Lions mailbag, Part II: What tantalizing FA options await; will toughness, resiliency be enough?

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

One mailbag is almost never enough. I asked for your Detroit Lions questions and the inbox was flooded. After churning out responses to many of the queries Thursday morning, I realized I had plenty of leftovers. So here we are, with a second round of Q&A. 

► Question: Who are three mid- to lower-level FA’s the Lions can pursue for the short term to improve the current roster and not tie up any money long term? — @CHEN313

► Answer: The convenient part here is the Lions need help just about everywhere, so even though I don't anticipate the team spending aggressively this free-agency period, there should be plenty of opportunities to find low-cost veterans capable of contributing.

Defensive end Samson Ebukam (50) could be an interesting, cost-effective free-agent option for the Lions.

There's no point in hiding the fact the easiest route to go in this scenario is looking for past connections, either to the front office or coaching staff. That means guys like Samson Ebukam, Tre Boston, Malcolm Brown and Tyrell Williams. 

Ebukam, a former fourth-round pick for the Rams, saw his role decrease the past two seasons and likely won't be a priority for the team to re-sign. He could be a young, cheap situational edge rusher. 

With Brown, another Ram, you're talking about a back the former Lions' front office tried to sign, only to see the Rams match. He brings some size and versatility to the backfield which could complement D'Andre Swift. 

Boston and Williams formerly played for offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Despite being a steady, reliable safety, Boston has lingered on the market twice in recent years. It might not get any better during an offseason where the pandemic will be tightening spending across the league. 

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As for Williams, he's a big-bodied receiver with good speed and ability to do damage in the vertical game. He missed all of last season with a shoulder injury. Fresh off being cut by the Raiders, he could see Detroit as a place to re-establish his value. 

► Q: I’ve been a Lions fan for over 30 years. Does this feel like the only offseason ever with legit hope attached to the teams future, or is it just me? — @justin_arbogast

► A: I'm sure others will agree with you, but I've found there's always a groundswell of optimism after major changes. This offseason has been heavy on change, with a new coach, GM and quarterback, with some added draft assets coming along with that last one. 

We tell ourselves a blank canvas can be transformed into an awe-inspiring piece of art. 

► Q: Rank the odds of the Lions keeping their soon-to-be-free-agents. — @HappyMiddleNC

► A: Don Muhlbach, 92.6%.

Kenny Golladay, 75% with the franchise tag, 25% long-term.

The Lions have their best chances of keeping a grip on soon-to-be free-agent Kenny Golladay

Romeo Okwara, Jarrad Davis and Matt Prater, 50%.

Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Everson Griffen, Duron Harmon 2%. 

► Q: I just wanted your opinion on what would define a successful first season this year with our new staff in place and what would be considered a failure? — @Jay_Ballad

► A: Ultimately, all success at this level is defined by wins and losses. But if we're realistic, the Lions probably won't be very good next season. Assuming that's the case, you want to see two things. 

First, competitiveness. You want a team that comes to fight, goes toe-to-toe despite the odds, and doesn't quit late in games or late in the season. That's a pretty simple ask for professional athletes. 

Second, it's steady development of the roster's young players, particularly with the incoming rookie class. You want to see this coaching staff is capable of rehabilitating a guy like Tracy Walker, taking Jeff Okudah, Jonah Jackson and Julian Okwara to the next level, and selecting players in the draft with clear vision for their future contributions. 

► Q: What identity will this team take on this year? — @azcwillams

► A: In his kneecap-biting soliloquy, Campbell made it clear what he's looking for from this roster, and that's toughness and resiliency. Based on comments from both Campbell, as well as new general manager Brad Holmes, I think there's going to be a continued emphasis on high-character players, as well. 

► Q: Why are people so down on Jared Goff? — @theRealDCM

► A: Let's not pretend the sentiment is universal, but it is probably fair to say people are less excited about Goff than what his resume should merit. After all, he's a former No. 1 pick who led his team to the Super Bowl and has been selected to two Pro Bowls in his first five seasons. 

If you're looking for a logical starting point for the negative opinions of fans, it's likely rooted in how easily the Rams gave up on Goff. Not only were they willing to trade him 16 months after signing him to a massive extension, eating a significant cap hit to do so, but they also packaged a trio of draft picks, including two first-rounders, to upgrade to Matthew Stafford. 

Listen, everyone around these parts knows how special Stafford can be, with an elite arm and an unteachable poise under pressure, but you're talking about a quarterback that's seven years older and has a growing history of serious injuries. So you ask yourself, why would the Rams make that move? If they don't believe in Goff any longer, why should I? 

I went back and studied three years of Goff film and put together a comprehensive scouting report. I hope you had a chance to read it, either as a subscriber online or by picking up a physical copy of the paper. There's plenty to like about his game and some glaring concerns. We'll see how it works out for Detroit, but given the draft picks they're getting from the Rams, they did well in the trade, regardless. 

► Q: Why are people so freaked out by the Lions taking a receiver at No. 7? I mean we have Cepheus and Allison. — @sportsman5000

► A: I'm unaware this is a prevalent viewpoint. If it is, maybe there are still lingering scars from Matt Millen using top-10 picks on the position four times during a five-year stretch. I don't know. 

The other reasons, which are valid, is there are concerns with the top-of-the-class options, namely Jaylen Waddle and DeVonta Smith. Both are absurdly talented, but with slight builds. And if there's anything that can quickly derail success in the NFL, it's injuries. 

