Lions mailbag, Part 1: Why not go after Markus Golden or Jadeveon Clowney?
It's been a while and I'm sorry. The NFL draft leaves so little time to address reader questions that the mailbag got put on hold. But now the event has passed, daylight has returned to the daily routine. So we're back, with a fresh batch of your Detroit Lions questions.
► Q: Should the Lions pursue Markus Golden? What will it take to sign him and how would he be used? - @lotzaluc
► A: Let me start out by saying I really like Golden as a player. The Giants lined him up mostly on the left side, but occasionally put him inside to stress opposing guards. It didn't matter, he won with speed from both alignments. Pro Football Focus had him recording a career-high 62 quarterback pressures, and he finished with double-digit sacks for the second time in his career.
But there's one number that stands above the others as to why I don't see him fitting Detroit's plans: 31 1/8. That's Golden's arm length, measured at the scouting combine when he was coming out of Missouri. That's about as short as you'll see among the NFL's quality edge rushers, a physical deficiency he's clearly been able to work around with a high degree of success.
That said, it's the antithesis of what the Lions like from their edge defenders. The team puts an emphasis on length and power, which factors into how they defend the run from that spot. And while I believe good coaches work around the talent on the roster, I also believe you don't add poor fits to your scheme unnecessarily. The angles Golden rushes with would require adjustments to the techniques played by the defensive tackle next to him and the linebacker playing behind him. And in a complex scheme, it's a mental and physical strain to add unneeded layers.
It's unfortunate Golden hasn't commanded a better market for his skill set and production, but his injury history is probably a factor. I would imagine a three-year deal worth $25-30 million would get something done if the Lions were interested in altering their scheme, but this appears to be trending toward Golden returning to the Giants.
► Q: Given we still have money to spend, and the likely price tag both Golden and Jadeveon Clowney would take, is there a chance Bob Quinn tries to sign one? Clowney on a short-term deal seems like a home run for a team in win-now mode. - @Kfletch300
► A: We addressed Golden above. With Clowney, you're talking about a player who would certainly fit the scheme, but the price tag is far pricer. Just based on reports, you're looking at $20 million per year. And here's the problem with that — Clowney struggles to stay healthy.
Since turning pro in 2014, he's dealt with knee, ankle, back, foot and elbow injuries. And in the COVID-19 era, where teams are prohibited from performing medical evaluations on players, the risk is unpalatable.
Now let's, for a moment, consider that Clowney was open to a short-term deal. Why would he sign in Detroit? The only way is they blow him away with financial compensation he's not seeing elsewhere. What's the dollar amount that a injury-prone edge rusher is going to ask for to risk his long-term financial security? The franchise tag for a defensive end is $17.8 million, so that's your starting point.
Feasibly, the Lions could make that work, but it would be tight. They're working with somewhere around $20 million in space when you factor in all the rookies they added and the eventual expansion of cap responsibilities (more roster spots, practice squad) once the season starts.
Basically, on the spectrum of possibility, it's at the far end of unlikely.
► Q: I see a lot of people calling for Clowney or Golden, but what the team really needs is interior pass rush. Who is available that the Lions could realistically sign? - @M_Basinski
► A: You're not wrong. It's easy to get focused on the heat coming off the edges, but when a team can consistently push the pocket and put pressure in the face of the quarterback, it leads to mistakes.
It's a big if, but if Da'Shawn Hand can put the durability issues that have plagued him the past two years behind him, it would go a long way toward rectifying the issue. It's easy to forget he generated pressure once every 10.5 pass-rush snaps as a rookie.
The Lions are also looking to free-agent addition Nick Williams to keep his momentum going from his six-sack season from a year ago.
As for the remaining free-agent market, it's fairly picked over. The best options are bringing back Mike Daniels or making a run at former first-round pick Marcell Dareus. Both players have been in decline for a couple seasons, and are coming off their own injury issues, so there's reason to be skeptical about either possibility.
In terms of bargains, there aren't any I can recommend from a pass-rushing perspective.
► Q: You think the win-now mandate is in place still or will the Fords take the coronavirus lockdown into consideration if the season doesn't go well? - @DetroitOilMoney
► A: While I don't anticipate hearing from the Fords any time soon, the expectations placed on the brass shouldn't be altered. The Lions aren't the only team facing challenges related to COVID-19. The entire league is on equal footing, so there aren't any built-in excuses for the Lions.
If anything, they showed a level of foresight with how they've approached the offseason. Veteran additions like Duron Harmon, Jamie Collins and Danny Shelton should transition seamlessly, having previously played in this defensive scheme with New England.
And in the draft, I don't think it was an accident Detroit selected multiple prospects from Power Five juggernauts. The learning curve for guys like Jeff Okudah and D'Andre Swift shouldn't be significant.
