Lions Mailbag, Part 1: Go after Clowney? Draft Simmons No. 3? Take Okudah over Young?

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — Maybe the rest of the world has slowed to a crawl as we deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, but the NFL offseason has continued to roll on. We're well into the second act of free agency and the draft remains on schedule for later this month. 

While we're in the eye of the storm, it feels like a good time for a Detroit Lions mailbag. What's on your mind, Lions fans? 

Jadeveon Clowney

► Q: How much cap space do we have? Also, why not take a flyer on a guy like Clowney? — @KeselowskiBrian

► A: I'm still missing a few salary figures from the most recent batch of signings, but the Lions should still have just north of $30 million remaining.

Now, the No. 3 pick is going to take up a chunk of that, more than $5 million. And the team will need to set aside another $7-10 million when cap responsibilities expand at the start of the regular season. Right now, only the top-51 players count against the cap. At the start of the season, all players count, as well as the practice squad. Plus, you need to leave a little extra for all those midseason signings and injury replacements. 

Finally, we continue to operate under the assumption receiver Kenny Golladay will be getting an extension at some point this offsesaon. Let's ballpark that at four years, $60 million. By average annual value, that would put him just outside the top-10 earners at the position. 

With that, the signing bonus is what's going to impact Golladay's 2020 cap hit. If the Lions give him $15 million to sign, that could raise this year's cap hit up to $3 million. 

With all those factors considered, the Lions still have money to work with. It's a rough estimate, but the team could comfortably spend another $10 million in free agency or to acquire a player via trade. 

More: If Lions go for Jeff Okudah, here are 10 second-round options that make sense

Is that enough to make a run at Jadeveon Clowney? Sure, but it might take $20 million per season (overall contract value, not his 2020 cap hit) to lure him to Detroit. Is that a number you're comfortable paying for a player who has missed time five of six seasons and has never recorded double-digit sacks, including 3.0 in 13 games last year? 

Listen, like Trey Flowers, Clowney's impact goes well beyond his sack total. And the signing would certainly spark excitement that has been lacking from Detroit's offseason. It's a situation worth monitoring, to see if the price tag comes down. But as it stands, the Lions are probably wise to sit this one out at the current rate. 

► Q: What are the chances we still take Simmons? — @lionskroo

► A: At No. 3, the odds the Lions take Clemson linebacker Isaiah Simmons are pretty low. Everything points to the two Ohio State defenders, Chase Young and Jeffrey Okudah, being higher on their board. And we know one, potentially both, will be available. Outside of some unforeseen factor, such as an injury or an arrest, Simmons isn't likely to come into play. 

But with a trade back, especially if the Lions were to drop to No. 6 or beyond, the chances go up because you can't count on Okudah making it that far down the board. 

My biggest issue is figuring out how to get immediate impact. Following Detroit's recent slate of moves, it's difficult to see where Simmons gets early snaps in the defense. There's a pretty big overlap with the way I anticipate the team using Jamie Collins, who scored $30 million over three years to sign here as a free agent. And some of the other stuff Simmons does well is redundant with Tracy Walker, one of the few bright spots on the defense. 

If Simmons was a middle linebacker, it might make more sense, but that's not where his size and skill set project. 

Dre Kirkpatrick

► Q: With the current cap for the Lions why would it be unwise to take a veteran CB like Dre Kirkpatrick or Logan Ryan before the draft? — @ShapDanny

► A: With Ryan, there's too much of any overlap with Justin Coleman for a match to make sense. While Ryan played outside with New England a few years back, he's transitioned into more of a slot corner the past few seasons with the Tennessee Titans. 

There's also something concerning about how often Ryan was targeted in that role. He was thrown at 114 times last season, allowing 80 receptions. Yeah, he got some hands on some balls, and picked off four, but he also missed 17 tackles, the most for any cornerback in the NFL. That's not a good use of $10 million per season, in my opinion. 

As for Kirkpatrick, the name is better than the production. He's just never lived up to his billing as a former first-round pick. I'm not too worried about the knee injury that cost him 10 games last season, at least not as much as the 126.5 passer rating against while in coverage. 

More: Lions don't shy away from small-school prospects, but lack of pro days will hurt players 

Kirkpatrick is also a player that has long struggled with missed tackles, whiffing 67 times in 99 career games. 

Still, at the right price, you could justify bringing him in to compete for a starting job, and, at the very worst, providing high-quality depth in case of an injury. I'd cap what I'm willing to commit to the 30-year-old Kirkpatrick at $4-5 million per season. 

► Q: In my opinion, the Lions haven’t improved the roster this offseason heading into what’s being called a “must win” season. So, any early projections for the next GM and head coach? — @bennymaxwell

► A: Benny, Benny, Benny. 

There's always been more fan interest in what could be than what is. That's demonstrated in the fact that free agency, trade rumors, the draft and coaching hiring/firing news always draws significantly more readers than typical regular-season coverage. 

And we've got plenty to keep us busy with the draft coming up to keep us from looking ahead to the 2021 offseason. 

I'll be honest with you. I built out a list of potential coach and general manager candidates last December, before the Ford family committed to bringing back Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn for another year. If things get off to a rocky start this year, you know I'll be keeping those lists fresh for when I need them. 

But we're not to that point yet. 

Yannick Ngakoue

► Q: Let’s say Yannick Ngakoue is still in Jacksonville when it’s draft time. Detroit trades with Miami landing No. 5 and either No. 18 or No. 26. They then draft Okudah at No. 5 and send the other to Jacksonville for Ngakoue. Can it be done? — @blackc487

► A: OK, let's quickly address your scenario. It would be a big, big win for the Lions to trade back with Miami and pull a second first-rounder in the exchange. But that's far too steep a price to pay for Ngakoue, because the 25-year-old edge rusher is also going to cost an acquiring team a massive extension. You're essentially paying twice for a single player. 

