Detroit Lions mailbag: Free agent targets, trade down possibilities and potential cap cuts

Detroit Free Press

Dave Birkett
 
| Detroit Free Press

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In a normal year, most of the NFL would be in Indianapolis for the scouting combine right now. But that annual event has gone by the wayside this year with COVID-19 protocols in place.

That means no crowing of underwear Olympic champions, no tracking of formal combine interviews and most importantly for teams, no combine medical checks (though top prospects will go through thorough physicals at a later date).

One thing that has not changed is combine availability. The Detroit Lions, like most other teams, will make their top decision makers available for interviews this week.

The futures of Kenny Golladay and Romeo Okwara surely will be topics of discussion, but don’t expect any news on Jared Goff until his trade becomes official later this month.

With a busy few weeks ahead, now is a good time to squeeze in a mailbag and answer your questions on what the Lions might do in free agency and the draft.

Predicting what Lions do with each of their 2021 free agents ]

Realistic options for trade backs in the 1st round – @Tri_Boucher

Everyone seems to be gung ho about the Lions trading down from No. 7, even Mel Kiper Jr., and unless there is a quarterback there they deem worthy, that is the best-case scenario. The Lions are looking at a substantial rebuild, and acquiring extra draft compensation this year or next is the best way to make sure their plan takes.

It takes two to trade and I have my doubts new general manager Brad Holmes will be able to swing a second mega deal. That has nothing to do with Holmes, but rather what players are there at seven. I could see all four of the draft’s top quarterbacks going in the first six picks, which would leave the Lions to pick between a top receiver or defensive player.

Dave Birkett’s 2021 NFL mock draft 1.0: Will Lions take QB at No. 7? ]

If quarterbacks are on the board at seven, and the Lions don’t fashion any of them as their future, the Carolina Panthers at No. 8, San Francisco 49ers at No. 12 and New England Patriots at No. 15 are the most likely candidates to move up, with the Denver Broncos at No. 9 also a possibility.

The trade value chart says the cost for New England to go up eight spots is a second- and sixth-round pick. Teams are typically willing to pay a premium if they’re chasing a quarterback, but again, with so many quarterback-needy and trade-willing teams ahead of the Lions in the draft, I’m not sure one falls to No. 7. 

How far do you think this team is willing to trade back in Round 1? In your opinion is there a game changer on defense that we as fan’s are over looking! – @geletzke

I don’t know about the depth of the draft yet to answer this with any certainty, but typically teams are loath to move down a tier of players. For instance, if there are six or seven blue-chip talents in the draft, and the Lions feel good about their chances of getting one in the top 12, there’s no reason not to accept a fair offer and move down. When you start passing blue-chip players for good players, that becomes an issue because premium talent is necessary to win in the NFL.

As for game-changing defensive players, this draft seems strongest on the offensive side at quarterback, receiver and offensive tackle. Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons is the top defensive player, in my opinion, though teams will have background work to do on him. From the feedback I’ve gotten, I do not think there is another blue-chip defensive player in the draft.

Is there a scenario where Lions can trade to Jacksonville some of their capital from Rams trade to get Lawrence? – @yroc21

Not a chance. The Jaguars need a quarterback/face-of-the-franchise and Trevor Lawrence is that. They will not be trading the pick. If this were a situation where they had a quarterback on hand and were shopping No. 1, I’d guess the bidding would start with the Lions’ five first-round picks over the next three drafts and move up from there. That’s how good a prospect Lawrence is.

Who will the Lions be releasing to make cap room? – @TeachingZeus

Tricky question to answer because it’s never fun to speculate about people’s livelihoods when the organization has given few hints about what it will do, either publicly or privately, to some of the potential people involved. So, what follows would be my plan to clear cap space, which the Lions absolutely need to do before the new league year begins, not speculation on what the team will do.

Also, to be clear, the NFL has not set its salary cap for 2021 yet and has only told teams the floor will be $180 million. It might not seem like a lot, but there is a substantial difference between, say, a $180 million cap and a $185 million cap. If the cap is set on the north end of that range, that would allow the Lions and others to keep an extra veteran starter or two around for the season.

Using $180 million as the projected cap, the Lions currently sit about $9 million over next season’s cap, according to OverTheCap.com. That includes the pending acquisition of Goff, but does not account for a potential franchise tag on Golladay. I would be leery of restructuring too many contracts if I was the Lions, because I’d rather have one year of cap hell than push money down the road that potentially impacts my rebuild. But with new TV deals coming, I know the cap will rise substantially in the future so there is one major restructure I would do to create room: Convert the majority of Goff’s $25.65 million base salary to a signing bonus, which would free up about $17 million in cap space.

That still does not leave enough room to tag Golladay, which I believe the Lions should do, or spend big in free agency, so a couple cuts would be in order. The four veterans I would target for substantial pay reductions (and be willing to release if they would not take them) would be cornerback Desmond Trufant (a potential $6.1 million cap savings if released), tight end Jesse James ($5 million in savings with a post-June 1 release designation), defensive tackle Nick Williams ($4.65 million) and quarterback Chase Daniel ($2.3 million).

None of those players has lived up to their contracts in Detroit so far, and you could make the case others — like Justin Coleman and Joe Dahl — should be on the list. I suspect the Lions will have news to report in the coming days, and ultimately what they plan to do in free agency and where strength lies in the draft could impact those moves as well.

What are the Lions going to do with Golladay? They can’t really tag a guy who played just 5 games last year can they? What do they do at WR if they let him walk and Jones & Amendola seem like they are heading elsewhere? – @LFLY11

I wrote a week ago the Lions should tag Golladay, so I won’t rehash that entire argument here. But I believe Golladay is one of the top 10 or so receivers in the NFL, I’d want him on my roster personally — especially at the discounted rate of $16 million or so for 2021 — and if he does not want to be here, I would have no problem with a tag and trade.

I got a question from @harmonater62 on the history of tag-and-trades, which do not happen often (though Jadeveon Clowney was part of one such trade last summer). It’s risky, and Golladay can dictate where he goes in some regard by waiting to sign the tag. But because the Lions would be in position to receive a 2023 compensatory pick if he plays the season on the tag, there is an obvious bottom line when it comes to any compensation in a deal.

As for the rest of the receiver position, the Lions must add in free agency — Josh Reynolds? Breshad Perriman? — and the draft.

What free agents do the Lions need to go after and who is a must resign from their team? – @phillutzreports

Using my cap plan above, the Lions would be able to afford one high-level free agent for their defense and fill a handful of other holes. I think back to 2010, when Jim Schwartz was building his team and signed Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson as free agents: Good players on the field, good guys in the locker room but not budget busters.

[ Lions should be interested in these 11 free agents with ties to new regime ]

If I had one similar move to make this spring, I’d target either Marcus Williams or John Johnson because of their familiarity with the staff and the defensive scheme the Lions will run. The Lions have bigger front-seven needs, and they might prefer to re-sign Okwara, but Williams and Johnson are good, young players who could be a part of any rebuild. Beyond that, a player like Reynolds makes sense because of his familiarity with Goff, as would affordable depth options like linebacker Kamu Grugier-Hill and offensive tackle James Hurst.

Outside of Okwara and Golladay, I don’t know that the Lions will go out of their way to keep any free agent. Maybe Matt Prater has a rebound season in him, and Jamal Agnew has value as a return man. But as is usually the case, most free agents will sign elsewhere.

Can I have a beer with you? Lol I have several questions. – @NotDanMrozinski

I’m not a drinker, but hit me up after the pandemic and we’ll figure something out.

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

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