Lions mailbag, Part 1: Let Johnson run; drafting a WR; Rivera a good fit?
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions may have officially been eliminated from postseason contention, but the mailbag rolls on. Welcome to Part 1 of this week's Q&A.
► Question: Do you think the Lions are destined for "Hard Knocks"? - @ryan_zarzecki
► Answer: Good question and one I haven't thought about since the team avoided the 2019 edition of the popular HBO show.
Here's a quick refresher on the rules: Teams aren't required to be on the show if they've made the playoffs in the past two seasons, have a new head coach or have been on the program in the past 10 years.
If Patricia sticks, the Lions don't check any of those boxes, making them eligible.
Other teams in play, barring a coaching change, are the New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Minnesota Vikings and Arizona Cardinals.
Obviously, Minnesota and Pittsburgh hold the respective six seeds in their conferences, but if they fall out of the playoff picture, both would be compelling options. Same with Arizona, with a hot young coach and electric, dual-threat quarterback Kyler Murray.
I think the Lions might be safe for another year. But I'm pretty sure it's about time for the team to return to London.
► Q: Are they really going to bring back Kerryon Johnson for Week 16? - @claypot2
► A: A return to practice doesn't ensure anything other than the Lions are seriously considering it.
There's this argument that the Lions shouldn't take any unnecessary risks by shutting him down until the offseason program. If he's only 80 or 90 percent, I respect that opinion, but if he's good to go, are we going to suggest that he wouldn't benefit from some on-field development down the stretch, even if the games are otherwise meaningless?
Johnson only has one season's worth of experience, and he's still a work in progress as a route runner and pass protector. Some reps down the stretch would offer him an opportunity to sharpen those skills and hopefully make him better prepared to thrive in 2020.
For those that want to put him in bubble wrap, why stop there? Shut down Kenny Golladay and Trey Flowers, Tracy Walker and Darius Slay. Heck why even risk Bo Scarbrough? Haven't we seen enough in three games? Protect Bo!
Again, if Johnson isn't 100 percent in a couple weeks, if there's any lingering soreness in that surgically addressed knee, by all means, shut him down. Otherwise, I see no issue in letting him get some run.
► Q: Are we entering another 10-year drought without a winning season? - @TimeKiller343
► A: Look at the current roster. How many of these guys were here five years ago? Don't worry, I've got you. The answer is five, and that's including a punter, kicker and long snapper.
I get it. Times are bleak, but it's a fool's errand trying to predict what will happen next season, let alone 2028. There are going to be players on the roster in five years who are currently high school juniors. I don't know about you, but I'm not scouting that far ahead.
► Q: Do you think the fans would burn down Ford Field if we drafted a wide receiver such as Jerry Jeudy in the first round? - @JustMcGregor
► A: What I've learned over the years is there's never unanimous fan support for any roster decision, particularly a top-10 draft pick. The closest I can remember was the selection of Ndamukong Suh.
Whether it's Bob Quinn or another general manager making the pick, I would imagine there would be significant frustration if the team doesn't address the defense in the first round, even if there are a number of spots on offense that merit long-term consideration, including wide receiver.
If the Lions took Jeudy, they'd be getting a fantastic player, but certainly not one that addresses a glaring, immediate need. While I don't think that results in an actual riot, it would certainly fuel the anger on social media and on talk radio airwaves.
Honestly, the more likely possibility if the Lions don't go defense, based on their current draft slot projection, is adding offensive tackle. In the top-10, Andrew Thomas and Tristan Wirfs will merit a look look, given their ability to boost another under-performing unit.
► Q: If Paul Pasqualoni is gone after this season, who would you like to see the Lions go after as his replacement? - @AlphaBeast11
► A: You don't want me picking because I'm going to go with entertainment value and suggest someone like Rex Ryan. Not because it makes any sense at all, because it absolutely doesn't, but because I'd never be at a loss for a good quote.
And nothing makes my life easier than a good quote.
As for serious candidates, I don't have those answers right now, largely because I haven't had enough of a window to evaluate the options. My belief is Patricia would have trouble giving away significant control of the defense, so any hire would still primarily be a caretaker for the head coach's scheme.
That would likely dissuade many accomplished candidates from taking the job.
The best bet, in my opinion, would be a young, exuberant position coach with either playing or coaching experience within some variant of Detroit's scheme. I've thrown this out there before, and have no inside information to suggest it's a realistic possibility, but I'm intrigued if Patricia would consider making a run at former linebacker and current Patriots assistant Jerod Mayo.
► Q: Is Ron Rivera the Lions coach next year, or do they miss out due to having to hire a new GM first? - @MichaelJStark
► A: I really expected more Rivera questions, but I think this was the only one. He'll unexpectedly be a hot name, coveted by fans of every team in the market for a new coach this offseason.
