Lions mailbag: Catching up on compensatory picks, fortifying run defense

Detroit News

With a bit of a lull between the end of the regular season and next month’s Senior Bowl, it seemed a good time to catch up on our Detroit Lions mail.

► Question: When will comp picks be announced this year? Do you feel the projected third-, fifth- and sixth-round picks will be accurate? — @TimVanHouten1

► Answer: A specific date hasn’t been announced, but compensatory draft picks are typically announced between the last week of February and the second week of March.

For those unfamiliar, the NFL awards up to 32 compensatory picks to teams that lost more or better quality unrestricted free agents than they added the previous offseason. The formula for determining the picks is proprietary to the NFL, but we know it factors in contract size, playing time and postseason awards. The selections are distributed between the third and seventh rounds.

A number of websites have used past data to predict future compensatory picks with a high degree of accuracy. My favorite, because of the depth of their explanation, is Over The Cap.

Based on their tabulations, the Lions lost five qualifying free agents, while signing two, running back Jamaal Williams and wide receiver Breshad Perriman. On top of that, Kenny Golladay was considered the top free agent lost based on the aforementioned considerations. Even despite his highly disappointing performance in 2021, he still played more than 60% of the Giants’ offensive snaps.

I would say you can safely count on the third- and fifth-round choices — the latter for Marvin Jones — to be accurate. Detroit should get a third pick, which will likely be a sixth- or seventh-rounder.

► Q: Do you get a sense that there will be new uniforms next season? — @markmcgeath

► A: If you’re unaware, the Lions are eligible for new uniforms this season. The NFL requires a five-year waiting period following changes and Detroit introduced its current look during the 2017 offseason.

Team president Rod Wood was asked about the possibility of a redesign last March and was fairly vague with his response.

“You give some thoughts to that,” Wood said. “We’re coming up on the window when we could make some changes. I haven’t really gone into the design phase yet. But that’s certainly something that once the window opens up, we’ll probably take a step back and look at the current roster that we have and any changes that we want to make. Do we continue with the color rush, etc.? It’s on my mind, but nothing official.”

You would think there’s a distinct possibility the Lions consider tweaking the current look to be more reflective of what Campbell is building, including the possibility of reincorporating black into the color scheme. But until Wood talks again, which might not be until the league meetings in late March, I wouldn’t expect to hear much.

If the Lions do make changes, here’s hoping they improve the font. Reading the numbers has been tricky at times with the current design.

► Q: At his press conference Brad Holmes stated he wants to improve the perimeter on both sides of the ball. But what about stopping the run, such as Seattle and Philly games? — @spleen95shortbr

► A: I think your criticism is valid. The Lions weren’t awful against the run, ranking in the middle of the pack by allowing 4.4 yards per carry, but you fairly mention a couple games where they got steamrolled.

We share the opinion that there’s plenty of improvement needed from the heart of the defense. That said, I have to believe Holmes is banking on last year’s investment in Alim McNeill, Levi Onwuzurike and Derrick Barnes developing into being a significant part of the solution.

Additionally, if the Lions grab one of the top two edge rushers early in the draft, as we expect, both Aidan Hutchinson and Kayvon Thibodeaux played the run well in college and should be able to port that edge-setting ability to the next level. Paired with a returning Romeo Okwara should make it tougher for opposing ground games to bounce runs outside.

► Q: Are there any carryovers who are not totally bought in (for any reason)? — @rjcbrown

► A: Let’s be real, it’s highly unlikely Jared Goff or Michael Brockers were thrilled about being shipped from their longtime homes in Los Angeles to Detroit, but both made the best of the situation. The Lions put forth an effort to instill a sense of ownership in the former Rams and they embraced the challenge.

The other group that is typically slow to embrace an incoming coach is older veterans set in their ways. But by the end of the season, the only Lions with four or more years of experience who were with the team last year were Tracy Walker, Jason Cabinda, Trey Flowers, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Taylor Decker, Halapoulivaati Vaitai and Nick Williams.

Walker, Cabinda and Reeves-Maybin were given bigger roles, whether on-field or with leadership, so there was no complaints from them. And the offensive line kept the position coach they loved, so buy-in came easy with that group.

And if you think Flowers was resistant to change, you don’t know the player or the man. It’s simply not in his character to give anything but his all, even if his body betrayed him the past two years. It speaks volumes that an embodiment of the Patriot Way was selected as a captain by his teammates.

That was a long way to say, no, there are no lingering issues with players buying in. Campbell got quick commitment from this group and that bond only seemed to strengthen as the year progressed.

► Q: What does Goff have to do to avoid being a lame duck QB? Is it wins? Stats? Or, like Thanos, is it simply inevitable? — @ReineltTyler

► A: We can’t scratch inevitability off the list until we see what the Lions do in the draft. At this point, I’m not expecting the team to draft a quarterback early, but if they do, that answers your question.

