Detroit Lions’ (supersized) mailbag: The latest on the GM, coaching searches

Detroit Free Press

The regular season is coming to a close for the Detroit Lions, and what better way to celebrate than with a jam-packed mailbag full of general manager and coaching search questions. 

Actually, you all had so many of them, I decided to spend the top portion of the mailbag sharing some of the rumblings I’ve heard about the Lions and what lies ahead.

First, to recap, the Lions have interviewed seven people for the general manager job so far, in-house candidates Kyle O’Brien, Lance Newmark and Rob Lohman, and external candidates Rick Smith, Thomas Dimitroff, Scott Pioli and Louis Riddick.

Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff speaks with a reporter during media availability Tuesday, Jan. 31, 2017 at Memorial City Mall ice arena in Houston, Texas.

Of that group, I can tell you the Lions think very highly of Newmark and I believe there is a chance he stays in Detroit in some high-ranking capacity. I do not think it will be as general manager, but his work as a college evaluator is respected across the league and if you go back a couple years, his name did appear on some of those “future GM” lists.

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The name people around the NFL view as the leader in the clubhouse — and to be clear, this is not coming directly from Lions sources, but rather rumblings from connected sources throughout the league — is Dimitroff, the former Lions scout in the mid-90s who spent 12-plus season as Atlanta Falcons GM until he was fired earlier this year.

Dimitroff makes sense in that he has experience, which is something the Lions value in their next GM. He was in Detroit when new organizational influencer Chris Spielman was a player, and he’s had success at multiple stops (Atlanta and with the New England Patriots).

I’ve said before that the Lions are handling these searches the right way, by casting a wide net, and I expect that to continue the next two weeks on both the coach and GM front. When they find the right person for one of the jobs — I believe the GM hire will come first, though I don’t think the Lions will force that — they will do what they can to bring that person aboard.

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Expect the Lions to start turning in interview notifications Sunday after their game against the Minnesota Vikings, or Monday at the latest. On the GM front, as ESPN first reported, the Lions do plan to interview Los Angeles Rams director of college scouting Brad Holmes. Other names I have heard them connected to are: New Orleans Saints assistant GM Terry Fontenot, San Francisco 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters and Indianapolis Colts assistant GM Ed Dodds, though Dodds will be very picky about what job he takes and I do not expect him to interview in Detroit.

There is one other high-profile candidate multiple people have told me may surface in the coming days, but whose identity shall remain clandestine for now.

San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh on Sept. 13, 2020, talks to players on the sideline in Santa Clara, Calif.

On the coaching front, there are not as many names linked directly to the Lions yet, perhaps because the season is not over. Interim head coach Darrell Bevell should have a chance to interview for the full-time job. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh continues to generate a lot of buzz publicly and likely will be on the Lions’ interview list. Ex-Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis may have already talked to the Lions. And Tennessee Titans offensive coordinator Arthur Smith might be on the list, too.

Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is another candidate I’ve heard good things about, though he is rumored to favor jobs other than Detroit.

WHAT’S NEXT? Stafford wants more ‘big-time moments.’ He may need to leave for them

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Onto your questions:

How likely is it that Stafford’s final snaps as a Lion come on Sunday? — @TimGeorgacakes

Matthew Stafford’s future is more uncertain than ever, so I would not rule out the possibility that Sunday is his final game as a Lion (assuming he plays). If I was putting odds on it, though, I think he’s more likely to return in 2021 than not.

Stafford is well-regarded as a player, and it won’t be easy for any GM to move on from him as quarterback without having a viable replacement in hand — something the Lions can’t be guaranteed of until the draft. The wild card, of course, is that Stafford could force his way out of town. But if I was a betting man, I’d place a (small) wager on him being Lions QB next fall.

I know teams are doing Zoom interviews at the moment but I feel like teams won’t hire candidates until they’ve had in person interviews. Do you think that’s the case with the lions this year’s? — @WhatSymondsSays

That 100% will be the case with the Lions. They will meet both the head coach and GM in person before they make a hire, but the bigger question is how many candidates will they meet in person? It very well could be the case of picking a favorite after all the interviews are done bringing only that person in to make a hire.

