Lions mailbag, Part 1: Tight end should be near top of wish list

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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Levine Toilolo was the Lions' top receiving tight end last season with 21 catches and 263 yards.

Allen Park — The Super Bowl is in the rear view and we're still more than a month away from free agency and nearly two months from the draft. What's a Detroit Lions reporter to do? How about a mailbag? 

We're going to try something different this go around, an idea co-opted from late mentor Tom Kowalski. He'd get so many questions, he'd spread his mailbag out over multiple days. Given the lack of news this time of year, spacing things out seemed like a good idea. 

On to the first batch of questions. 

Greatest offensive and defensive need not named wide receiver or edge rusher? — @ch0z3n1

On offense, the Lions need a tight end — two, really — in the worst way. If they could convince Levine Toilolo to re-sign, it partially solves the problem, but they'd still lack a top option, particularly from a pass-catching perspective. 

The Lions need to provide Darius Slay with more help at cornerback.

Defensively, it's finding a cornerback opposite Darius Slay. One more reliable in coverage and capable of making consistent plays on the ball. I'd still keep Nevin Lawson on the roster, whether as a full-time nickel or as the top depth option backing up all three roles, but upgrading the starting spot on the outside would shore up one of the defense's biggest weaknesses.

More: Lions select LSU CB Greedy Williams in Todd McShay's latest mock draft

How would you feel about the Lions trading back? I was thinking of a deal, Lions trade #8 to the Raiders and get #24 and #27 in return? — @Jables22s

In most scenarios, I'd support trading back in the first round of this draft. Sure, it's going to be more work for me that night, but I'm pretty sure no one, not even my wife, cares about that. 

As for your proposed package with the Raiders, it makes some sense on paper, but not in reality. Why, after spending a year acquiring assets, would the Raiders be looking to consolidate them? That's not a roster that's a piece or two away from competing. They're overhauling under Jon Gruden and don't appear desperate for a new quarterback, which would be the top reason to make such a bold deal. 

True or false, Patricia and Bob Quinn can survive an underwhelming season in 2019 where the 8-8 Lions miss the playoffs & Matthew Stafford played all 16 games. — @MichaelFick1

Sure. Even though the organization took two steps back in 2018, they'd probably be able to sell this one step forward as progress. I'm not saying you or I would believe that, but it might be enough to fool the casual fan. 

It would be a different conversation if Matt Patricia was in his fourth or fifth season, but both he and Quinn signed long-term contracts in 2018. Those are guaranteed. The Lions, like most teams, aren't going to be in a hurry to making sweeping changes when they would cost upward of $30-40 million, when you factor in the other front office staffers and assistant coaches who would also need to be bought out in a changing of the guard.  

Free agency, the draft, and new coordinators are always seen as a ‘quick fix’, but the Lions always seem to be just one or two moves away from greatness. You watched the tape from last season. How far away are we from a playoff winning team? — @The_Johnny_Pop

Even that's pretty optimistic. Outside of 2014, where the Lions fielded a legitimate contender that might have been a piece or two away from a Super Bowl run, they typically haven't been all that close. 

But the NFL is constructed for rapid turnarounds. The gap between where the Lions were last season and winning a playoff game this year is one solid offseason. If the team hits on its free-agent spending, lands 3-4 contributors in the draft and gets the anticipated development from the majority of the roster's young talent, they could easily make that leap.

Do that in back-to-back years and you're talking a championship-caliber squad. 

But when was the last time the Lions hit a home run in the offseason? Sure, they've hit on some free agents, and they've had some really solid drafts, including last year. Still, across-the-board success has been elusive. 

Is WR a bigger need than most fans want to admit given the lack of overall speed and ability to create separation? — @Vretz2121

Finding a slot receiver to replace Golden Tate remains a pressing need for the Lions.

I can't say I'm tapped into the hive mind at the moment, so I'm not sure how fans view the need for wide receiver. That said, adding one is significant, but not necessarily for the reasons you've highlighted. 

