Detroit Lions mailbag: Looking at free-agent bargains, and trade-down scenarios
Allen Park — With the scouting combine a week a way and free agency just around the corner, it's time for another Detroit Lions mailbag.
► Question. Have you been able to think of a list of possible "second-tier" free agents the Lions might sign, defensive line and cornerback in particular? — @SFHCommish_1
► Answer. I haven't put much work into it, to this point, with my focus on the Senior Bowl and the combine to start the offseason. My opinion here will be based on a cursory glance on pending free agents.
Starting with defensive end, the group is top-heavy and each of those options will carry a significant price tag. If you're looking for a bargain, Aaron Lynch could be an option. He'll turn 27 this offseason, has a good build and a history of production, but is coming off a down year, despite a healthy pass-rush pressure rate. He was much better for the Bears the previous season, playing under Vic Fangio.
Another edge player in his prime who could have some untapped potential is Ronald Blair, who played 200 snaps in the 49ers' rotation last year.
On the interior of the defensive line, I'm curious about Andrew Billings. You may remember him from his unexpected slide to the fourth round of the 2016 draft. He's a solid run defender and isn't a total waste on pass-rushing downs.
I'd also be interested to see the price tag on Shelby Harris after his breakout season in Denver. He recorded six sacks, part of 28 total pressures, and continued to be an above-average run defender.
Finally, at cornerback, former first-round pick Kevin Johnson quietly played well for Buffalo last season. He can play both in the slot and outside, but he's not going to get his hands on many passes.
If you're looking for a deeper cut, Maurice Canady has some potential as a depth addition. He's got a 6-foot-2 frame and played well for the Jets down the stretch after spending his first three-plus seasons as a reserve with the Ravens.
► Q. Does Detroit get an XFL team? — @therealjjanze
► A. As I'm answering this question, there isn't any ratings data out for this past weekend's slate of games. The XFL's survival likely will hinge on its television deal and broadcast companies will pay if the eyeballs are there.
I can say I've enjoyed the first batch of games more than I thought I would. Clearly the talent is inferior, but the pace of play has been adequate, the rule innovations are enjoyable and you can't help but appreciate the league's attempts to bring you an inside look at the action, from play-calling to access to the locker room at the half.
I would imagine the league is at least a couple of years away from expansion, but Detroit, as a sports-crazed Midwestern market, should always be considered. Cities that did a well during the short-lived AAF, such as San Antonio and San Diego, would be a little higher on my list, though.
► Q. With respect to the remaining coaching vacancies, do you anticipate the Lions hiring a new tight ends coach from outside the organization, rather than simply promoting from within, given the investment at the position? — @Vretz2121
► A. The Lions have been quiet on coaching changes the past couple of weeks. They still haven't officially announced the addition of Tyrone McKenzie, who coached linebackers for the Titans last year.
At the Senior Bowl, offensive quality control coach Ben Johnson worked with the tight ends. A former college quarterback, he has nearly a decade of NFL coaching experience, working with the quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends in Miami before joining Detroit's staff. He also coached the tight ends at Boston College in 2011.
I don't know if Johnson will get the full-time job, but he wouldn't be unqualified.
► Q. You’re one of the few people, if not the only person, who have the Lions taking Derrick Brown over Jeffrey Okudah. Assuming Chase Young is off the board, how far back can the Lions trade and still land Brown? — @MichaelFickII
► A. To be fair, any February projection of the draft is based on incomplete information. We're lacking combine/pro day data and rosters around the league will be re-shaped in March, during free agency.
I did slot the Lions Brown, over Okudah, in a decision I would call a coin flip. In my opinion, both are the best players at their positions and fit short- and long-term needs for the Lions.
I also believe both would still be on the board if the Lions traded back to No. 5 with Miami, and potentially even at No. 7, if they swap selections with the Panthers. I don't anticipate either player making it out of the top 10.
