A day after the Detroit Lions gave Taylor Decker a four-year, $60 million contract extension, Lions coach Matt Patricia said the reason the team decided to splurge on the 27-year-old offensive lineman is simple: He’s the type of foundational player they want to build around.
Decker has steadily improved since a torn labrum cost him half of the 2017 season. He plays a premium position at left tackle. And he’s emerged as a leader, notably being one of just three players, along with Trey Flowers and Duron Harmon, who spoke at the team’s demonstration against police brutality last week.
“You need to be able to draft guys, you need to be able to develop players, you need to be able to have guys that are improving every single year that they play and they’re getting better,” Patricia said. “That’s really the core of what you’re trying to do. So I think obviously with Deck, it was kind of the first wave and we’ve got some coming, I think, that are really important guys in the future that have been drafted that we want to build upon.”
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If Decker is “the first wave” of contract extensions — or more likely, part of the first wave — that means the Lions have several other cornerstone pieces they hope to lock up in the near future.
The most obvious of those players is wide receiver Kenny Golladay, who’s expected to sign his own long-term extension, with money that could approach $20 million annually, later this summer.
Golladay led the NFL in touchdown catches last season and has gone on record as saying he wants to stay in Detroit. He’s a few months shy of his 27th birthday, so he’s still in the prime of his career. And with Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola in contract years, the Lions are not in a position to let him walk.
Golladay’s contract seems like a no-brainer, even if there’s some haggling to be done over the money and structure. And I’d be surprised if it’s not wrapped up in the coming weeks.
Here are four others who, if all goes well this season, could be in line for extensions in the relatively near future to stay in Detroit:
C Frank Ragnow
It might not happen for a year or more, but after Golladay, Frank Ragnow is the biggest no-brainer on this list.
A first-round pick in 2018, Ragnow looks like he’s on his way to becoming one of the best centers in the NFL. He’s durable, no-nonsense and damn good as a blocker; someone who might turn out to be Bob Quinn’s second-best draft pick (after Golladay, who was a steal in Round 3).
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From a team standpoint, it would make sense to try to sign Ragnow next year, before the salary cap readjusts after the coronavirus pandemic and new TV money kicks in. I don’t know that Ragnow’s agent will be rushing to do a new deal, and the Lions do have the fifth-year option at their disposal to keep him around through at least 2022.
But take it to the bank that Ragnow and the Lions will re-up at some point down the road.
QB Matthew Stafford
Yep, it’s about time again for Stafford and the Lions to hit the negotiating table. Not now. Stafford’s current contract — the one he signed in 2017 and is starting to look dated — runs through the 2022 season. But maybe next summer, if all goes as planned this year, or at the latest the following spring.
Stafford will play this fall at 32 years old and his arm has shown little sign of wear. He did have back injuries each of the last two seasons that bear monitoring, but if the Lions have any success this fall, Stafford will be a big reason why.
If the team struggles and there’s a regime change, all bets are off. But Patricia, Quinn and maybe most importantly, the Ford family, seem comfortable riding with their quarterback for as long he’s able to go.
K Matt Prater
Prater, like Stafford, last signed an extension in 2017, but his three-year deal will be up after the season. He’s not a home-grown player like Decker, Golladay, Ragnow or Stafford, but the organization rescued him from the NFL scrap heap after his suspension with the Denver Broncos and he’s settled comfortably into the area with his young family.
At 36 years old, Prater is closing in on the end of his career, but kickers have longevity like quarterbacks. He still has a few more good seasons left in his powerful right leg, and as tough as reliable kickers are to come by, the Lions might want to lock him before he hits free agency next spring.
S Tracy Walker
It seems incongruous that Walker is on this list after working extensively with the second-team defense in camp, but he’s a promising young player who I expect to have a big season this fall.
The Lions view Walker as a tight end stopper, and that skill set is growing in value across the league. He’s rangy, has coverage ability and good ball skills, and if he plays well the next 16-plus weeks, he could be in a position similar to Golladay next year.
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I don’t fully understand why the Lions relegated Walker to the second-team defense, even if he’s the best option at free safety should Duron Harmon get hurt. But looking at the roster, Walker is the young defensive player with the best chance of landing a sizable second contract.
Of note, I did not include first-round pick Jeff Okudah on this list because he has not played an NFL game, or for that matter, last year’s first-rounder, T.J. Hockenson, whose future should come more into focus after this year.
It would be disappointing if neither got a second deal in Detroit, regardless if the Lions splurge on the five players on this list.
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. The Free Press has started a new digital subscription model. Here’s how you can gain access to our most exclusive Lions content.