Lions mailbag, Part 2: Will Darius Slay, Damon Harrison still be in Detroit next season?
Allen Park — We hope you enjoyed Part 1 of the Detroit Lions mailbag this morning. Welcome back for Part 2.
► Question. Do you see an outcome where both Slay and Snacks are gone next year? — @nerdwithkids
► Answer. I certainly wouldn't call it likely, but I could absolutely see a scenario where neither player is on the roster in 2020.
There was this narrative about buy-in a year ago, when the Lions were similarly stumbling through the 2018 season. At that point, there was a healthy percentage of the locker room struggling with the transition from Jim Caldwell to Matt Patricia. But after another year to turn over the roster, that struggling segment was largely filtered out.
But if I had to make a list of players who still weren't fully bought into the culture the Lions are trying to create, Slay and Harrison would be at the top of my list.
Now, don't mistake this for a criticism. When at their best, both are uber-talented players. But unlike many of their teammates, Harrison and Slay are the types who aren't afraid to hold out for what they feel they're worth and carry that conversation on to social media.
Slay has taken his willingness to speak out a step further, publicly questioning the decision to trade Quandre Diggs and noting that the defense wasn't putting players in the proper places.
In Matt Patricia's perfect world, no player ever puts his own interests ahead of the team. Talent typically wins out in these conversations, but when you have one of the worst defenses in the league, the door is open to make major moves.
Slay turns 29 in January. He'll be 30 when its time to sign him to an extension. A solid argument can be made that now is the time to cash in the chips, while there's still a trade market for his talents.
As for Harrison, there's a reason the Lions were able to get him for a fifth-rounder. There's a limited market for a run-stuffing defensive tackle. Because the Lions restructured his deal via an extension this offseason, they're on the hook for a $5 million cap hit in 2020 if they move him, but that still would represent nearly $7 million in cap savings.
► Q. Will the Lions give Bo Scarbrough enough opportunity to have a 100 yard rushing game this year? — @Nikkilodeon87
► A. Given his frame and ability to withstand punishment, there's definitely a scenario where the Lions ride the hot hand and give him 20 carries in a game. Hitting 100 yards would still require him to average 5.0 per carry, but as he showed with a 23-yard gain against the Cowboys — the Lions longest carry out of the backfield this season — there is big-play potential.
► Q. If you had to bet will Stafford play again this season? — @DetSports5
► A. At this point, I'd lean slightly toward him playing again this season. Understand, that's an assessment made on limited information, but if the healing process for his back injury is up to six weeks, as has been reported by national outlets, you're looking at medical clearance before the final two games of the season.
Is it the right decision? Depends on who you ask. If there's any risk of recurrence, the answer is clear. But if he's fully cleared to play, with no risk beyond the standard of playing NFL football, good luck telling him no.
► Q. Is Stafford the guy for the Lions to win a championship? — @Fumblemore10
► A. I've maintained this answer for years, and am more convinced than ever based on the way Stafford was playing to start this season; he absolutely has the talent to win a Super Bowl if provided an adequate supporting cast.
Give this offense a dominant defense, like the Lions had in 2014, and they're instant contenders.
► Q. How long of a leash does Quinn and Patricia have? — @tims987
► A. No one knows. Owner Martha Ford is the furthest thing from an open book. The last time she answered questions from local media was more than four years ago, back when Martin Mayhew when still the general manager.
What we do know is she's 94 years old, she's driven to provide Detroit with a winner and the team has fired a general manager, coach and team president during her short time running the franchise.
There's an undercurrent of urgency, but I don't know if it's enough to trigger another full rebuild given how close the Lions were to being 5-3 or even 6-2 before Stafford was injured.
► Q. Is Matthew Stafford in jeopardy of the Lions drafting a QB high, in your opinion? — @Kevin_Lang_
► A. Probably not.
If Quinn/Patricia stay, they are going to be in a situation where they have to win to save their jobs. Drafting a long-term quarterback doesn't help the team's chances in 2020.
And in the unlikely situation Quinn and/or Patricia are fired, a new regime isn't likely to make one of its first acts alienating the franchise quarterback.
► Q. Another season of the Lions being irrelevant. As a loyal fan, I don my Lions apparel in and around town. Tell me what to say when a passerby smirks and shakes their head at me. — @lamos_mary
► A. You can't say anything. You'll have to live with the fact that there are no witty comebacks for your choices. Michigan fans fall back on their history in troubled times, same with the Red Wings and Pistons. And no matter the depths the Tigers sink, the Old English D is classic. The Lions have no meaningful history of success during your lifetime, and a far-from-iconic logo and color scheme.
Just put your head down and walk faster.
► Q. What is in worse shape, the Lions defense (30th) or the Bears offense (30th) as they fight for last place in the division? — @Cartinthewater
► A. Honestly, the Bears. Maybe injuries have stymied Mitchell Trubisky's development, but I'm in the camp that believes he's just not very good. And if you don't have a franchise quarterback, that's tough to overcome in this era of exceptional passers.
