Lions mailbag, Part 2: Swift vs. Edwards-Helaire; market rates for Golladay, Decker

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

After answering an initial batch of Detroit Lions questions on Thursday, we're back with Part 2 of the mailbag today. 

► Q: Would the Lions have considered/taken Clyde Edwards-Helaire if D'Andre Swift went first? - @BooRadl11994812

D'Andre Swift

► A: Yeah, I absolutely believe he would have been considered had the Kansas City Chiefs, or another team, taken Swift instead. This is just me reading the tea leaves. 

Here's what general manager Bob Quinn had to say about the running backs at the top of this year's draft class during an interview with 97.1-FM earlier in the week. 

"We had those guys rated very closely, as probably most of the league did," Quinn said. "Really, what it came down to was D’Andre’s three-down ability to do stuff in the passing game, as well as run the football. We knew he could run the football. When you kind of dial it in and watch his stuff in the passing game, it’s really good. He’s a good route runner. He can gain separation against linebackers and safeties. That was probably the slight edge he got. They’re all good players, including the guy that went before us at 32, Edwards-Helaire at LSU."

More:Detroit bolsters backfield with Georgia RB D'Andre Swift

White slightly less experienced than Swift, and not as fast at the combine, Edwards-Helaire absolutely fits the mold of a three-down back. He had 55 receptions last season. Swift, who wasn't used as often in the passing game by Georgia, never had more than 32 grabs in three years.

Based on Quinn's comments, I would guess the team had Swift and Edwards-Helaire as options 1a and 1b on their draft board, with J.K. Dobbins next and Jonathan Taylor not far too behind, but fourth in the group. 

► Q: Do you think that the Lions offense is now going to try be very run-heavy like the Titans? - @SFHCommish_1

► A: The Titans probably aren't the comparison I would use for Detroit's offensive vision. In an ideal world, I think they would be more closely molded after the San Francisco 49ers, but with a better quarterback giving them more options in the passing game. 

Kenny Golladay

Look at the stable of running backs the 49ers used last season. Raheem Mostert, Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman aren't hulking featured backs like Derrick Henry in Tennessee. No, you're looking at well-proportioned, speed guys, capable of contributing in the passing game, similar to Kerryon Johnson and Swift. 

More:Justin Rogers' final thoughts on Detroit Lions' 2020 draft class

In terms of the passing game, the 49ers offense was one of the league's most efficient, leaning on a former Iowa tight end in George Kittle and a versatile, physical receiver in Deebo Samuel. The Lions drafted Kittle's predecessor last year, and while I don't think there's a massive stylistic overlap between Kenny Golladay and Deebo Samuel, you get the idea. 

The big difference between the two teams is the 49ers ran the ball effectively. Last year they averaged 144.1 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry. The Lions were at 103.1 and 4.1, respectively. The 49ers controlled games with their offense. The Lions did not. The latter dreams of being more like the former. 

Trey Flowers collected seven sacks in his first season in Detroit.

► Q: Who do you think was more responsible for last year’s poor pass rushing, the players (lack of talent) or the coaches (poor game plan)? - @SeanyLDR

► A: First and foremost, the Lions were hurt by injury. Trey Flowers got off to a slow start while building back up from an offseason shoulder surgery, and the hopes and dreams pinned to a dominant defensive interior never got on track because Da'Shawn Hand, Damon Harrison and Mike Daniels couldn't stay healthy. 

Hand and Daniels combined to play a little more than 300 snaps last year. The preseason expectation was probably closer to 1,200. That left the Lions to lean on relative unknowns such as undrafted rookie Kevin Strong, John Atkins and Frank Herron (684 combined snaps). The precipitous drop in the effectiveness of the interior rush was, in a word, predictable.

As for the other options coming off the edges, the Lions squeezed about all they could out of Devon Kennard, but he was never an elite pass rusher. Romeo Okwara did a decent job generating pressure, but rarely got home. And Jarrad Davis, last year's top blitzing weapon, was another victim of the injury bug. 

That's not to let the coaches and scheme off the hook. The team has struggled to manufacture pressure two consecutive years, but we can't ignore the hand they were working with in 2019. 

► Q: Do you think the new players added on offense tell us anything about how scheme or usage might evolve in Bevell’s second year as OC? - @nuzach

► A: Nothing we didn't know already. The Lions want to run the ball and invested significant resources into that venture.

For the second time in three years, the team snapped up a running back early in the second round. Then they went back and added a speedy, versatile backfield option in Jason Huntley to replace some of what J.D. McKissic was supposed to bring to the table as a matchup piece. 

The team also continued to spend more draft equity than the competition on the interior of the offensive line, using two mid-round selections on guards. The Lions want to be strong up the middle, without spending major cap space. They let Graham Glasgow walk, but backfilled with two of the top-10 interior lineman in this draft class. 

As for Quintez Cephus, you're talking about a guy who is physically ready to contribute immediate and can back up all three receiver spots. 

Taylor Decker

► Q: How likely are the Lions to (extend) Kenny Golladay and Taylor Decker?  - @ScottHeath

► A: With the amount of cap space the Lions are sitting on, there's reason to believe it's a priority. But long-term extensions, where you're competing against the idea of what a player could get on the open market, are tricky negotiations. 