Marvin Jones and Kenny Golladay's separation is a narrative that got legs last season, but this wasn't new information. There are only a handful of receivers who do everything well, the superstars of the position. Most have limitations. Jones and Golladay have never been great at getting separation, but both know how to use to their frames well in close quarters to make up for that deficiency. 

What the Lions need, desperately, is someone to replace Golden Tate's role in the offense; a lightning quick slot guy who works the underneath routes and can make things happen on his own after the catch. That type of playmaker, which the team lacked after Tate was shipped to Philadelphia, complements what Jones and Golladay can do on the outside, and helps counter some of the bracket coverage they might receive when there's not a legitimate underneath threat. 

More: Lions could find Golden Tate's replacement at Senior Bowl

As much as we all want to talk about football still, there are more pressing questions that begin with what's your favorite Toto song? — @Kfletch300

I've always been partial to "Hold the Line." At Ford Field, "Africa" went undefeated in fan voting. It's unofficially the team song and I'm convinced Rod Wood needs to embrace it, pull out the stops and land Toto for the Thanksgiving halftime performance. 

When is it time to draft Stanford’s successor? If Kyler or Haskins is available at pick 8, do you pull the trigger this year? — @J2theSquared

I left the error in there, because it never ceases to amuse me. I'm sure auto-correct is to blame, but I'd like to believe there are some fans who still don't know Stafford's name after 10 years. 

As for drafting a quarterback in the first round, it would be about the most stunning thing I could imagine the Lions doing on draft day. It's a near-zero possibility. 

But I do anticipate the Lions will draft a quarterback this year, and I could see it happening as early as Round 3, although Day 3 is the more realistic scenario. 

Among the options who could be there in the third round, Daniel Jones and Clayton Thorson make the most sense. Later-round options include Kyle Shurmur, Brett Rypien, Gardner Minshew, Tyree Jackson, or personal favorite, based on the name alone, Easton Stick. 

The Lions are highly unlikely to draft Matthew Stafford's successor in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Here are two ideas for a new NFL Overtime. 1.) Just like it is now except no punting 2.) Sudden Death Overtime - No Punting - No kickoff - Whoever gets the ball first starts at their own 10 yard line. Which would you prefer? — @BigBitingPig

I don't feel like the current format is all that bad, and I don't like the elimination of important elements of the game, such as punting. 

Complaints came up after the Patriots beat the Chiefs, but why? Because Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs offense didn't get a shot. Well, maybe the defense should have done a better job on those third-and-longs. 

What is the over/under for how many OL players Quinn will draft? And what are you taking? — @blewist1844

A lot of that will have to do with free agency. The team needs to figure out its right guard situation, first and foremost. I'd set the early line at 1.5 offensive lineman in the draft, one in the mid-rounds for that competition at right guard and another late to compete for a backup job on the interior. 

Any chance the Lions will attempt to sign Suh who is a free agent? — @LionLenny

Not really. The Lions have a strong defensive tackle rotation in the making, and while they need another piece to round it out, it will probably be a rookie or a cheaper veteran. It could simply be the re-signing of Ricky Jean-Francois. 

Ndamukong Suh, 32, continues to play at a high level, but his production did slow a bit last year. He's probably past expiration on a long-term deal, but someone will give him decent money as a one or two year hired gun. 

Who’s has the potential to have a break out year who’s not Golladay or Kerryon?— @C_Lions81

Well, those two already had breakout seasons. I think the same can be said for defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand. 

As the roster is currently constructed, there isn't an offensive skill position I'd be comfortable listing. I won't make the mistake of picking Michael Roberts again, and I'm not sold on Brandon Powell because of one game. 

Defensively, it's time for Jarrad Davis to make a big jump. He added some versatility to his game as a pass-rusher last season, and improved in coverage, but still lacks the down-to-down consistency you'd expect from a former first-round pick. 

But the guy I have the highest expectations for next season, from the perspective of year-to-year improvement, is safety Tracy Walker. He really showed some promise in his tightly controlled playing time as a rookie, and there should be a big opportunity for increased reps next season.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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