Detroit Lions mailbag: How long before they’re a legitimate contender in NFC North?

Detroit Free Press

Last week’s mailbag of Detroit Lions questions was such a hit that we’re back with another installment.

Do you think Detroit will compete for the NFC North next few years since A-ron will be gone and most likely Chicago and Minnesota will fire their HC? — @Abdulla_Mahgoub

The “next few years” is pretty general timeframe that I can only answer by saying they better, otherwise they will have a new head coach and general manager in place. So I’m going to repurpose this question and try to answer how long it will take for the Lions to be NFC North contenders.

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I think Abdulla is right about the soon-to-be changing landscape of the NFC North, and that’s part of why it made so much sense for the Lions to start completely anew when they did. New GM, new coach, new QB, etc., at a time when a change of guard is approaching in the division.

The Green Bay Packers are the class of the North right now and will remain that way for as long as Aaron Rodgers is in town. Rodgers had a public spat with the organization last offseason that may or may not have subsided. Winning helps, and the Packers are a Super Bowl contender, so I could see him sticking around four more seasons. But if the fracture was as deep as it was made out to be, it’s just as likely Rodgers is playing his final three months in Green Bay.

The Bears and Vikings are better than the Lions right now, but like Ricky Bobby said, if you ain’t first, you’re last, and neither the Bears nor the Vikings are first. So the real question is who will be in position to assume the reins of the division when Rodgers is gone?

The Lions have a head start on the Vikings and Bears in that they are in Year 1 of their rebuild, while both Chicago and Minnesota could be faced with major upheaval soon. The Packers have the best roster outside of the quarterback, which could help them remain competitive if Rodgers revisits his trade request. The Bears have potentially the most important element in place, a young quarterback in Justin Fields.

I think the Lions are in the process of building a competitive roster. I highly doubt they will be playoff contenders next fall, but if they add a top defensive playmaker and some help at receiver to go with an already-strong offensive line, they should at least be sniffing contention in 2023. Without a quarterback, though, their ceiling is limited, which is why it’s imperative Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes find one soon.

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How is Goff on the roster next year? — @eyenoknowthing

A lot of Jared Goff questions this week, including several about his future in Detroit.

Look, the Lions will explore all quarterback options this offseason; it would be malpractice if they didn’t given the way Goff has played through nine games. But the most likely scenario right now is that Goff is a Lion in 2022.

Financially, the Lions are looking at a $30.5 million cap hit, according to OverTheCap.com, if they cut or trade Goff next offseason (assuming no team wants to take on his guaranteed $15 million roster bonus due in March). That number could shrink if the Lions were to designate Goff a June 1 cut, and they could eat that charge given they’re playing with $60 million-plus in dead cap now. But neither of those options is ideal.

Beyond the money aspect, the Lions have to figure out who they move onto if they part ways with Goff. A rookie is possible, but there may not be one worth taking at the top of the draft. Trading for Rodgers, Russell Wilson or another top quarterback is a pipe dream, and good quarterbacks don’t hit free agency.

The Lions will have to get creative in any quarterback scenario if they want to overhaul the room in 2022.

Any chance we could look into Mariota or dare i say…. Trubisky to start a year? — @bigwheel_194

Good Lord. Help this franchise and anyone in it if they think Mitchell Trubisky can be their answer at quarterback. Goff has struggled this season, but he’s not exactly surrounded by great talent. If you swap him for just about any available free agent, you’re looking at a lot of wasted cash and cap spend and not much more production at quarterback.

Ok, a question that MUST be asked: will anyone in the organization be held accountable for 0-16-1 in the offseason… besides about 30 players? Even truly wretched teams win 2-3 games. How, in the name of Rod Marinelli (and Matt Millen), can fans be excited in 2022? — @gjbarbieri

The Cleveland Browns gave Hue Jackson an extension during their 0-16 season, and there is absolutely no reason to believe Campbell’s job will be in jeopardy if the Lions go 0-16-1. Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp knew this was going to be a rebuilding year and is firmly behind both Campbell and Holmes.

I do think this regime needs a win or two in the final two months to prove it is on the right track. Free agents won’t exactly flock to a winless team come spring, and fans have no reason to spend money on a losing product.

As for who will be held accountable… There will be fall guys in the front office and probably on the coaching staff. That’s how these things work. But no guesses from me on who those fall guys will be as that would just be speculation for now.

How much of an upgrade would Sewell be at LT vs Decker and after Decker’s presser is there any chance of an offseason switch of the sides? Or is Sewell a RT until he leaves? — @kev2a

OK, so I get why Taylor Decker was upset about what he described as the “negativity surrounding my name” this season. As well-compensated as they are, NFL players are human and go through the same ups, downs and emotions as everyone else.

As for a position switch, Sewell is not an upgrade over Decker right now so that discussion is moot. The argument for moving Sewell to left tackle all along has been that he is the future at the position. I believe that to be the case, but if you go back to what Holmes told me in April, that he wanted to build a monster of an offensive line, I think Decker’s foreseeable future is in Detroit, too.

There may come a point in time when Sewell is the better player, or when Decker’s time in Detroit is approaching an inevitable end. That’s when the Lions will make the switch, regardless of Decker’s feelings.

What’s the most winnable game remaining on the schedule? — @calendar1bot

The Bears on Thanksgiving. That’s an easy one for me.

The Lions are a bad offensive football team that I think can only beat other bad offensive football teams. They have not scored more than 19 points since Week 1 and have given no reason to believe they can win a shootout.

The Bears and Lions are currently tied for 29th in the NFL in scoring at 16.7 points per game, and Chicago will be starting a rookie quarterback (Fields) on a short week (for Thanksgiving) behind a suspect offensive line.

Baker Mayfield might not play this week, which gives the Lions a chance against the Cleveland Browns, and the Atlanta Falcons are pretty bad all around. But the Lions’ hope to avoid 0-16-1 comes next Thursday against the Bears.

Thoughts on a Lions-Steelers super bowl matchup — @SifferMichael

If it means sitting through an overtime as well-played as Sunday’s, can count me out.

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

Next up: Browns

Matchup: Lions (0-8-1) at Cleveland (5-5).

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday; FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland.

TV/radio: Fox; WXYT-FM (97.1).

Line: Browns by 91/2.

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