The mailbag is coming a day later than promised because I spent my Tuesday talking to a couple former members of the Detroit Lions medical staff about their experiences dealing with players who went through situations similar to Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin.
Hamlin collapsed on the field when he went into cardiac arrest in the first quarter of Monday’s Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game. Doctors gave Hamlin CPR on the field to get his heart pumping again, but he remained in critical condition in a Cincinnati hospital as of Wednesday morning.
The outpouring of support for Hamlin — people have donated more than $6 million to a community toy drive he sponsored — is a reminder of all the good in this world, and Hamlin’s health remains at the front of everyone’s mind across the sports world.
I’ll get into your Lions questions shortly, but I wanted to start the mailbag with a big-picture football question, even though I don’t have a great answer for it, because I know this is a topic many have wrestled with, especially in the past two days.
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Is football heading for a reckoning after last nights events? What’s the future of football, in your opinion? — @Kenneth_Gabbert
That’s a deep question, but I wanted to talk it out a little bit in this space. I think we can all agree Hamlin’s health is the only thing that matters at this point, but I know as a parent of a sports-obsessed 8-year-old who has been begging me to play tackle football for more than a few months, the incident gave me pause.
I was watching the game when Hamlin collapsed on the field and it was apparent pretty quickly something was terribly wrong. My son came into the room and asked what was happening, and before he went off on his own to make Hamlin a get-well card, we had a sanitized talk about the violent nature of the sport, what players put their bodies through and why I’m reluctant to move him from flag to tackle football for now.
I don’t know how many other parents are in my shoes, but as wildly popular as the game remains, most of my friends’ children have gravitated (been pushed?) to other sports. Basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer, lacrosse. I have two kids (my daughter is 13) in a grade school that is one of the biggest feeder schools for Novi Detroit Catholic Central, one of the longstanding best football programs in the area, and the school hasn’t had enough kids interested in playing tackle football to field its own team in several years. In fact, I can count on two hands the number of kids I know who play tackle football right now. The same can’t be said for any of those other sports.
I don’t think football is dying. There’s far too much money in it for that to happen in my lifetime. But I do think what happened Monday will continue to push some families towards other alternatives, and there is a trickle-down effect which could take generations to play out. At a minimum, I hope Hamlin’s situation reminds everyone how precious life is, the dangers players face when they step on the field and the respect both those things deserve.
The season will go on. The Bills will play again. At some point, something else will take hold of the news cycle. But hopefully Hamlin won’t be forgotten.
What do you think of this lions team as a playoff team compared to the others if they do make the playoffs? They’ve been playing well but the Carolina game is a reminder what this team can be at times. How do we stop that from happening? — @swank102
If the Lions’ rebuild was a stock, I’d be buying shares as a long-term investor. I like what Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes are doing, though I’m not sure they’ll get the help they need from the Los Angeles Rams this week to make the playoffs.
If they do make the postseason, I think the Lions are a dangerous team if they get the right draw. They have a balanced, explosive offense, built to play any type of game, and I don’t see any great teams standing in their way in the NFC.
I think the Lions would lose a first-round game against the San Francisco 49ers and their league-best defense, but in a low-scoring game they’d have a chance. I don’t think they have the horses to beat a healthy Philadelphia Eagles team in Round 2, either, but who knows where Jalen Hurts is then, and if they happen to play the Minnesota Vikings in the postseason, that’s absolutely a game they can win.
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Comparing this team to the three Lions teams that have made the playoffs in the past 20 years — the 2011, 2014 and 2016 teams — I think only the 2014 team is better. That team had one of the best defenses in the NFL and enough offense with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson to cause problems. This team is better than the 2016 team, and it’s similar to the 2011 team that was young and dangerous, and seemed built for the long haul.
This sounds ridiculous but, hypothetically, if Jared Goff leads the Lions to the playoffs — and they win their first game there — would this be the greatest season by a Lions QB in team history? — @Brady_Fred
Goff has played exceptional football for most of the second half of the season. He has taken great care of the ball, looks at ease on the field and is utilizing all his skill players. But no, I wouldn’t say this is the greatest season by a quarterback in Lions history.
Let’s take out the Bobby Layne championship years — he’s a Hall of Famer; those years are clearly superior — and focus on the past 30 or so seasons. Stafford’s 2011 campaign, when he set franchise records in virtually every passing category and led the Lions to the playoffs, is the statistical standard by which every Lions quarterback will be judged, and his 2016 season, with eight comeback victories, was probably better until he hurt his finger and struggled the final 3½ games.
Goff had his own struggles early this season, and that can’t be discounted. But he has played well enough the past eight weeks to be in the discussion for the third-best season on the list.
What’s the best possible pick the lions can get via the rams if they lose ? — @Str8clutch84
If my math is correct, the highest the Lions can pick is fourth, behind the Houston Texans, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks (via the Denver Broncos). The Rams (5-11) are guaranteed to finish with a better record than the Texans (2-13-1) and Bears (3-13), and the Broncos (4-12) will have a worse strength of schedule if the two teams finish with identical records.
If the Arizona Cardinals (4-12) upset the 49ers, they likely would fall below the Rams in the draft order based on strength of schedule. The real team to root for is the Indianapolis Colts, who host the Texans and would improve to 5-11-1 with a win. The Texans are playing for the first pick, so they might have extra incentive to play their backups.
If the Rams upset the Seahawks, the Lions will have a chance to make the playoffs and they won’t lose much ground with LA’s pick. If all three six-win teams (the Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers and Las Vegas Raiders) lose this weekend, the lowest the Lions would pick would be ninth.
Who from our secondary will be on the roster next year? I have a feeling this will have the most turnover compared to the rest of the team. — @CarterJordanT
The Lions absolutely will be on the lookout for secondary help this offseason, even though most of their starting unit — Jeff Okudah, Jerry Jacobs, Kerby Joseph and Tracy Walker (once healthy) — are under contract for 2023. It’s safe to say all four will be back, though the Lions have a decision looming on whether to pick up Okudah’s fifth-year option for 2024.
Sorting through the Lions’ free agent defensive backs is a little trickier. Will Harris has taken over at slot cornerback, and Mike Hughes has played his best since moving outside. Neither player will cost a ton, but if the Lions plan to add a starting caliber cornerback in free agency or the draft, there’s no need to keep both.
At safety, DeShon Elliott got benched briefly early in the year and has missed the past two games with a shoulder injury, but he is the Lions’ second-leading tackler. If the Lions are worried about Walker’s availability for Week 1 next September, they should keep Elliott around. It seems unlikely they’ll splurge on a safety in free agency, so cost will be important.
Amani Oruwariye seems destined to sign a free agent deal elsewhere, Ifeatu Melifonwu will have to win a job in training camp, ditto C.J. Moore if he returns, and I doubt the Lions will tender the injured Bobby Price a restricted free agent contract, but they could bring him back on a lesser deal.
Will we be the first team to go 20-0 next year? — @muzuami
Love the optimism.
Can we expect an apology from the league on Monday or Tuesday for the phantom calls? — @LEGEND4RYMYTH
But not everybody shares it heading into Green Bay this week.
How much more fun for YOU covering a team doing good things — @skitchP
My job doesn’t change a lot, win or lose, but it is refreshing to write about meaningful football games at the end of a season, instead of focusing on draft talk or what offseason changes are ahead.
I think the biggest difference, though, is in the people we get to cover with this team and in this regime. My colleague, Jeff Seidel, and I have looked at each other more than once in the media room in recent weeks and remarked how different this is from past Lions teams. Campbell is honest and human, and to his credit, he was the same with reporters at 1-6 that he is now, and that has trickled down to his staff and players who have been similarly authentic in sharing their stories and emotions.
All that makes for a better work environment, and probably helps fans connect with this team and its personalities, too.
Contact Dave Birkett at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.