I like Rivera. He did great work with the Panthers over the years, but for a defensive coach who took over play-calling duties a year ago, and scored Gerald McCoy and Brian Burns this offseason to improve that unit, Carolina was allowing 26.7 points per game at the time of Rivera's dismissal. That's worse than Detroit.
That said, if Quinn was granted the opportunity to fire Patricia this offseason, I imagine Rivera would get strong consideration. I just find the entire scenario unlikely.
One thing is for sure, Riverboat Ron would certainly be capable of finding some new and creative ways for the Lions to lose games.
► Q: Assuming Patricia keeps his job after this season, what type of accomplishments will the team need to achieve next season to merit keeping him at the helm beyond 2020? - @CKKHW
► A: If you told me the Lions could potentially finish 3-12-1 and he'd be in line to keep his job after this season, I would have assumed Stafford was lost to injury in the first quarter of the first game.
One thing I noted before the season was progress could be measured by the team evolving to one that was consistently competitive. They've taken that step, but when I made that statement, I figured a greater percentage of those close games would have ended with wins. It's staggering how frequently the Lions have collapsed late in contests.
If Patricia sticks, based on the premise the team is a play or two away each week, the demand in 2020 has to be playoffs or bust. And, really, even that might not be good enough. A 9-7 or 10-6 season that sees the Lions get slaughtered on the road in the opening round of the playoffs shouldn't be hailed as some great turnaround, but rather a return to the higher level of mediocrity that earned Jim Caldwell his walking papers.
► Q: Assuming he’s healthy, do you think the Lions are set on another Stafford extension? The reason I ask is if this regime goes would they want to saddle the next with high-priced QB or go for total rebuild? - @fly3491
► A: It's too far down the road to be talking about extending Stafford's deal again. He's currently under contract through the 2022 season and he'll be 35 years old at the start of the 2023 campaign. Who knows where the roster will be and who will be in charge?
► Q: Bob Quinn has attacked certain positions aggressively in past offseasons (offensive line in '17, tight end this year). Will this be the offseason where he finally addresses the pass rush with that type of aggressiveness? - @GMart4041
► A: For addressing those units so aggressively, he sure hasn't gotten a sufficient return on investment, has he? The Lions offensive line has never been better than middle of the pack, despite the resources Quinn has poured into it. And we didn't see anywhere near the anticipated increase in production from the tight end group after the offseason overhaul.
Wait, what was the question?
Oh, yeah, which group will Quinn focus on this year? I don't know if there will be a concentrated point of emphasis this year. The Lions have too many holes, potentially including guard, offensive tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, defensive tackle and cornerback.
Assuming the Lions spend their first-round pick on Chase Young or Iowa's A.J. Epenesa, and add a pass-rushing defensive tackle in free agency or later in the draft, that might be sufficient to address the deficiency.
► Q: Is there any reason to watch any of the remaining games? What should us fans be looking for? - @MichaelPopiel
► A: There are plenty of people who watch the hometown team through thick and thin, but if you're asking me for reasons to tune in, I'm going to have trouble creating a compelling list.
The leading reason would be getting an extended look at the roster's younger talent. Running back Bo Scarbrough is fun to watch and making a strong case for a role in 2020 and I'm curious to see how cornerback Amani Oruwariye stacks up against top-tier receivers on the upcoming schedule after performing well against subpar talent in his first two starts.
► Q: Suppose Bob Quinn grants Justin Rogers the first question at his postseason wrap-up press session. What are you asking him? - @spleen95shortbr
► A: That's not really how press conferences work. We don't raise our hands and wait to be called on; it's more of a free for all. I'll come to that press conference with a list of 20 or so questions, knowing many will overlap with my colleagues. I'll cross them out as we go along.
Obviously, the top questions this year will be about Patricia, whether the decision was to retain him or let him go. If he's retained, I need to know what Quinn thinks has gone wrong with the defense, given the team has had two years to put the pieces and scheme in place. The logical follow-up is what are the next steps to fix it, but I wouldn't expect any great reveals here, because the team won't want to tip its hand on offseason targets.
► Q: With all the turnover in general managers and coaches, can the Lions ever be good without allowing someone time to make real change even with failure? - @HonoluluBlue_SB
► A: I'm not buying this argument, especially at general manager. Martin Mayhew got eight years. The same for Matt Millen. Chuck Schmidt and Russ Thomas had more than a combined three decades before that.
The Lions did have a run of changing coaches too frequently there for a while, but Jim Schwartz and Jim Caldwell both got fair shakes, five and four years, respectively. In those nine seasons, there were three playoff berths, but no division titles and no postseason victories. Caldwell had the better overall record, but he also squandered better opportunities with better talent.