Detroit Lions’ Matthew Stafford trade talks to begin; 6 players to watch at Senior Bowl

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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The Senior Bowl is more important than ever this year, not only because of COVID-19-related changes to the NFL’s schedule — the combine is off, throwing the league’s long-established pre-draft processes for a loop — but also what is at stake for the Detroit Lions.

New Lions general manager Brad Holmes is not expected to attend Senior Bowl practices in Mobile, Alabama as he continues to piece together his staff, but trade talks for Matthew Stafford should begin in earnest this week.

Typically, many of the NFL’s top personnel men spend time at the Senior Bowl, evaluating top draft prospects and laying the groundwork for free agent deals, trades and new contracts that get done in March.

Stafford requested a trade from the Lions after the season, and the Lions agreed to pursue that request last week.

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Holmes will spend the next few weeks gauging the trade market to see how robust the interest is in Stafford and what the Lions can get in a deal, while also planning ahead for what appears to be a major roster makeover.

A league source said over the weekend the Lions will not trade Stafford unless they receive “fair market value” for the quarterback, while declining to specify what fair market value is.

With a number of playoff-caliber teams potentially on the hunt for new starting quarterbacks, including the Indianapolis Colts, San Francisco 49ers and Washington, league observers believe the Lions should be able to land at least a first-round pick in any trade.

The Lions can agree to a trade at anytime in the coming weeks, but the deal cannot be consummated until the start of the 2021 league year, tentatively set for March 17.

Stafford is due a $10 million roster bonus on the fifth day of the league year, and any trade likely will be formalized by that point.

With Stafford almost certainly done after 12 seasons in Detroit, Holmes, the former college scouting director of the Los Angeles Rams, and his staff have lots of work to do trying to find a replacement.

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Trevor Lawrence is the presumptive No. 1 pick of April’s NFL draft, but as many as five other quarterbacks could go in Round 1: Ohio State’s Justin Fields, BYU’s Zach Wilson, North Dakota State’s Trey Lance, Alabama’s Mac Jones and Florida’s Kyle Trask.

Jones is the biggest name taking part in Senior Bowl practices this week, and Trask pulled out last weekend because of an injury.

The rest of the Senior Bowl quarterbacks — Georgia’s Jamie Newman, Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, Arkansas’ Feleipe Franks, Texas’ Sam Ehlinger and Notre Dame’s Ian Book — are projected as Day 2 or later draft picks.

Jones shined in his one full season as the starter at Alabama (41 TDs, four INTs), but evaluators will be watching this week to see if he can make throws into tight windows when there is less of a talent discrepancy on the field. 

The Lions also have major needs at wide receiver, where Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are free agents, and all across the defense, after the Lions allowed the most points and yards in the NFL this season.

Along with Jones, here are five more prospects to watch this week who could interest the Lions in April’s draft:

*Practice and game coverage will air on NFL Network; kickoff is 2:30 p.m. Saturday

LB Jabril Cox, LSU

Cox had 58 tackles and three interceptions for LSU this season after transferring from North Dakota State. He measured 6 feet 3 and 233 pounds on Tuesday, and looks like a three-down linebacker with the size to play inside and athleticism to cover tight ends and running backs.

LB Chazz Surratt, North Carolina

One of the more interesting prospects at the Senior Bowl, Surratt switched from quarterback to linebacker midway through his college career and made a significant impact on the defensive side of the ball. He had 12.5 sacks the past two seasons, but at 6 feet 1 and with 30-inch arms does not have the length some teams want in their defense. He’s a playmaker, though, and should have ample opportunity to impress scouts this week.

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WR Nico Collins, Michigan 

Collins opted out of his final season at Michigan and will have plenty of eyes on his return to the field this week. He’s a big receiver at 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, and scouts will be watching to make sure he plays that way on the field.

DL Patrick Jones, Pittsburgh

Holmes was college scouting director of the Rams when they took another Pitt defensive lineman, Aaron Donald, in Round 1. Jones is no Donald, but he’s similar in that scouts have questions about his physical attributes (in this case, short arms; with Donald it was his overall stature) despite big-time production (17.5 sacks in 2019-20). Another Pitt defensive lineman, Rashad Weaver, also will be in the spotlight.

CB Bryan Mills, North Carolina Central

Holmes played college football at North Carolina A&T, so it stands to reason he knows the talent in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference. Mills has good size at 6 feet 1 and with 32-inch arms. He must show he can consistently win against top receivers this week.

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

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