Taylor Decker looks to lend his input as Lions retool for 2021
There's this pervasive opinion across the NFL that players need to stay in their lane. Players play, coaches coach and the front office pieces together the roster.
But before he packs his bags and heads to his offseason home in Arizona, Detroit Lions offensive tackle Taylor Decker wants to make sure the franchise's decision-makers hear his perspective, the player's perspective, on what's going right and wrong with the organization ahead of the hiring of a new general manager and head coach.
"There's going to be turnover every year," Decker said. "We may have more, in roster and coaching staff this year, obviously, with the circumstances. But I want to be here my whole career and I want to be a winner. I want this team and this city to win.
"I'm not going to overstep, but I'm going to go have conversations probably here in an hour or two," Decker said. "I'm going to see if (team president) Rod (Wood) is available. I'm going to go talk to Rod and just give my opinion because I am invested in this team. There are people, if it were up to me, I would want to keep. That's not my decision to make, but over the past five years, I feel like I've put a lot into this organization and given what I can. So if I can just go put a word in for a player or a coach, I'll do it."
It doesn't take a certifiable genius to figure out some of the people Decker will vouch for, headlined by position coach Hank Fraley and quarterback Matthew Stafford, who appears to be entering a crossroads with the changes ahead.
"I don't know what's going to happen," Decker said. "Obviously, that's not my call to make, but I love Stafford. He's, for me personally, my most respected teammate I've ever played with. I couldn't have more respect for the guy. You see it year in and year out, and I'm sure you guys have seen it before I was even here — how tough that guy is, how professional that guy is. ...The dude is a phenomenal talent, he's a phenomenal football player, he's a phenomenal teammate and friend. Whatever happens happens, but I think everybody knows I love Stafford and I'll keep telling everybody that."
A first-round draft pick in 2016, Decker never has shied away from being forthright with his opinions. During the scouting combine that year, he made it clear that he had little interest in moving to right tackle, a declaration many young players would be uncomfortable making.
The Lions obviously bought what he was selling, immediately plugging him in on the blindside and flipping longtime left tackle Riley Reiff to the right side.
But Decker has really started to blossom as a leader in recent years. He has been selected as a captain by his teammates each of the past two seasons, and when Lions players canceled practice during training camp this year as part of a social-justice demonstration, Decker was one of three players who addressed the media, showing emotion in passion during the short speech.
The Lions made a commitment to Decker this offseason, signing him to a lucrative contract extension one year before his current deal expired. And he rewarded that decision by delivering the best performance of his five-year career.
It was one of a handful of bright spots in an otherwise down year for the franchise.
"I think our position group had a really good year," Decker said. "I would say, in five years, this is the best we've played, consistently, and I think we have some really good pieces to build on. It seems like I'm the old guy in the room and I'm 27. Hopefully that bodes well for the future.
"And I personally think I had a really good year," Decker said. "I think I was one of the best tackles in football. I wasn't going to say that during the season, but the season is over now and hopefully that's something I can build upon and improve upon."
That's a bold, and refreshingly honest, statement. And it's backed up by neutral observers. Pro Football Focus graded him as a top-five pass blocker at his position, while awarding him his best run blocking grade since 2016.
And after Decker says his piece to Wood, which will focus for on what's working well in the building as opposed to making any specific pitches for the next coach or GM, the veteran offensive tackle will return to Arizona, take a week or two off, and resume his training with a goal of being an even better player in 2021.
"Ultimately, I love playing football, so I want to get back to working on that and improve any way I can to try and help this team," he said.