouse as passionate about us as Kelly Stafford is about Matthew.

I certainly don't agree with her take that Matthew is beyond reproach from both fans and the media who cover the team, but I have no problem with her lashing out.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers