A major draft trade Friday potentially took the Detroit Lions out of range to select a quarterback in the first round of next month’s NFL Draft, but the team continues to perform its due diligence on the top prospects in the class.
On Friday, general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell made the cross-country trek to Provo, Utah, to check out Zach Wilson’s pro day.
Wilson, who the majority of analysts project as the No. 2 quarterback behind Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence, has been projected to taken as early as No. 2 to the New York Jets, while others believe he could slip to back half of the top-10, where the Lions hold the No. 7 pick.
But with San Francisco moving up to No. 3 in a trade with the Miami Dolphins on Friday, it solidifies the chances the BYU star won’t make it any further down the board.
Unlike Lawrence, who has been expected to the first pick of the 2021 draft since his freshman season, Wilson came out of nowhere this past year. A three-star, in-state recruit, he posted modest numbers his first two seasons, completing 63.7% of his passes with 23 touchdowns to 12 interceptions.
But everything came together during Wilson’s junior season. The competition percentage jumped nearly 10 points to 73.5%, with 33 touchdowns to only three interceptions. And while he’s always looking to throw first, he does possess the ability to make plays with his feet, rushing for 254 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2020.
At his pro day, he checked an important box with his size, measuring in at 6-foot-2, 214 pounds. And while he didn’t participate in any of the traditional drills, he did run a 60-throw script to showcase his ability to make throws on the move and unique angles.
“The goal of today was to show kind of what makes me different, the types of throws that I can make that I feel like other guys don’t practice and don’t try and do,” Wilson said during a video conference following his throwing program.
Wilson isn’t the only quarterback the Lions have been scouting closely. Holmes and Campbell also attended North Dakota State’s pro day to check out Trey Lance, and the franchise sent a pair of representatives to Lawrence’s showcase ahead of the top prospect’s planned shoulder surgery. They’ll presumably also be present for Justin Field’s pro day at Ohio State next week.
The quarterback decision is an interesting one for the Lions since the team appears to be at least a couple years away from contending. Additionally, they recently restructured the contract of quarterback and former No. 1 pick Jared Goff after acquiring him in a trade.
The primary purpose of restructuring Goff’s deal is it immediately cleared $15 million off this year’s salary cap figure. But it’s important to note, the Lions are still responsible for that $15 million in future years.
Before the restructure, Goff had a $25.5 million cap hit in 2022, which included a $15.5-million roster bonus due in March. That means the Lions could have cut or traded him ahead of the roster bonus being due without any dead money. Now, that cap hit is scheduled to be $30.5 million with $15 million in dead money from the restructure. If Goff is on the team through March, earning his roster bonus, the dead money and cap hit for 2022 will be equal amounts.
While that doesn’t lock Goff into a roster spot in 2022, it makes it far less likely the team will look to part with the quarterback. Therefore, any quarterback the Lions drafted would be projected to sit behind Goff through at least through the early stages of next season.
Additionally, if the Lions feel one of those top four prospects are the right long-term fit for the franchise, and don’t want to spin the roulette wheel to see who will be there in future drafts, they will probably need to trade up to get them. That may seem counterintuitive to a rebuild, but the Lions certainly have the assets to be aggressive after picking up a pair of future first-rounders from the Rams in the same trade that brought Goff to Detroit.
Both Holmes, and senior executive John Dorsey, have played a role in teams trading up in the first round for their franchise quarterback.
Last week, Holmes described how Rams general manager Les Snead consulted with him about trading up in 2016.
“Yeah, I’d do it for Goff,” Holmes said he told Snead.
Moving up from No. 15, the Rams also sent the Tennessee Titans two second-round selections and a third-rounder in 2016, plus first- and third-round choices in 2017.
And in 2018, while serving as the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs, Dorsey sent the Buffalo first-rounders that year (No. 27) and next (No. 22), as well as a third-rounder in 2018 (No. 91) to move up 17 spots and take Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Goff would go on to earn a pair of Pro Bowl selections and lead the Rams to a Super Bowl before he was traded to the Lions this offseason, while Mahomes was named MVP in 2019, leading the Chiefs to a Super Bowl championship that season.