Lions mailbag: Is this the beginning of the end for Matthew Stafford?

Detroit News

Justin Rogers
| The Detroit News

The winds of change are blowing once again in Detroit and that’s got people buzzing about what’s next for the Lions. What better time to check the mailbox?

On to your questions. 

►Question: Is this a good time to trade Stafford or should the team wait another year? — @steaknshake1

►Answer: Well, the trade deadline has passed, so even though an agreement could be reached weeks earlier, there won’t be any trades until the new league year starts in mid-March.

In the more broad sense of whether the Lions would be better off moving Stafford in 2021 or 2022, there are a lot of factors that will go into that decision, starting with the next general manager and coach’s assessment of the situation. 

From a financial perspective, it’s almost always better to wait because the dead cap hit goes down each year. As it currently stands, Stafford’s dead cap for next season is approximately $19 million, while that drops to closer to $6 million in 2022. 

That said, there would still be significant cap savings even if the Lions pulled the band-aid sooner, somewhere between $13 million and $14 million next season. 

More: Lions place Danny Shelton, Desmond Trufant on injured reserve

►Q. What do you expect the RB rotation to look like for the rest of the season? — @brianwiorasport

►A. Darrell Bevell had plenty of autonomy with the offensive game-planning and play-calling on offense, so I would anticipate seeing a continued reliance on D’Andre Swift, as long as he’s healthy. 

Adrian Peterson and Kerryon Johnson will still see playing time, but if I were to estimate how the touches would break down, probably something like 65-70% for Swift, 20-30% for Peterson and the remainder for Johnson. 

►Q. Who are the most likely players to be traded away? — @bergsketboll

►A. Outside of the possibility to the team moving Stafford, the Lions don’t have all that many desirable trade chips under contract after this season. 

The first place I look at is the defensive players, because there’s a reasonable chance the team will flip schemes. A guy like Jamie Collins, with two years left on his deal, might carry some appeal for a team in search for a versatile 3-4 linebacker. 

John Penisini or Danny Shelton also are in that conversation, particularly the former because he’s cheap and under contractual control for three seasons. The sixth-round draft pick has been a pleasant surprise during his rookie season, but might be a bad scheme fit if the next coach wants to run an attacking front. 

Kerryon Johnson probably is on the fringe of that conversation, as well, but it’s easy to argue there’s more value in keeping him as Swift insurance than the potential late-round draft pick he might be able to net the Lions in a trade. 

►Q. What optimism should fans have that this current regime firing won’t be an inevitable repeat in a few years down the road? — @NoExcuseCharlie

►A. If you’re looking for me to peddle false optimism, you’ve come to the wrong place. In light of this franchise’s history of ineptitude, your skepticism clearly is valid. 

More: ‘Part of the business’: Lions assistants brace for uncertain future

There are two caveats to this spin of the prize wheel. First, this is Sheila Ford Hamp’s first time making the leadership decisions. And while her most recent press session didn’t exactly inspire confidence, maybe the league, search firms and conversations with other owners will steer her in the right direction. 

Second, there’s something to be said about dumb luck, right? I know you know the phrase about broken clocks. In a league build around parity, the Lions have somehow managed to stay pinned to the bottom of the standings much of the past 20 years. At some point, you’d think they would have to run into a right decision. 

►Q. Any insight on a timeline for the hire of the general manager? — @EricTyWallace

►A. If the search will be as thorough as expected, you’re looking at a mid-January hire. The league prohibits candidates employed by other teams to interview until after the regular season is over.

►Q. Do you think Rod Wood or the new gm will have the most say in determining the new head coach? — @TurnerBatdorf

►A. Unless the Lions get squirrelly with the timeline, the general manager will be hired first and that individual should have full control over the coaching decision. 

►Q. How would you expect Stafford to react if the Lions went QB in round one, like Brett Favre, who supposedly eschewed helping Rodgers adjust? Willingly participate in the grooming of his own successor? — @scottpohlwkar

►A. I wouldn’t anticipate any issues. Stafford always has been a team-first guy. He will compete with every ounce of his being to prove the Lions made a mistake, but he’s not the type to be petty and hold back from being a mentor to an heir apparent. 

►Q. What is the Detroit Lions identity? Will they ever get to a point where their identity or things they want to do well doesn’t change with who they bring in as GM & coach? — @MichaelFickII

►A. It’s probably not the answer you want to hear, but their overarching identity is failure. What else could it be with a single playoff win since 1957, none since 1991 and zero division titles since 1993?

