Detroit Lions mailbag: Don't make too much out of Darius Slay, Damon Harrison missing OTAs
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions conducted their first open practice of the offseason this week, but despite some interesting personnel movement along the offensive line, fans seem more interested in the players who weren't there.
We tackle those questions and more in this week's mailbag.
Q: Do you see Darius Slay & Snacks Harrison holding out into training camp or further?
First, let's be clear about this, no one is holding out. Both players are sitting out voluntary portions of the offseason program, which is their collectively bargained right. As accomplished veterans with established roles, they aren't likely to be negatively impacted by their decisions.
As for the potential of an actual holdout, I doubt it. When you have multiple years remaining on your contract, you don't have much leverage. Antonio Brown proved to be a rare exception, forcing his way out of Pittsburgh this offseason, but there were more factors at play there. Slay and Harrison aren't locker room disruptions. I would anticipate both back for the mandatory portions of the offseason program, starting with minicamp in early June.
Q: Do you expect the Lions lock up Slay and Harrison with contract extensions prior to training camp?
Honestly, I don't. With two years left on each of their deals, the Lions aren't in a rush to negotiate and it would set a tough precedent for general manager Bob Quinn when dealing with future contract situations.
Those talks make far more sense next offseason.
The only logical counter argument is with Slay. Salaries are going up so quickly, the Lions could lock him up at a lower rate now. At 28 years old, you can still bank of a few more years of prime football.
Q: What's your best guess on why the Lions are hoarding cap space. Restructures? Next year's free agent crop? Or maybe building a war chest to ease the pain of a big cap hit if they decide to move on from a very high priced player after the season?
More than anything, I would anticipate that cap space is being reserved for a number of extensions the team must consider during the next 15 months, from the aforementioned deals for Slay and Harrison to talks with Graham Glasgow, A'Shawn Robinson and Taylor Decker.
Additionally, the caps hits for the players signed this offseason will jump significantly in the second year of those contracts. The prime example is defensive end Trey Flowers, who has a $6.4 million cap hit in 2019, which jumps to $16.7 million in 2020.
Q: Snacks tweets yesterday indicated a beef with him and Davis. What’s the deal?
I'll admit, this question caught me off guard. Had to scan through Harrison's tweets and I assume you meant this one:
Quickly googled the phasing and learned it's a lyric to a Drake song. I don't know the 40 being referenced here, but I don't think Harrison was tying it to Davis' uniform number.
Q: Is the assumed competitiveness of the NFC North the biggest obstacle the Lions face? New England benefited from playing in a subpar division for over a decade.
I don't know if it's the biggest obstacle, since the three other teams have managed to have their moments at the top the past two decades, but it certainly makes the path more difficult year after year.
The Bills have had how many starting quarterbacks during the Bill Belichick era? I'm not going to count, but it's been a lot. Meanwhile, the Packers have rolled into each of those seasons with Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the helm.
The Vikings have fielded a great defense the past several years under Mike Zimmer, while the Bears are coming off a 12-4 season.
But those Bears are exactly why the Lions don't have any excuses. That was a team that averaged fewer than five wins the previous four years. And while last year's regular-season record was a bit of a mirage, and they failed to advance out of the wild-card weekend, Chicago appears to be in better shape heading into the 2019 campaign than Detroit.
Q: Do you expect Bob Quinn to bring in any new guys later in the offseason that'll play a critical role or contribute on the team (like Eli Harold, Romeo Orkwara, and Damon Harrison from last year)? If so are there any players you could see him targeting?
The roster isn't complete. There will be some pickups before the regular season and Quinn would love to luck into another Okwara off waivers, or find a team dealing a star who fits the scheme for a fifth-rounder like the GM did with Harrison.
Speculating about which players might be targets, at this point in the offseason, is impossible.
Q: With the addition of Ty Johnson, will Kerryon Johnson now have to wear a jersey of "K. Johnson"
No, your jersey should be safe, unless Kerryon has a kid and adds "Sr." to the nameplate. Remember, the Lions had three receivers (and a linebacker and safety) with the last name Jones on the roster in 2018.
Q: I don’t think the Lions adequately replaced Tate or Lang this offseason. Is the offense worse than it was last year?
If by adequately, you mean with equal talent, no they did not. Danny Amendola has had a solid career, meshes well with the coaching staff, and can be reasonably counted on for 40-50 catches, but he's older and not as good as Golden Tate.
