Allen Park — We’re still more than two months from the NFL Draft, which means we still have more than two months of speculation about what the Detroit Lions will do with the No. 3 pick.
Will it be a top defensive player like Ohio State cornerback Jeffrey Okudah or Auburn defensive tackle Derrick Brown? Or will Detroit buck conventional thinking and take a dynamic receiver like Jerry Jeudy? And no option figures to be more debated than what to do at the quarterback position.
Lions longtime starter Matthew Stafford was playing the best football of his career at the midway point of last season, before a second back injury in two years sidelined him the final eight games. He turns 32 this week, and who knows if the team will have an opportunity to draft an heir as talented as Tua Tagovailoa any time in the near future.
One of the biggest arguments against Tagovailoa is it doesn’t provide instant impact for a coaching staff and front office that need immediate success in 2020 to save their jobs. So if the Lions are thinking about passing on a passer, conventional wisdom suggests they should shop the selection to those teams desperate to land a franchise quarterback, loading up on draft picks in the process.
Looking around the league, we identified six teams that could be interested in a quarterback in this draft and what, if anything, they could offer the Lions to move up to No. 3.
► No. 5 and No. 26, or No. 5, No. 39 and No. 70
The pairing with the Dolphins continues to make the most sense. Sure, there’s a possibility Tagovailoa, with his own injury concerns, could slide to No. 5. But with the Chargers and Panthers a threat to jump them for the Alabama standout, it’s probably too risky to stand pat, if they’re certain he’s the guy.
And the Dolphins have the assets to make a deal happen, with three first-rounders and five selections in the first 56. If they wanted to make a simple swap, they could offer the Lions two first-rounders (No. 5 and No. 26). Based on the trade value chart, it’s a slight overpay, but paying a premium to land a quarterback isn’t uncommon.
That said, first-round picks carry additional value because the contracts include a team-option for a fifth season. It would be understandable if Miami is reluctant to deal two. In a second scenario, the could offer Detroit their first (No. 5), the first of their two seconds (No. 39) and a third (No. 70).
Again, the cumulative value of the three picks is worth more than the No. 3, but that makes sense given the potential demand.
Los Angeles Chargers
► No. 6, No. 37 and No. 71 (or a future second)
All signs point to the Chargers moving on from Philip Rivers after the 16-year veteran threw 20 interceptions in 2019. The team could make a run at Teddy Bridgewater in free agency, or hold steady and take Oregon’s Justin Herbert at No. 6, but the consensus is Tagovailoa is the better prospect.
If the Chargers offered the Lions a first-, second- and third-round choice, that should be enough to move the needle. And if the team was too uncomfortable liquidating that much draft equity in one year, they could up the offer by exchanging the third-round for a 2021 second.
That would be a better haul, but it also doesn’t do the Lions’ brass any good in a push for playoff contention next season.
► No. 7, No. 38, No. 69, or No. 7, No. 38 and a future second
The Panthers are in the midst of a major makeover this offseason, starting with the splash hirings of Matt Rhule and Joe Brady as the team’s new coach and offensive coordinator, respectively. That’s the in-with-the-new component of the makeover. Out with the old already has witnessed the retirement of star linebacker Luke Kuechly, and the release of three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen.
Many expect quarterback Cam Newton to be next, given his recent injury woes and almost no financial ramifications associated with parting ways.
So will the Panthers look to boldly add a quarterback to pair with Rhule and Brady? It seems well within the realm of possibility, given the aggressive approach of new owner David Tepper.
Similar to the Dolphins and Chargers, the Panthers could entice the Lions with a package of three picks, either their first-, second- and third-rounders this year or the first and second, paired with a future second.
► No. 13, No. 34, No. 44, or No. 13, No. 34, No. 75 and a 2021 second
While the first three trade options make sense for both sides, a drop this far down the board could be too much for the Lions to swallow. But let’s play out the string.
The Colts were blindsided by Andrew Luck’s retirement last year and Jacoby Brissett doesn’t have the look of a franchise passer. In 15 games last season, he threw for fewer than 200 yards per game, and his 6.6 yards per attempt ranked 30th among qualifying quarterbacks. Only Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph were worse.
With a ton of cap space, the Colts could conceivably address many of their needs in free agency before going all in for Tagovailoa. With two second-round choices, including pick No. 34 they picked up from Washington, they have the assets to make a compelling offer.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
► No. 14, No. 45, No. 144 and tight end O.J. Howard
Tampa Bay is at a crossroads with Jameis Winston, the former No. 1 overall pick who threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, but also 30 interceptions. He’s set to be a free agent, and the franchise tag makes sense as a stopgap, but Tagovailoa offers an arguably brighter future.
Unlike the Colts, the Bucs don’t have the immediate draft assets and would likely need to include some future picks to interest the Lions. Another possibility would be including a player in the return package, such as Howard, a former first-rounder.
Obviously, the Lions aggressively attempted to address their tight end situation last year, signing Jesse James to a long-term deal and drafting T.J. Hockenson in the first round. Adding Howard to that mix would give the Lions another pass-catching option across the middle. Or, they could immediately turn around and shop him. It’s easy to imagine New England giving up one of their multiple third-round choices.
New England Patriots
► No. 23, No. 87, No. 98, 2021 first and a 2021 second
Speak of the devil.
Tom Brady is nearing the end of the road and the Patriots must consider their options. Maybe that’s Jarrett Stidham, last year’s fourth-round pick and Brady's backup. But no one will question Tagovailoa is the better talent.
The problem is trading up, and paying a king’s ransom in assets to do so, goes against everything we know about the Patriots’ draft philosophy.
While not an exact comparison, a recent example of such a large move up the board occurred in 2011, when the Falcons sent picks 27, 59 and 124, plus a future first and fourth to the Browns for the No. 6 pick. For the No. 3 choice, the Patriots would have to pay even more.