Your leadership establishes your identity, so no, I don’t think the team will get to a point of having traits that define it without a general manager and coach setting a tone. 

Subscribers: Breaking down 15 possible candidates to be Lions general manager

►Q. With all aspects of what a head coach is responsible for considered, what do you believe is the most important thing the next Lions head coach needs to excel at? — @andrewkeck

►A. If there’s one thing I’m looking for above all else in the next head coach, it’s the ability to motivate. I’m not just talking about the players, but his staff. When was the last time the Lions have a leader that they wanted to run through a brick wall for, no questions asked? 

Matt Patricia was a drill sergeant. He broke guys down seeking conformity. Jim Caldwell was exceptionally organized and fatherly, but preferred to stay in the emotional slow lane. This team could use an injection of positive energy to counteract all the natural negativity surrounding the franchise. 

►Q. What could our cap room potentially look like next year? — @BwallinBruh

►A. It really depends on how much the pandemic impacts the 2021 cap figure. It’s going to drop, it’s just a matter of how much. As it currently stands, the Lions have around $180 million committed to 40 players. They’ll have some unused cap space carryover from this year, but unless they clear some of that money of the books, they’re looking at less to work with than the average team. 

That makes the prospect of using the franchise tag on wide receiver Kenny Golladay a complicated equation. 

More: ‘It’s about time’: Former Lions take parting shots at Matt Patricia, Bob Quinn

►Q. Are you more interested to see how the Patricia-less offense or defense performs? — @LyalClough

►A. I’m more interested in the offense. As defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said this week, you can’t change the entire defense in a few days. We know the personnel, we have a pretty good understanding of the scheme and there’s this feeling of “it is what it is” with that unit.

Offensively, Bevell said he had autonomy, but I’m curious how much Patricia’s conservative nature dialed back the offense’s aggressiveness. Maybe the answer is not at all, given that Bevell coordinated heavy run offenses before coming to Detroit, but I’m interested in seeing if there’s a noticeable philosophical shift. 

►Q. Everyone is connecting the dots and assuming that Robert Saleh is the front-runner to be our next head coach. What’s the likelihood that he doesn’t want to coach the Lions as it has been a head coach graveyard and he’s had a front row seat growing up in Dearborn? — @DloCMU05

►A. Low. Almost non-existent. I understand the sentiment, but from the people I’ve talked to with knowledge of his thinking, Saleh is excited about the possibility of coming back home and leading this team. 

That doesn’t mean it’s his job to turn down. There are a few steps before we reach that point. But if it’s offered, I fully believe he’ll jump at the opportunity.

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►Q. Are Okudah’s struggles more about his inexperience or about being forced into a tough man-to-man scheme under Patricia? Do you think he’d flourish in a more traditional defense? — @PhilipFracassi

►A. I’d lean toward experience and the natural adjustment of having to defend NFL-caliber receivers being the bigger issue. You have to remember, he played in a man-heavy coverage scheme at Ohio State, where he thrived. 

A defensive scheme that generates a more consistent pass-rush pressure would be a big help, not only for him, but the entire secondary. 

►Q. Assuming we do end up moving on from Stafford, realistically what is the haul we could acquire? — @SnakeFooley

►A. I’m pretty sure I’ve answered this in a previous mailbag, but it’s worth revisiting given the current focus on Stafford’s future. 

Realistically, the Lions will probably not get the haul some fans would hope. While there aren’t too many examples of quarterbacks of his caliber hitting the trade market, a fairly equitable example would be when the Kansas City Chiefs shipped Alex Smith to the Washington Football Team. 

Both former No. 1 picks, Smith was around Stafford’s age when he was dealt in exchange for a third-round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller. That’s your starting point — a Day 2 selection and a starting-caliber player. 

Could that be two second-rounders from another club, or even a late first-round choice? Sure. I could see a team like Indianapolis or New England making a more aggressive push.

Subscribers: Justin Rogers ranks the biggest mistakes in Bob Quinn’s Lions tenure

►Q. Any chance Darrell Bevell could keep job or are they just trying to finish the season without Patricia? — @nick1992Iceburg

►A: I’m not the type to ever rule out anything, but the odds are incredibly low Bevell keeps this job beyond his five-game audition. If the Lions somehow managed to win out, or even go 4-1 during that stretch, he’ll have a compelling case, but that’s a highly unlikely scenario.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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