Lions mailbag, Part 1: Slay's trade value; did contract length play role in retaining Quinn, Patricia?
Allen Park — The Detroit Lions announced Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia will be back next season. Not surprisingly, that's sparked a fresh batch of questions for this week's mailbag.
Remember, this is only Part 1 of our weekly Q&A. Remember to check back this afternoon for Part 2.
► Q: Given the mandate by the Ford family, does this make trading Slay less likely? I mean how do you replace someone like that when you are aiming for at least 9-10 wins? - @spleen95shortbr
► A: It's an excellent observation and to simply answer the second part of your question — it wouldn't be easy. How long did it take the Lions to find a cover corner of Slay's caliber in the first place?
Can the Lions really afford to part ways with Slay for draft equity? Sure, it might make sense from a long-term perspective, given his age and contract demands, but it puts the team's brass in a jam with the need to win in 2020 to save their jobs.
The physical adjustment from college to the NFL is difficult for most defensive backs, so even if the Lions selected the best corner in the draft, it's impossible to suggest they could step in and immediately replace Slay's ability to cover the opponents' best receiver, week after week.
►Q: Any way the Lions could get a second-round choice for Slay? What about using it for a Big 10 running back such as Jonathan Taylor or J.K. Dobbins? - @MiState4Ever
►A: Had the Lions dealt Slay at the deadline this season, they probably could have asked for a little bit more, given the desperation teams have that time of year. Now, you're probably in the ballpark of what the Lions could get in return, which further plays into the above point that selling wouldn't be the wisest move.
As for the second part, I think the Lions want to see what they have with the backfield tandem of Kerryon Johnson and Bo Scarbrough. Johnson is ideally suited to not shoulder a full load but has proven he can be elusive and efficient as part of a rotation.
The problem the Lions had was finding a complement. Scarbrough, in admittedly small sample size, flashed the potential to be that downhill bruiser to round out Detroit's backfield.
That's not to say there isn't potential to upgrade in the draft, but given how few yards Detroit's backs are gaining before contact, the better investment would be in the team's blocking in an effort to maximize the ball-carrying talent they already have on the roster.
► Q: I checked some Colts news and saw Stafford's name as a trade possibility. Is trading Stafford realistic? - @jeffhooker
► A: I don't know what sources you're reading, but this sounds like some baseless speculation. And similar to what we just discussed with Slay above, how do you marry the idea of trading away one of your best players, especially at the most important position on the field, with the expectation of contending for the playoffs in 2020?
If the Lions put Stafford on the block, there would be suitors. Given the back-to-back years with back injuries, the offers might not be what they once were, but conversations would still start at a first-round pick.
But then what? You eat a massive $26 million, dead-money cap hit and start either a journeyman like Ryan Fitzpatrick or throw a rookie right into the fire. Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia might as well start packing their things in this scenario.
► Q: Best free-agent defensive stud who helps immediately? - @JBeieler
► A: Depending on how teams utilize their franchise tags, it's shaping up to be a decent class of defensive linemen. It's going to cost huge money to land one of the top names, potentially a similar to the five-year, $90 million the Lions spent on Trey Flowers, but among the top options that could help the Lions immediately would be defensive tackles Chris Jones and Arik Armstead or edge rushers Yannick Ngakoue, Dante Fowler or Jadeveon Clowney.
Jones is probably my favorite from that bunch.
► Q: How much non-Lions NFL football do you get to watch in a season? - @BigBitingPig
► A: Not a lot.
On Sunday, I'm typically at the stadium from 10 a.m. until at least 8 p.m. The 4 p.m. games are often on the TVs in the press box, and if something interesting is happening, I might take a quick break to catch the final couple minutes.
As for the prime-time games on Monday, Thursday and Sunday night, if the matchups are compelling, I'll tune in for pieces. But my focus is on the family when I'm home, at least until everyone else is in bed.
► Q: Do you think the length of contract left for both Patricia and Quinn played into why they're coming back? - @chris_w5155
► A: It's a fair question, but one where we're just speculating.
That said, we've long been working on the assumption that both the coach and general manager are operating on coinciding five-year contracts. Those are typically guaranteed, so a conservative estimate, when you factor in the assistant coaches that would also be broomed out in an overhaul, is there would be $30-40 million charge tied to an overhaul.
It's probably naive to assume money wasn't a factor in the discussions, but I genuinely don't believe it was the biggest. Plus, the wrong decision would also impact the bottom line on game days, from ticket sales to concessions.
And, of all the criticisms we can levy at the Ford family, we can't really say they've cut corners with spending. The team uses its cap space, pays free agents, invests in its stadium and practice facility and went out and got the hottest coaching candidate, at the time.
► Q: What’s the last concert you went to and who are you going to see next? - @DanielDopp
► A: As you might imagine, I don't get a chance to go out during the season all that often. The last concert I attended was Bon Iver, at the Fox Theatre in April, which was an excellent set. We had tickets to see The Tallest Man on Earth in Royal Oak, but never made it because we had to rush a sick child into urgent care the night of the show.