Assuming an heir apparent isn’t added this offseason, Goff can state his case by continuing to perform near the level he did across his final five starts of the 2021 campaign, when he posted a passer rating well north of 100.0, with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 11-to-2.

Wins also help, obviously, but his performance should be evaluated separately from the team’s record. If he continues to be accurate and keeps mistakes to a minimum — something that’s been an issue during his career — he should have an opportunity to keep the job.

But he cannot be just average. Not with a cap hit $31.2 million, $30.7 million and $31.7 million the next three season.

► Q: Does the Lions coaching the Senior Bowl increase the chance they draft one of the quarterbacks in this class? — @djf792

► A: Maybe slightly. By having the opportunity to spend significant one-on-one time with a group of three interesting candidates, there’s a greater possibility of the coaching staff and/or front office falling in love with the football character and skill set of one of them.

The counterbalance is Holmes’ keen self-awareness of this possibility. He talks about it in terms of “anchors. He doesn’t want to allow something superficial, like a few days at an all-star game, overly influence the entirety of an evaluation, which has been developed across multiple years.

► Q: What happened to Logan Stenberg? Does he have a future on this team at all with the new coaching staff? — @RickyH174

► A: Honestly, I never got around to figuring out Stenberg’s exact injury, because when he went on injured reserve in late October, he had only played four offensive snaps. That brought his two-year total to, well, four.

It was unfortunate for him, because late-season injuries to Jonah Jackson, Evan Brown and Vaitai created some opportunities for playing time. Those ended up going to undrafted rookie Tommy Kraemer, who saw more than 200 snaps.

As it currently stands, Stenberg is facing an uphill battle. Despite earning a roster spot with a solid training camp and preseason, it was Kraemer who got the regular season work and performed well enough to merit continued development. And if Brown, a restricted free agent, is retained, there might not be a spot for Stenberg on the 2022 squad.

At the very least, he should at least have another offseason to make his case.

► Q: Should Lions overpay to re-sign Tracy Walker? — @B_Lake007

► A: The Lions aren’t in a stage of their rebuild to be overpaying anyone, but they should make a strong push to retain Walker at market rate. Give his well-rounded skill set, but limited playmaking on the resume, he could manage to pull a multi-year offer somewhere around $6 million per season.

Walker fully bought into the coaching, performed well and will be just 27 years old at the start of next season. He’s the type of player you want as part of your foundation. And given the importance of safeties to the scheme, and the clear lack of talent at the position beyond Walker, it’s an easy sell.

► Q: How would you compare Goff to Jimmy Garoppolo? Seems like the Lions would do well to build a physical team similar to the 49ers. Goff might work with that type of team around him. — @trumanfrancis

► A: You’ve highlighted two similar quarterbacks, in my opinion. Both are accurate, not particularly mobile, have quick triggers and make too many costly errors leading to interceptions. Oh, and prior to Goff coming to Detroit, they both have consistently won.

I like the comparison to the 49ers, so much so that I referenced the Lions trying to build something similar when Matt Patricia was here. Although San Francisco morphed their approach a bit out of injury-related necessity this season, I still view the team as a run-first program. But it’s not like Tennessee with Derrick Henry, the 49ers’ attack is based more on speed and shiftiness in the backfield. D’Andre Swift fits that mold.

And it’s really difficult to not see similarities in the playing styles of Deebo Samuel and Amon-Ra St. Brown, with overlapping versatility and physicality in their profiles. But having discount versions of weapons is also part of the problem.

St. Brown had an unbelievable rookie season, but he’s a far cry from Samuel. Tight end T.J. Hockenson isn’t the dual-threat George Kittle is because Hockenson doesn’t hold a candle to his friend and mentor as a blocker. And even though the Lions have tried to force it, Jason Cabinda isn’t anywhere close to being as dynamic as 49ers fullback Kyle Juszczyk.

San Francisco offers a decent blueprint for offensive success built around the run, but the Lions are a view pieces away from being able to consistently replicate it.

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► Q: Hopefully with momentum building, will the Lions look to sign a more seasoned backup QB this offseason? — @TrebmalTtam

► A: It’s a poor use of funds, in my opinion. A top-tier backup can cost more than $5 million per season. Why would the Lions invest in that spot when they have so many other pressing needs?

Yes, Tim Boyle needed to start three games last season, and the Lions went winless in those contests, but even if they managed to win one of those games, how would it have impacted the big picture?

The time to spend money on an experienced backup is when you have a young, inexperienced starter you’re trying to groom for the job. In that role, the veteran can simultaneously serve as placeholder and mentor. Goff missing three games in 2021 was a anomaly. In his first five season, he missed just one contest due to injury. That makes the two he sat this year (and a third due to COVID) an exception. I’m not advocating on spending for insurance for an exception, especially when the Lions aren’t expected to be playoff contenders in 2022.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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