Taylor Decker knows his contract is up after this season and understands there will be interest and speculation about a possible extension with the Detroit Lions, but it's been kind of difficult for the starting left tackle to put much thought into the topic in recent weeks, given the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the pause button on sports in this country.
"It's something that's coming along in the future," Decker said during a Thursday video conference with local reporters. "It's going to be important to me, but whenever that happens, it happens. I kind of leave that to my agent. That's why he gets paid and I just take care of being a good football player.
"So far, there's been a lot of challenges with the quarantines, Zoom meetings, coaches not being in the buildings, us not being able to travel back, so I'm sure that's going to present challenges for that process."
To date, Decker said there haven't been any "major" conversations with the Lions about an extension, only a general sense from the team they like him as a player.
Bob Quinn's first draft pick as the team's general manager, the Lions selected Decker with the No. 16 pick in 2016. Immediately plugged into the starting lineup protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford's blindside, Decker has started 55 of a possible 64 regular season games, missing eight in 2017 after suffering an offseason shoulder injury during an OTA practice.
The Lions haven't been blessed with similar continuity at other spots along on the offensive line. That's been especially true at left guard, where Decker has started next to a different player each of his four seasons.
That revolving door could get a reprieve this year with 2019 starter, Joe Dahl, set to return. And given the shortened offseason due to the pandemic, it would be an uphill battle for either one of the two linemen the Lions drafted this offseason — Jonah Jackson or Logan Stenberg — to unseat Dahl.
Regardless of how it shakes out, Decker is optimistic he'll be able to build quick chemistry with each of the different options, both based on way the team rotates linemen in practice and the off-field chemistry the group has been able to build and maintain through the years.
"One thing that's been huge, and one thing that I love about our room, is everybody gets along really well," Decker said. "We have a good core group of guys. Obviously, we've got some new guys coming in, but I think the organization kind of takes into account, are they're going to be a good fit in our room? Of course they're going to scout them as players, but are they going to be a good fit in our room? Because our room has been pretty rock solid, relationship-wise for the last couple years."
With Jackson and Stenberg, they're coming in at a disadvantage because the pandemic has forced teams to conduct the early portion of this year's offseason program virtually. That means both rookies are missing out on more than a dozen practices of invaluable reps, which is likely to hinder their ability to contribute immediately.
"It's just going to be a tough learning curve for them," Decker acknowledged. "And I think, you know, maybe some of us guys around them will have to maybe stay late and work with them after practice, and hit them on some more film stuff, if necessary. It's going to be a really unique challenge.
"Those reps are invaluable because every single play you're going against somebody and it's just going to be a physical match," Decker continued. It's going to be interesting for them. I mean, it's even going to be interesting for me, even though I've played plenty of games. So, yeah. I think we're all going to have to spread the wealth on helping them along, developing, and who knows, maybe they'll have no problem because this is all they're going to know coming in as a rookie."
Beyond the cancellation of the OTA practices, Decker has been able to maintain his personal offseason routine, working out with several NFL offensive lineman in Arizona with longtime trainer and former Pro Bowl center LeCharles Bentley.
Additionally, Decker has expanded his working relationship with Bentley this offseason, signing on as a client of Bentley's newly formed AMDG Sports agency, which strictly represents offensive linemen.
"He's been my No. 1 resource coming out of college, to this day, for my professional development, and for my development as a man," Decker said. "I mean, I look up to him a lot, and he's been a great resource and somebody who's shot me straight. He doesn't (BS) me. And I think as far as being an offensive lineman, he's the best in the business at what he does. So to have all my counsel, in house, at one place.
"That's invaluable to me."
NFL rule changes
The league made some minor adjustments to the rule book Thursday, voting to expand defenseless player protection to kickoff and punt returns and barring the manipulation of the game clock by committing multiple dead-ball fouls.
Additionally, teams will now be able to return up to three players from injured reserve, an increase from the previous limit of two.
A proposal to offer teams an untimed fourth-and-15 down in place of an onside kick was tabled for further discussion.