As for the guard situation, the talent drop-off is even larger. T.J. Lang played at a Pro Bowl level when healthy. You're not likely to get that type of performance from the returning Kenny Wiggins or free-agent addition Oday Aboushi.
But does that make the offense worse? Maybe in those areas, but the overall package of talent should see some improvement. The biggest upgrades were obviously made at tight end position, where Jesse James and T.J. Hockenson should form a formidable dual-threat tandem. Additionally, in the backfield, C.J. Anderson should be more productive than LeGarrette Blount a year ago.
And, while it's difficult to quantify in May, the change at offensive coordinator should make a positive difference. Not because Darrell Bevell is an exceptionally better play-caller than Jim Bob Cooter, but because Bevell's offensive philosophies mesh better with Patricia's and how the roster is being constructed.
Q: What game would be the best road trip to take this year?
Personally, I'm looking forward to the Denver trip. With all my personal and professional travels the past two decades, I've never been. The downside is that game is two days before Christmas.
For fans, I'd recommend going to Philadelphia. First of all, it's a good opponent. Second, it's a great town to walk around, especially if you appreciate American history. And, since it's in late September, it shouldn't be too cold.
Q: Do we have the talent to run Bevell's offense, or will he change offense to the talent? Did he use two TEs in Seattle?
I don't see personnel being an issue. The team is deep with ball-carrying options, headed by Johnson and Anderson, have three quality receivers and a pair of versatile tight ends. I would imagine Stafford will be taking more snaps under center this year, but he's done plenty of that in his career.
As for Bevell's usage of tight ends in Seattle, there were plenty of two tight end looks, particularly his final few years there, with Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson.
Q: Will the Lions look to bring in DT McCoy? Please explain why or why not.
Probably not. The primary reason is the Lions are in a good spot at defensive tackle with three quality players, who all fit in the scheme well, with each capable of handling big workloads.
McCoy is an exceptional talent, who I can believe can succeed in any scheme, but his best trait is his ability to penetrate and disrupt the backfield. That's not the technique the Lions utilize in their current scheme.
So you're essentially asking me if the Lions will pursue a player where they wouldn't maximize his talent or be able to give him enough work to justify the salary.
Q: Given the records of the past 5 years, what is a realistic expectation of W and Ls in now year 4 of the Quinn regime and year 2 of the Patricia/Quinn tandem?
If you're a betting man, Vegas says seven. Of course, fans have every right to expect more, for the reasons you mention. Quinn has had enough time to lay the foundation of his roster and subsequently modify that foundation to fit Patricia's vision.
I don't think any fan expecting 10 wins this year is being unreasonable.
Q: I read earlier in the week that Tabor picked off a couple of passes. With so much emphasis on finding a #2 behind Slay how much stock goes into those INTs ... were they against the 1st, 2nd or 3rd team?
Jobs aren't decided in May. It doesn't hurt to be making plays in these early practices, but that second cornerback job will be determined through training camp and the preseason.
The ability to generate turnovers will be a significant part of the evaluation. The Lions need playmakers and there are few plays more important to wins and losses than takeaways. But a corner must also be consistent. If a player intercepts four passes during a season, but gives up 15 catches of 20 or more yards, is routinely beat on third down and draws seven pass interference flags, are they starting material?
Q: I was half awake and explained to my girlfriend (who is not a football fan) why the Lions defense will lead them into the playoffs. Why am I right? Or am I, gasp, wrong?
I'm curious how interested your girlfriend was in this conversation. Was she politely listening because she loves you or is she genuinely curious about your analysis?
As for the heart of your question, it's tough to succeed in the NFL with only one dominant unit. A dominant defense won't matter much if the offense and special teams aren't competent. But of the three, the Lions defense has the most potential to be elite this year.
Now, if the offense and return games can complement the defense, and the Lions can control the tempo of games the way they envision, that's the ticket to the postseason.
Q: If you could ask any player on the team any question and they had to give you a straight answer, who and what would it be?
This is an outstanding question and the longer I could sit down to think about it, I'd probably change my answer a dozen times.
Off the top of my head, I'd probably ask Matthew Stafford to tell me the offense he'd design around himself to best maximize his talent, both from a schematic and personnel standpoint.
Q: Have the Lions in the past used the drills that are now going to be banned?
The Lions have definitely run half-line drills during my time on the beat, but I can't remember if they were part of last year's practice routine. The team did use a variation of an Oklahoma drill last year, but it was safer than the traditional version that has drawn rightful criticism.