Golladay could easily be looking for $15 million per season following back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns and leading the league in touchdown receptions in 2019. And if we're being realistic, even that might be low, based on inflation tied to a steadily increasing salary cap.

At $15 million per season, it would rank 12th at the receiver position, between Jarvis Landry and Davante Adams. Those deals were signed two and three years ago and the cap has gone up more than $30 million since 2017. 

As for Decker, another member of his draft class, Laremy Tunsil, just reset the market with a three-year, $66 million contract. The $22 million per season blows away the previous best of $18 million, signed by Philadelphia's Lane Johnson.

Decker isn't on the same plane as those two linemen, but he's solid and solid gets paid. Again, the starting point for the conversations is probably in that $15 million ballpark. 

► Q: Is Nick Bawden’s roster spot in jeopardy? - @MichaelFickII

► A: The job status of the bottom-15 guys on the roster is always tenuous and Bawden falls into that group. The Lions like his size, attitude and ability to contribute on special teams, and there's also a preference, within the scheme, to have a fullback.

But he'll have to win a camp competition to maintain his spot. He'd tell you the same. The primary challengers are tight end Isaac Nauta, who filled in as a backfield blocker late last season, and undrafted free agent Luke Sellers, out of South Dakota State. 

I admittedly don't know much about the latter, but the Lions got plenty of contributions from their last undrafted option out of that school, Zach Zenner. 

► Q: The opinions on Quintez Cephus seem to be as widely distributed as possible. Where do you stand on the former Badger? - @iamnoahsall

► A: I've watched a couple Wisconsin games since the draft and I'm impressed with Cephus' ability to come down with catches in tight spaces. According to Pro Football Focus, he caught 61.5 percent of passes in contested situations, better than every receiver drafted ahead of him this year. 

Wisconsin wide receiver Quintez Cephus catches a pass over Oregon safety Jevon Holland during the second half of the Rose Bowl on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif.

Obviously, the speed is a lingering concern. The combine time was what it was, but there should be some comfort in the fact he improved upon it significantly at his pro day. That shows two things. First, he's probably not as slow as his combine time suggested. Second, he'll work in the work to correct his shortcomings. 

More:Wisconsin's Quintez Cephus says Lions got themselves a 'complete receiver'

Given the offseason restrictions, it's a positive that the Lions don't need to lean heavily on Cephus as a rookie. Barring injury issues ahead of him on the depth chart, he should have the time to adjust to the competition level while developing at a reasonable pace. 

As a rookie, he should be a decent fourth option, with the ceiling to develop into the No. 2. 

► Q: Since the Lions spent another second round draft pick on a running back does that mean they regard Kerryon Johnson as another second-round mistake? - @SpartyNColumbus

► A: No. While the Lions would prefer Johnson be able to stay healthy for 16 games, everyone understands injuries are part of the game. He was never drafted to be a bellcow. The team always anticipated a backfield rotation, and tried to find a complement in veterans such as LeGarrette Blount and C.J. Anderson, with little success. 

More:Niyo: Lions' Swift move may be quick fix for run game

The addition of Swift is an acknowledgment that it's difficult to find reasonably priced talent on the free-agent market, more than a condemnation of Johnson's future prospects. 

► Q: Do you think that the NFL might increase the practice squad to give more rookies an opportunity?

► A: Interesting suggestion. The new collective bargaining agreement being implemented for the 2020 season already included an expansion of practice squads to 12 players for the next two years and 14 starting in 2022.

Given the current situation, it might be worth exploring the possibility of expanding to 14 immediately. The impact on the salary cap would be negligible. 

► Q: With the recent release of Taco Charlton from Miami, do you see him being a target for Detroit? - Russ Goddard (via email)

► A: In the spirit of the late, great Tom Kowalski, let's play the game, "Is he a fit?" 

Charlton, released Thursday by the Dolphins, plays a position the Lions could still presumably use some help. And he's a local kid, which always gets everyone extra excited. Well, maybe not Michigan State fans, but you know what I mean. 

The Miami Dolphins waived former Michigan defensive end Taco Charlton on Thursday.

Now, as you might remember from Part 1 of the mailbag, we dismissed the possibility of Detroit making a run at free agent Markus Golden because his short arms were a schematic disqualifier. That's not the case with Charlton, who is tall and long.

From a physical standpoint, he's a match. And athletically, he posted above-average marks at the combine, despite a slow 40. Yet his production, to this point, has been disappointing. 

The Cowboys, who drafted him in the first round in 2017, gave up on him early into his third season. Reports at the time questioned his effort and confidence. 

Miami took a shot last year, and despite 5.0 sacks in five games, he was a healthy scratch three times down the stretch. The team then went out and added three defensive ends this offseason, making him expendable.

Again, whispers of his attitude being an issue have been mentioned. 

So here's the deal, as Kowalski would say, Charlton fits a need, but does he have the mental makeup for the hard-nosed, demanding coaching style of Matt Patricia. If the Lions are interested, it should be easy for them to phone Miami and get an honest evaluation. Quinn and Patricia have working relationships with Dolphins general manager Chris Grier and coach Brian Flores dating back to shared time in New England. 

If it's determined Charlton just needs a(nother) change of scenery and the price tag is reasonable, there are worse options.