► Q. Are mock drafts fun for you, the way others in the media get a kick out of them, or is it just a part of your offseason program? — @CallMeDjm
► A. Fun probably isn't the right word, but I find a lot of value in researching the prospects, as well as team needs around the league. The process of creating an initial mock draft takes around 10 hours, between reading and comparing various scouting reports and watching a little bit of film on the majority of prospects.
► Q. What is the most ridiculous Stafford “who says no?” offer have you seen outside of the Bears second-round pick blog post that floated around? — @drew_tomlinson
► A. Well, I hadn't seen the one you mentioned, so that's up there. There was also the hypothetical Stafford for Jameis Winston swap proposed by a national media member, where the answer to who would say no is the whole of the Lions fan base.
► Q. Say the Lions take Chase Young at No. 3 and that they want to move up from 35 to take a CB. How far would they need to move up, who do they take, and what is the compensation? — @SniffinGrits
► A. This is a pretty deep class of cornerbacks, so there's a good chance the Lions can stand pat at No. 35 and still get a pretty good one without giving up significant future assets. The only benefit of trading back into the first is the fifth-year option attached to the contracts of players selected in the opening round.
Among the cornerbacks who could be available to the Lions early on the second day of the draft are Ohio State's Damon Arnette, LSU's Kristian Fulton, Clemson's A.J. Terrell and Alabama's Trevon Diggs.
If C.J. Henderson slipped to the bottom of the first round, pick No. 35 and a fourth-rounder might be enough to get a team to bite, but it would probably take a little bit more.
► Q. If the Lions strongly address the defensive line in free agency, will they still jump at the chance to take Chase Young if another team trades with Washington for the No. 2 pick and takes a quarterback? — @BigBitingPig
► A. Unless the Lions award another edge rusher with a Trey Flowers-like contract in free agency, Young should be the pick if he's there at No. 3. But if the team unexpectedly signed a player such as Dante Fowler, Matt Judon or Jadeveon Clowney to a massive, multi-year deal, that would complicate the conversation.
A more-likely scenario in free agency would see the Lions target and spend on a defensive tackle. Even if they explore top-of-the-market options like Chris Jones, it wouldn't alter how much Young could improve the overall unit.
► Q. Any trade down would most certainly be on draft day because they've got to see if Young is somehow available, right? — @Tim1213
► A. I can understand why you might think that way, but if a team comes with an overwhelming package of picks before the draft, I don't think the Lions could afford to turn it down.
I've mentioned this before, but the Jets-Colts trade from a couple of years back is our frame of reference. The Colts sent the No. 3 pick to the Jets in 2018 for three second-round selections, all of which ended up being top-50 choices.
That's quite a haul. Or imagine if a team like Carolina, sitting at No. 7, offer their first, second and 2021 first? It's obviously unlikely, but you can't say no to something like that.
► Q. Do you think it was wise to announce a win-now ultimatum from ownership? Does that force the coach and general manager to act differently in the short-term for their jobs instead of considering long-term, as well? — @wingedweeler
► A. Whether it was stated or not, it was going to be an obvious assumption. Outside of some clear rebuild situations, NFL coaching staffs simply aren't afforded the chance to fail three consecutive seasons.
There's an understandable concern from fans that general manager Bob Quinn will approach this offseason differently to preserve his job, but I don't think the Ford family's publicly shared edict adds any more urgency to what Quinn and Patricia were going to do this offseason.
► Q. Isn’t the Graham Glasgow situation bizarre? Rick Wagner seems like an easier replacement. — @hamadybrother
► A. Yes and no. It's bizarre in the sense the Lions have so few foundational pieces and Glasgow represents the type of player the team covets — tough, durable, versatile and productive.
But positional value is coming into play here. While I believe interior linemen are as important as ever with the rapidly increasing talent at defensive tackle, the Lions see a position that's more easily replaceable than others, including offensive tackle and center.
Looking at the top-10 guard salaries in the NFL, seven of the 10 played for teams that didn't make the playoffs in 2019. The Lions can look at a team like the 49ers, who play a style of football they admire, and see two starting guards with a combined salary of just over $8 million and under contract for the next two seasons.