I don't currently have tickets to anything upcoming, but I do get alerts on my phone for bands coming to town, so hopefully will make it out to a few this winter.
► Q: What's your feel on the buy-in at this point from who is left available to play? Think they will weed out the last 'rebellious' ones this offseason and will that make a difference? - @AllDayMGray
► A: I don't know what kind of buy-in you're looking from when it comes to recent additions to the back end of the roster, but from the guys making up the core of the roster, it would be difficult to find more than a handful of veterans who aren't fully committed to Patricia's way of doing business. And with that group, they're all still intrinsically motivated to give at their best regardless of who is calling the shots.
I'd put accomplished veterans like Darius Slay, Marvin Jones and even Matthew Stafford in that classification.
Could there be an additional weeding out this offseason? Absolutely. But there aren't enough impact players in that group to make a difference.
► Q: Do the Lions have a data analyst? Is Patricia a coach that utilizes analytics? - @trumanfrancis
► A: The Lions do utilize analytics, something Bob Quinn noted the franchise would incorporate from the day he took the general manager's job. It's been a while since I've looked into the specifics, but last I knew, Jon Dykema and Evan Rothstein played significant roles in that operation. The team also has a director of football research in David Corrao.
As for Patricia's usage, like anything else about his operation, it's tough to get concrete details, but here's a quote he provided at the 2018 combine.
"I think analytics have been involved with football forever," he said. "We call ’em tendencies. That’s all it was before and now it became ‘analytics.’ So I think that’s important. Every single coach does it, and there’s people in the organization who look at different things that maybe take a lot of time to analyze, while coaches are working on something else."
► Q: You ever have ambition to write in other forms, like books or non-sports just to name a couple? - @Tim1213
► A: It's not something I've really thought about. The current job is demanding, often requiring up 65-70 hours per week. On top of that, I make every effort to be home as many nights as possible, for dinner with the family and helping get the kids to bed, even if that means writing earlier or later to achieve that goal.
If approached by the News, or someone else, to cover a different, non-sports topic, I would always listen to the opportunity. As for taking on a more ambitious project, such as a book, that's not something I'm likely to entertain while in my current position.
► Q: If Bill O'Brien is fired in Houston, is Romeo Crennel their first choice to replace Paul Pasqualoni at defensive coordinator? - @FrediThePizzaMn
► A: Is there speculation out there that O'Brien is on the hot seat? I can't imagine why with the Texans sitting in first place of their division with a 9-5 record.
In your seemingly unlikely hypothetical, yes, I would imagine Crennel would be a serious contender for the job because of his schematic familiarity, extensive experience and overall success in the coordinator role, from both production and player development standpoints.
► Q: What is the best defense Matt Patricia has presided over? - @patricktsawyer
► A: Patricia had several good defenses in New England, but his best was probably the 2016 unit. The first number I'm always going to look at is points allowed and the Patriots held the opposition to a league-low 15.6 points per game that year.
Additionally, that defense was top-10 in yards, rushing yards per carry, opposing passer rating, third-down conversion rate and turnovers. The team was unquestionably aided by a soft schedule that season, but still proved its mettle in the postseason, shaking off a horrific start to post the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.
► Q: How likely do you think it is, given the mandate from Mrs. Ford, that Quinn moves up to No. 2 to get Chase Young? - @OnePrideKurt
► A: Regardless of the mandate, it would boil down to whether Quinn believes Young and his skill set are the biggest piece missing from a defensive transformation. If the general manager thinks the Ohio State standout's presence alone could solve many of the team's defensive woes, you worry less about later picks and future assets and pull the trigger on the aggressive move.
Personally, I think it's presumptuous to pin hope of an instant turnaround on a rookie. My guess is Quinn feels similarly. When you win only three of 14 games, you have plenty of spots on the roster in need of any upgrade. Selling out multiple assets for one could easily be viewed as taking an unnecessary risk.
► Q: Viking fan here. Any chance the Lions show up and beat the Packers in a week and a half? - @Trevor_Newsham
► A: I know we like to say any given Sunday, but it would be stunning to see this Lions roster, littered with journeyman and unproven young players, have any shot against a Packers team playing for playoff seeding.
► Q: What is the difference between a beat writer for the Lions and a non-beat writer (e.g. Wojo) for the Lions?
► A: A beat reporter, on any topic, is a journalist completely focused on a specific topic of expertise. Using myself as reference, all I do for the Detroit News is cover the Lions. I'm at their facility almost every day during the season and I'm constantly curating a network of sources within and outside the team to expand my knowledge of the team and make my reporting as detailed and accurate as possible.
Wojo isn't a reporter. At least not in his current role. He's a columnist, paid to offer his opinion, rooted in the facts and information he obtains from being around the team occasionally. My opinions are typically limited to this mailbag or one of a handful of clearly marked columns I'll write during the year.
On a given day, there are 20-30 writers covering the Lions, but it's closer to 10 who are there every day.