It's similar to the recent Darius Slay trade. The Lions got back a third and a fifth for one of the better cover corners in football. That might not seem like a lot, but whoever was going to acquire Slay knew they were going to need to meet his contract demands. 

The Jaguars would be lucky to get a mid-second rounder for Ngakoue and the Lions shouldn't offer more than the team's third-round choice, pick No. 67, and a future pick, maybe another third. 

That said, I question the fit. Ngakoue has obviously been a productive pass rusher in the NFL, but his sack totals and total QB pressures have declined three consecutive seasons. And at 6-foot-2, 246 pounds, with shorter than average arms, he's a below-average run defender not build for Detroit's defensive scheme. 

► Q: What do you think all these linebacker signings mean for Jarrad Davis and Christian Jones? Could Jones’ contract be another like Quandre Diggs or Snacks Harrison, where they re-sign and are quickly discard? — @DirtyJerzFinest

► A: First, let's recap the changes. The team has signed Jamie Collins, Reggie Ragland and Elijah Lee, while cutting Devon Kennard.

Of the three additions, Collins is going to play the most. He's going to eat up a good chunk of those edge reps that went to Kennard the past two seasons, while likely also taking some pass-coverage responsibilities away from Jones and Davis. You shouldn't be surprised to see Collins get 80-plus percent of the defensive snaps on weeks he's healthy. 

As for Ragland and Lee, they're most likely depth. You should also expect significant special teams contributions from the latter. I don't see either as an immediate threat to Davis' or Jones' playing time. 

I would be surprised to see Jones get bounced this year, after signing an extension in the middle of last year. That would be more comparable to to Diggs' situation, but even worse, since Jones' cap hit would be higher to cut/trade him than keep him in 2020. 

► Q: Bob Quinn seems to have done a better job this year than he has in previous offseasons, in terms of adding depth with quality. The backup QB position is an example. Your thoughts? — @JimGemmellNews

► A: I penned a position-by-position roster analysis after the first wave of free agency. On paper, I thought the Lions had gotten marginally better at some spots and worse at others, particularly along the offensive line after letting Graham Glasgow walk.

There have been a few more depth additions since that published, but Reggie Ragland and Geronimo Allison don't really alter my overall impression of the offseason. Good depth can be important to putting a team over the top, but front-line talent is more important and the Lions aren't better there. 

As noted, there's still cap space left to make a splash addition, but it's setting up for Quinn needing to knock this draft out of the park. 

► Q: Quinn's first few drafts were all right, but every year it’s been getting worse. Last year was very disappointing. Your thoughts? — @Danthemancarnah

► A: In terms of immediate impact, you're right, the Lions didn't get much from their most recent draft class. That's why it's dangerous to rely on rookies to solve a team's problems (even though we can all acknowledge the Lions are in that position again this year).

T.J. Hockenson

But I'm certainly not writing off the 2019 rookie class after one year. T.J. Hockenson should be a really good player. Jahlani Tavai flashed some potential, but is more tied to the scheme than most of the players on the roster. And safety Will Harris struggled, but the extra on-field experience, combined with his unteachable athleticism, give hope that things will come together in his second and third seasons. 

The rest of the class are unknowns. We still have almost no idea what Austin Bryant can offer or if Amani Oruwariye can continue to be effective when he draws tougher coverage assignments than he had down the stretch of last season. 

That's why we should avoid instantly reacting to a draft class. We should want to see more before making a full assessment. 

► Q: I saw a mock where the Dolphins traded up to get Tua at No. 2 and we picked Okudah over Young. Do you see anyway this happening?  — @KolbuszJason

► A: There is at least some reason to believe Young could be available for the Lions at No. 3. First, are we really convinced Dwayne Haskins is the guy in Washington, especially with a new coach, Ron Rivera, not tied to the former first-round selection?

That's one path for Young to be available for Detroit. The other is Washington trading out of that spot, as the mentioned projection suggests, so Miami (or another team) can get their franchise quarterback in Tua Tagovailoa. 

The second part of your question is whether the Lions would pass on Young for Okudah. My initial reaction is no way, but I know that's not entirely true. First and foremost, the Lions defense are grounded in New England roots, and that system values coverage more than pass rush. 

Another example of that New England philosophy is on display in Miami, where the Dolphins have two of the three highest-paid cornerbacks in the NFL after signing Byron Jones to a massive five-year deal in free agency. 

Additionally, I've reached out to some scouts about Okudah. They've all raved about the talent and football character. Good luck finding anyone who has scouted him in person who will say anything bad about the kid. One scout even told me he'd take the cornerback over Young, if it was their decision. 

I still think the Lions choose Young in this scenario, but it's not cut and dry. 

► Q: Getting the defense help seems to be top priority so far this offseason. Are long term solutions at running back and wide being overlooked as possible Day 2 selections? — @gavin3000

Jonathan Taylor

► A: Not by me and certainly not by the Lions. You can't reach to fill holes if there's higher-graded talent on your board. There is plenty of room for improvement on offensive, particularly at guard and running back. 

I continue to contend that if Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor makes it to the second round, the Lions shouldn't hesitate to pull the trigger and pair him with Kerryon Johnson. 

As for receiver, the immediate need isn't nearly as pressing, but Detroit's entire corps is working on deals that expire after the 2020 season. It's a long-term issue that can't be ignored, and the longer the team waits, even with this stacked class of talent, the less likely they are to land an impact player at the position. 

► Q: Be honest, have you been drinking more at work now that you’re working more from home? — @magnvsantonivs

► A: Are you trying to get me fired?