Detroit Lions mailbag: Should they draft a QB next spring or ‘Blow for Bryce’ in 2023?

Detroit Free Press

It’s November and the Detroit Lions are winless, so naturally it’s draft season here in Detroit. I figured I’d get a lot of questions about next offseason and the 2022 NFL draft for this week’s mailbag and you all did not disappoint.

Reader questions edited for clarity:

Dave, don’t you feel like the Lions have to at least take a swing at a QB in next year’s draft? If they wait until 2023, that player might not play till 2024, by which point this regime may have run out of time. – @FriedrichsJk

I got a lot of questions about the Lions’ future at quarterback, so I figured I’d use Jeremy’s question as the jumping off point to address most of what you asked.

It seems pretty clear to me Jared Goff is not the Lions’ long-term answer at quarterback, but the way his contract is structured, the Lions do not have to force a draft pick at the position next spring. They could roll with Goff as a starter for another season and wait till 2023 for an upgrade, though as Jeremy noted, patience will eventually run thin on this rebuild and waiting to find a quarterback won’t help.

The Lions could have their choice of quarterbacks in the 2022 draft and I expect them to do diligence on every top QB prospect available. Matt Corral of Ole Miss and Malik Willis of Liberty seem like the top two at the moment, but North Carolina’s Sam Howell, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett and maybe even Cincinnati’s Desmond Rider could end up in Round 1.

If the Lions determine one of those players has the tools to be a franchise NFL quarterback, they should take him with their first pick, no questions asked. Quarterback is the most important position on the field and having a good one is the surest way to long-term success.

DRAFT WATCH: Meet the top QB prospects in the 2022 NFL draft

Judging by the way-too-early and very-incomplete feedback I’ve gotten, I’m not sure any of those five will check all the boxes the Lions need to take him Round 1. The 2023 class, potentially with Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, looks far stronger, though nothing is guaranteed this far out.

The Lions have a second first-round pick this year courtesy of their Matthew Stafford trade with the Los Angeles Rams. It’s possible they could land a quarterback with that pick (probably in the 24-32 range), but I’m not keen on the merits of taking a quarterback in that territory and likely anchoring yourself to that player the next few years.

All things being equal, taking a quarterback this year is preferable, but not necessary, and the Lions could try and accumulate more draft capital in 2023 (by, say, trading out of their second first-round pick) to make a run at a top signal caller 17 months from now. That’s a risky game to play, but that may also be the Lions’ best hope.

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Assuming Lions land No. 1 pick and take Thibodeaux, what’s the strategy for the rest of the draft? Also, what if they win a few games, pick at 3, and Stingley is sitting there and they think he’s an elite player? Do they take him? – @Eric74846483

As I wrote a couple weeks ago, I am not sure Oregon’s Kayvon Thibodeaux is the consensus No. 1 pick media types have made him out to be. I really like what I’ve seen from him as a player, but scouts I’ve talked to aren’t sold on him as a 1-1 player.

This year’s draft looks strong at offensive tackle, where the Lions are set, and solid along the defensive line. Don’t be surprised if Michigan’s Aidan Hutchinson works his way into the No. 1 pick conversation before all is done.

No matter who the Lions take up top — Thibodeaux, Hutchinson, LSU cornerback Derek Stingley or someone else — their strategy should be to take the best player available and let everything else sort itself out. The Lions are not good enough to pass on talent anywhere, and doing so would be a missed opportunity in their rebuild.

As for Stingley, he would be a tough sell to a fan base still uneasy with the Jeff Okudah selection from 2020. Stingley is considered a better prospect than Okudah at the time, but a foot injury has kept him off the field most of this year.

Halfway through the season. Who’s definitely part of this team going forward, meaning (past) this season, who’s on the bubble and who’s definitely gone after game 17? – @MrTracyParent

The Lions have a very young roster, with 10 first- or second-year players having already played at least 150 snaps this season. If we’re talking about 2022, I suspect most if not all of those players — Penei Sewell, Jonah Jackson, D’Andre Swift, Julian Okwara, Alim McNeill, Derrick Barnes, Jerry Jacobs, A.J. Parker, Quintez Cephus and Amon-Ra St. Brown — will return in a starting or supporting role next fall.