Are any Lion coaches worth saving? — @jimbocndn

I don’t anticipate many current Lions coaches will return in 2021, but there absolutely are some good coaches on staff. Start with interim head coach Darrell Bevell. It’s unlikely he stays as head coach or offensive coordinator, but Chase Daniel paid him a great compliment this week, saying, “He demands the respect and he gets it cause he’s authentic … (As a head coach) you’ve got to be a leader of men and I think Bev is 100%, without a doubt, a leader of men.”

Hank Fraley deserves mention, too, for the work he’s done with the offensive line, which has been the Lions’ best position group this season. So does running backs coach Kyle Caskey, who has helped develop several young backs the past few seasons, including rookie D’Andre Swift this year.

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Lions running backs coach Kyle Caskey on Sept. 8, 2019.

The fact the Lions entrusted Sean Ryan and Evan Rothstein to call plays, and Robert Prince to handle head coaching duties, during last week’s COVID outbreak speaks to how they’re seen in the organization as well.

What would we have to give the Jags to move to the #1 pick? I believe it’s time to move on from Stafford, but I don’t believe the other QBs could change the @lions franchise the way Trevor Lawrence could. I think he’s just that much better than the other QBs in this draft class. — onehunahpu

Lawrence is the best quarterback prospect since at least Andrew Luck and maybe Peyton Manning or even John Elway. There is no chance the Jaguars trade the pick. Jacksonville needs a quarterback as bad as anyone, and Lawrence has the potential to transform that franchise. There is nothing realistically the Lions could do to move up to No. 1.

Who is your favorite QB not named Trevor Lawrence in the upcoming NFL draft? — @B_Lake007

I’m still giving with Ohio State’s Justin Fields the nod over BYU’s Zach Wilson, though that opinion is subject to change when I start diving more into draft stuff — and consulting with scouts I trust — after the season.

Full disclosure: I have not seen Trey Lance play other than a few highlights, but his dual-threat ability and high upside intrigue me.

Can they sign Okwara and Golladay or is it an either/or? And if you had to keep one, which one would you choose? — @PublicCityPR

Kenny Golladay and Romeo Okwara will be the Lions’ top free agents this offseason, and both should be priorities to re-sign. The Lions, with about $178 million in current cap commitments for 2021, according to OverTheCap.com, have some work to do to make that happen; the cap is expected to be right around that number. But they also have $11 million or so in cap carry over from this season and plenty of potential cap casualties on the roster.

Lions wide receiver Kenny Golladay celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Santa Clara, Calif.

Just a hunch, but I think Okwara will be the easier of the two to re-sign, especially if the Lions bring in a defensive system that allows him to thrive. As for Golladay, contract talks were contentious enough before Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia were fired that the Lions might need to use the franchise tag to keep him in town, though indications are they know how important he is to re-sign and will try to do that once a GM is in place.

If I could only keep one, it would be Golladay. He is on the cusp of becoming one of the best receivers in the NFL, and the Lions have a potentially dynamic group of skill players in him, T.J. Hockenson and Swift for whoever plays quarterback next season. Injuries kept Golladay from realizing his talent this season, and if I was the club, I might be more comfortable using the franchise tag than signing him to a long-term deal. Okwara is younger than Golladay, and contributes on special teams. But I’m not quite convinced he belongs in the elite pass rusher category yet.

Which players on this defensive roster do you think are starters on other teams? — @RedWingLion

If we are talking players who would start on a majority of NFL teams, not just one, the only two Lions defensive players who reasonably fit that description are Okwara and Trey Flowers, who is on injured reserve. Justin Coleman would start for a number teams at nickel cornerback, but this defense is so devoid of talent that the only other players I can see fitting that description at some point in the near future are Tracy Walker and Jeff Okudah, based on potential.

How are you not an alcoholic after having to watch every Game? I choose not to watch when it gets bad, only thing saving my liver. — @Real_ChrisScott

My body is a temple, Chris, and I treat it as such.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. 

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