► Q: Do you think the talent on the Lions roster is better than a projected top-10 pick in next year's draft? Or do you think they are projected to have a top-10 pick because of coaching? - @jtobin920
► A: Honestly, it's too early for me to be thinking about the Lions' record. All I can comfortably say is the team was better than its 3-12-1 record in 2018. The 3-4-1 the team went before Matthew Stafford went out with injury was more reflective of the roster's talent.
I presume you've been sneaking a peek at 2021 mock drafts, and if I'm right, shame on you.
No, I get it, what else is going on in sports these days? If I was to pen up a 2021 mock (don't get your hopes up), I would either copy the 2020 draft order or use the next year's Super Bowl odds as a guideline. Looking at the most recent lines from Bovada, only Washington and Jacksonville have worse odds than Detroit to win next year's big game.
► Q: Why is this draft class going to be different, compared to all of Quinn’s other draft classes? At this point in Quinn’s career, it’s pretty safe to say he can’t evaluate talent in terms of drafting or signing players, so why should fans get excited? - @Stoth12
► Q: Looking back I think this may have been BQ's best draft as a GM, maybe one of the better drafts for the Lions over the last 20 or so years. What do you think? - @Mr_Brightside82
► A: If this doesn't perfectly summarize the two main types of Lions fans, I'm not sure what does. In one corner, we have the fan beaten down the franchise's history. In the other, appropriately going by the moniker Mr. Brightside, the eternal optimist.
First of all, I don't agree with the assessment of Quinn's eye for talent. The general manager has scored plenty of quality starters in the draft, particularly with in the third round, where he's snagged Graham Glasgow, Kenny Golladay and Tracy Walker. But if there's one criticism, Quinn hasn't got the bang for the pick in the first round.
But you're not going to win over a pessimist, especially when every counter argument is going to be some obvious fact about the franchise's dismal history. I don't believe the past dictates the future, no matter how far back failure goes.
That said, I'm also not declaring a draft class the best ever because it looks good on paper. Yeah, this group put together some pretty nice college careers, and the Lions addressed several needs, but let's see how the selections handle the transition to this level before we crown them.
Given where they were drafted in relation to positional value, Okudah and Swift are going to need to develop to top-10 players at their positions.
► Q: If there is football without fans, would you still go to the games? - @wingedweeler
► A: Respectfully, I have no idea. We just don't know what the future holds in regards to the pandemic, especially when the weather starts turning cool again.
In this hypothetical scenario, I'm sure the number of media outlets allowed into the building would be limited. Additional precautions could include spacing in the press box or even the stands, to reduce person-to-person contact, no access to locker rooms and press conferences held in different rooms, where social distancing standards could be easily maintained.
If it ever gets to that point, we'll navigate the situation the best we can. Needless to say, we feel so far away from normal right now.
► Q: Come the start of the season, do you expect Julian Okwara to have put on enough weight and added enough strength to at least match Devon Kennard’s effectiveness against the running game? - @AlecSzatkowski
► A: If a player is putting out significant mass this offseason, it's probably not good weight. While it's not impossible to maintain good diet and conditioning routines in a COVID-19 world, it's certainly more difficult. The lack of an in-person offseason program only adds to the challenge.
Adding strength and good weight is a gradual process that takes months, not weeks. Coming off last year's broken leg, if Okwara could get back to the levels he was at pre-injury by the time the team reports for training camp, it should be considered a win. Regardless, it might take a full year, or more, in an NFL training program before we see additional improvements with his body composition.
► Q: Where do you stand on the guard battle, Justin? With the trade up for Jonah Jackson in the third, it feels like he will likely be one of the starters. But where does that leave Stenberg, Dahl, Aboushi, Wiggins, in the battle for the other side?
► A: Without the valuable on-field reps the early portion of the offseason program provides, I'm not predicting any rookie, other than Okudah, will be a starter come Week 1. But Jackson is certainly the next closest, because of the technical proficiency he displayed played at both Rutgers and Ohio State. Plus, his ability to seamlessly transition to the Buckeyes' scheme and demands as a grad transfer should be looked at as a positive with his projection.
Jackson's biggest obstacle to immediate playing time will be Kenny Wiggins. Despite so-so results the past two seasons, the Lions love the veteran, creating last year's guard rotation to get him playing time. He is coming off a serious injury (torn bicep), but should be full strength by the time the season rolls around.
At the other spot, Joe Dahl should be the clear front-runner after an effective first season in a starting role. He was particularly effective protecting the passer, while playing clean with a single holding penalty and no false starts.
Logan Stenberg probably spends his first year as a backup while the Lions build up his pass-blocking technique on the practice field. That will put him in better position to push Dahl for a starting job in 2021.
In the meantime, as I mentioned in my post-draft thoughts column that ran earlier this week, I'd like to see the Lions utilize Stenberg as a sixth lineman in running situations, taking advantage of his renowned nasty streak.
As for Oday Aboushi, former first-round pick Joshua Garnett, Russell Bodine and Beau Benzschawel, they've been pushed to the roster bubble.