Now that the Detroit Lions’ 2017 season is over, general manager Bob Quinn has a lot of work to do. Not only does he face an enormous coaching decision immediately, but there are some personnel choices that may be just as tough to make.
With the Lions finishing their second consecutive 9-7 season, they’re desperately looking to take the next step in competitiveness, and that job is currently Bob Quinn’s and Bob Quinn’s alone.
Here are four of the biggest, toughest decisions he’ll have to make in 2018.
Re-sign Ezekiel Ansah?
After an extremely disappointing start to the 2017 season, Ansah came on hard down the stretch. He finished the season with an impressive 12.0 sacks, but half of those came in the final two games.
Ansah’s health was, once again, a huge hindrance to this defense, but when he was healthy, he flashed just how special of player he can be. In the three games in which he did not appear on the injury report, he totaled 6.0 sacks and 16 tackles. For the other 11 games, he had just 6.0 sacks and 28 tackles.
But Ansah also only seemed to flash against poor competition. In all three games in which he finished with 3.0 sacks each, he was lined up against backup offensive tackles—okay, Ereck Flowers isn’t technically a backup, but he’s bad.
The franchise tag remains a very realistic option for Ansah, as it doesn’t tie the Lions up long term and it assures he doesn’t get offered a ridiculous contract they can’t meet from another team.
Keep Eric Ebron’s fifth-year option?
Last offseason Quinn made the decision to exercise Eric Ebron’s fifth year option, meaning that Detroit retains his rights through the 2018 season. However, the price of that option is a whopping $8.25 million, and the Lions could cut him and turn all of that money into savings.
At first, it seemed like a no-brainer that this would happen. Ebron struggled out of the gate again in 2017, totaling just 102 yards in the first six games of the season. However, in the final 10, Ebron had 472 receiving yards.
Can the Lions finally rely on Ebron enough to overpay him a bit in 2018? Or is it only a matter before the other shoe drops?
Time to give up on Ameer Abdullah?
No player had higher expectations to turn around his career in 2017 than Ameer Abdullah. By the season’s end, however, Abdullah’s impact on the team had been dampered to a whimper.
First the Lions benched Abdullah, then they just downgraded him to the second or third string back. When it was all said and done, Abdullah finished with much worse statistics than his rookie year. He averaged just 3.4 yards per carry, and while he had four touchdowns on the season, there’s no doubt this was a huge disappointment.
Of course, the entirety of the Lions’ running game was a huge failure in 2017, and Abdullah was only partially to blame. If the Lions could have blocked on a more consistent basis, who knows what could have happened with Ameer.
Now Quinn must decide whether to keep Abdullah around for the final year of his rookie contract—at only a cost of $1.3 million in cap space—or put his offseason resources to a more permanent back. The Lions could even have room for both, but Abdullah also could be a solid trade commodity considering his small contract and high ceiling.
What should be done with Jim Caldwell?
Yes, even though it appears the writing is on the wall for Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, that doesn’t make it an easy decision. Caldwell took over a franchise that seemed on the verge of falling apart and turned them into a playoff competitor for all four of his seasons. Caldwell is 36-28 in four years with the Lions and just completed back-to-back winning seasons for this franchise for the first time since 1995.
Obviously, the goals of this franchise are higher than competing for playoff spots. They want championship runs. But this kind of consistent competitiveness is rare in the NFL, and the Lions could be throwing that away for a gamble on a new head coach.
Quinn would have a fair case for whatever decision he makes, but that’s only half of the equation. If he decides to fire Caldwell, finding a replacement becomes the biggest decision he’ll have to make in his young tenure as GM. That move could either set the Lions back a few seasons or push them to the next level. With Matthew Stafford not getting any younger, and a few key players reaching their potential, the Lions can’t afford to waste any more seasons trying to figure it out.