► Q. What is your impression of Hockenson? Is he a disappointment? — @B_Lake007
► A. T.J. Hockenson has produced around the level I would have expected as a rookie. Obviously the debut opened a lot of eyes, and probably reset some of those expectations, but it didn't change the fact that he wasn't going to be more than the third or fourth option in the passing offense this season.
The worst part about Hockenson's rookie campaign has been some of the balls he's put on the ground. He built a deserved reputation for having excellent hands throughout college, but he's allowed some tough, but catchable passes to slip through his grasp this year, including a few in the end zone.
As a blocker, he's predictably developing. He's done better with his pulling assignments as the season has progressed, but has a lot of technique refinement to do in pass protection.
None of these things concern me. He's a young player committed to his craft. A significant jump in Year 2 wouldn't be surprising in the slightest.
► Q. Is Bo Scarbrough a long-term piece of the running game puzzle? — @therealjjanze
► A. It's been one game, so we should probably pump the breaks. Plenty of players have flashed potential, but the NFL is about consistency, and we have six more weeks to evaluate what the young back can establish in that regard.
► Q. I see an emerging theme in articles and on Twitter blaming coaching for the defensive woes. But what about Quinn's record in the first two rounds of the draft and in free agency? — @patricktsawyer
► A. Here are the eight players Quinn has selected in the first two rounds of the draft: Taylor Decker, A'Shawn Robinson, Jarrad Davis, Teez Tabor, Frank Ragnow, Kerryon Johnson, T.J. Hockenson and Jahlani Tavai.
Seven are still with the team, but there isn't a Pro Bowler in the group and only three (Decker, Robinson and Ragnow) have developed into reliable, quality starters.
So yeah, that's a problem.
I've always felt Quinn is conservative with his first-round picks. There's nothing wrong with taking a solid player from a Power-5 school, but it's not surprising that it hasn't netted star power.
► Q. On your best day, how many chicken wings can you eat? — @WorldofIsaac
► A. I have no idea. A chicken wing probably has an ounce of meat and if I'm really trying to pack them away, I'm probably stripping the meat off the bones before I get started, like a savage. That's the best way to maximize gorging time before digestion hits hard.
Is 80 crazy? It feels a little crazy. That's five pounds of chicken, but I'm committing to it. Also, I'm knocking off 20 if I'm hitting the blue cheese. And you better believe that's my preference.
► Q. Lost in the discussion of the terrible defense are we not giving enough credit to Darrell Bevell and the job he has done with the offense? — @adwenn
► A. I feel like I've adequately credited Bevell for the offense's success, particularly the unlocking of the deep passing game with Stafford. The new coordinator is really maximizing Stafford's arm talent and the quarterback's downfield weapons.
And since Stafford has been hurt, Bevell's experience with Russell Wilson is helping craft workable game plans for Jeff Driskel, Detroit's dual-threat backup.
The ground game has surprisingly continued to be a problem. The blocking concepts the Lions are running up front aren't unique, but the execution remains an issue, as it seemingly has for decades.
The offensive line was an area the Lions didn't really address last offseason, and it's fair to wonder if they'll tailor the group better to Bevell's personnel preferences in 2020.
► Q. From the start, and at every draft, Quinn and Patricia have always touted "versatility." I see versatility on the offensive line. I also thought this "versatility" would mean a different defensive game plan depending on the opponent. Do you think their versatility goal is on track? — @Tim1213
► A. Well, nothing is on track when you rank near the bottom of the league in yardage and points allowed. You do see an effort to remain versatile. In the secondary, the Lions play all kinds of different coverages, both man and zone. On film, you see variations of Cover-1, Cover-2, Cover-3 and Cover-6.
Up front, the Lions try to be versatile with their alignments, although some of the injuries have likely limited what they want to do, from a game-planning perspective. But they still move many of their pieces all over the place.
Flowers, in particular, lines up anywhere from outside the offensive tackle to directly over the center, while Tavai and Jones have split time off the ball and on the edge. Flowers and Kennard also regularly help jam pass-catching options or drop into coverage. And we're all aware of Davis' abilities as a blitzer.
The bigger concern is the effectiveness of these things. Flowers is good wherever he lines up, but Jones has largely been ineffective in his increased usage on the edge. The spirit of versatility is still there, but the talent to execute it hasn't been.
► Q. Is the Lions defense on the verge of being terrifying? — @cgd1959
► A. If you ask me, giving up 413 yards per game is already pretty terrifying.
But yes, I saw the same quote you did, and while I don't agree with Justin Coleman's assessment that the Lions are on the brink of a turnaround, getting healthy up front is the quickest path to improvement. We've mentioned it multiple times throughout these two mailbags, but Da'Shawn Hand's absence has been killer, especially when both he and Mike Daniels were sidelined by injury.