Goff, tight end T.J. Hockenson, running back Jamaal Williams, starting linemen Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker, young cornerbacks Okudah, Amani Oruwariye and Ifeatu Melifonwu, defensive linemen Romeo Okwara, Levi Onwuzurike and Michael Brockers and punter Jack Fox all should be back.

Not all of those 22 players will be part of the Lions’ nucleus going forward, but that’s a good base for the roster. The real question is how aggressive the Lions will be trying to re-sign some of their pending free agents. Players like Tracy Walker, Kalif Raymond and Charles Harris have had productive seasons and may be able to cash in elsewhere.

I did not put Halapoulivaati Vaitai in the lock category, but his contract is manageable for next season and he has played well enough through eight games to warrant a return. Trey Flowers has a much more onerous contract — he’s due $16 million in base salary — and could be down to his final nine games as a Lion.

CARLOS: Passing on Odell Beckham Jr. proves Lions are sticking to plan

What FA WRs can the Lions sign this offseason? – @RobV15416341

It is shaping up to be a good free agent class of receivers, though a lot can change between now and March. The Green Bay Packers’ Davante Adams is the best pending free agent receiver (and one of the best players regardless of position), though his future seems linked to what happens with Aaron Rodgers this offseason.

Along with Adams, Chicago Bears’ Allen Robinson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin, Los Angeles Chargers’ Mike Williams and Denver Broncos’ Courtland Sutton are the best of the bunch. Godwin, 25, and Sutton, 26, are the youngest of the group, while Robinson is a Detroit native. My guess is the Lions would have to throw a pile of money at any of those guys to lure them to Detroit.

There are a few other young, talented receivers who should find robust interest on the market, including Arizona Cardinals’ Christian Kirk, Indianapolis Colts’ Zach Pascal and Dallas Cowboys’ Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Help, in some form, should be on the way.

In your article about OBJ, you indicated the Lions have limited cap space. While I understand they have a lot invested in Goff, how can a team with maybe three above average players and a roster of mostly way below average players be anywhere near the salary cap?  Thanks. – Kevin, via email

Kevin’s question refers to something I wrote Monday, about the Lions having only $3 million or so in available cap space, not enough to claim Odell Beckham Jr. on waivers.

The issue with the Lions’ current cap is they have more than $62 million in dead money, according to OverTheCap.com, from players they’ve traded or released. That includes cap hits for Stafford ($19 million), Desmond Trufant ($6 million), Jamie Collins ($5.5 million) and Jesse James ($4 million).

The Lions’ cap purge was intentional in that they cut seven players signed by the previous regime in order to start fresh in 2022, but part of that NFL-high number also is attributable to the suspect free agent signings this spring of players like Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams.

Will the Lions win a game this year? Which game is their best chance to do so? – @Jlev28

Call me crazy, but I think the Lions win more than one game in the second half of the season. That may sound homer-ish given the way the Lions have played through eight games, but I’m playing the odds of the NFL. It’s incredibly hard to go winless in a league designed for parity.

As for what games they win, that’s tougher. I think the Lions have a chance to win Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers don’t score much, and that’s the kind of team the Lions can beat.

I’ll probably chicken out — or maybe, come to my senses — and pick the Steelers to win by Sunday, so I’ll say the Lions win home games against the Bears and Vikings and finish 2-15.

What did you do on your off week. – @RightChoiceTix

I ducked out for a quick vacation with the family last week, shut my phone off and spent most of my time at the beach. The Lions’ bye lined up perfectly with my kids having time off from school, and it was the first time in a long time I felt like I wasn’t at risk of missing something by disappearing for a few days midseason.

The last time I took a bye week vacation was 2015, when I stayed in Europe for a few days after the Lions’ blowout loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. I was flying home from Ireland the Thursday after that game and landed to 70 or so missed text messages and the news Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand had been fired.

Lesson learned from that experience, and chances are it will be a while before the stars align enough for me to take a bye week vacation again.

How is your mental health as a reporter covering the Lions? – @FrederickLink

See above. Five days in paradise was just what the doctor ordered.

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

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