Additionally, there's a growing perception you can find star receiving talent at all levels of the draft, similar to how the running back position has evolved over the past decade. Of the top-10 receivers last season, none were top-10 picks and only four were first-rounders. 

► Q: You are the Lions GM on draft day. Players available are Parsons, Smith, Lance, Waddle. The other guys you want are gone. Who do you take? If we are able to trade back and we have acceptable compensation, how far back is too far back? — @RyanPat36836482

► A: Well, in my first mock draft I gave the Lions Waddle. Yes, in that scenario I had Trey Lance and Smith already off the board, but I think I'd stick with that pick. That's not to say I dislike any of those players, but with the current information I have, Waddle tops the board for long-term impact. 

If Lance is still there, you'd like to think a trade opportunity would present itself. How far back is all about the compensation. For example, if the Patriots are offering a future first-rounder to come up from No. 15, yeah, that's a deal I'd be willing to make. 

My first instinct is to say a swap with Washington, at No. 19, is the lowest I'd be willing to move back. Then again, if Pittsburgh, at No. 24, bowled me over with a package of picks, I'd listen. My biggest concern is they're one of those franchises who rarely slip up, decreasing the odds of those picks drastically improving in future years. 

► Q: Are there too many cooks in the kitchen? Chris Spielman was commenting on Golladay the other day. The article was spun like he wants to keep him. Is he even making those decisions? If so, what is Brad Holmes’ job? — @nytronate

Detroit Lions Chris Spielman, special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood on the sidelines before the game against Tampa Bay.

► A: First of all, what article are you referencing? It surely wasn't mine because that's not what Spielman said and not what I wrote. What he did do was compliment the player's skill set, which, yeah, Golladay is pretty good. 

As for cooks in the kitchen, no, we can't say that's an issue. Good organizations have leaders at the top who weigh the input of smart people around them. Spielman is just one of those voices in the room, with no actual decision-making ability.

Spielman was brought in to provide input and insight from his observations and experiences. That is weighed by Holmes in the decision-making process. The more good advice an individual offers, ultimately the more weight their voice carries. 

► Q: Are any of our current linebackers salvageable with the transition to the new coaching staff? — @hawk48025

► A: There are three linebackers, still under contract, who played defensive snaps last season — Jamie Collins, Christian Jones and Jahlani Tavai. Of those three, there's reason to be optimistic about Collins, even though he'll turn 32 in October. 

In his first season with the Lions, you saw flashes of him at his best. He's an athletic playmaker, who can play any role you ask him, with plus ability as a stack defender, in coverage and even as a rusher off the edge. 

As for the other two, my outlook isn't as bright. I've long viewed Jones as a replacement-level player. Sure, he's versatile, but he doesn't do any one thing particularly well.

As for Tavai, he had some moments late in his rookie season where you thought it might come together, but I struggle to get past the recency bias of the 2020 campaign, where he was dreadful in all aspects of the job. 

► Q: I'm hearing a lot that the Lions shouldn't trade up for a QB this year. Looking ahead, next year doesn't seem to be a deep QB class. Won't it be worth taking advantage of the a deep QB class this year, rather than fighting for one or two next year? — @JosephDavies8

► A: The Lions are in asset-collection mode because of their dearth of overall talent. Finding your franchise quarterback now, and giving up assets to do it, isn't the long-term solution to building a contending roster.

Look at Houston with Deshaun Watson, who I believe is one of the top three or four quarterbacks in the game. At best, they were never a Super Bowl contender. Now, they're a 4-12 team that traded away it's first-round draft pick and Watson reportedly wants out. 

Build up your roster, then go find your QB. Be the Chiefs or Bills, who identified a talent they liked (Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen) and traded up to get them once the roster was already starting to come together. 

As for next year's crop of quarterbacks, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Where was Joe Burrow ranked the year before he went No. 1 overall? Who was talking about Zach Wilson before this past season? 

► Q: Would Lions consider Mac Jones if Trey Lance is gone by the time they pick? — @B_Lake007

► A: As I often say in this space, "never" isn't a word I like to use, but I have a really difficult time seeing the Lions drafting Jones at No. 7. And even if the team is able to trade down, I'd still consider the selection of the Alabama quarterback improbable. 

I don't want to take anything away from the remarkable season Jones put together in 2020. I don't care how good the talent is around you, to complete 77.4% of your throws for 4,500 yards, 41 touchdowns and just four interceptions is beyond impressive. But what I don't like about his game is he decidedly lacks mobility in a league shifting that direction at the position, and he doesn't have a strong arm.

At the next level, he won't have the benefit of both elite pass protection and elite receivers getting unmatched separation. Jones' timing and accuracy, which are strengths, will be leaned on even more without the ability to fire a laser into a tight window. 

Back to my overall point from above, about drafting a QB before your team is ready to compete, that largely holds true here. But, if Jones is available at the top of the second round, sure, it's worth considering. 

► Q: Do you see a scenario where Lions use a mid-round pick on a second-tier QB? Kyle Trask or Kellen Mond? — @PublicCityPR

A: Might as well stick with the theme. 

Sure, I can imagine just about any scenario, given the newness of this staff and a lack of a track record to judge them on. If they have a high evaluation of a quarterback prospect and he presents good value when they're on the clock, they'll be able to justify the selection.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers