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Lions mailbag: Why I’m staunchly against drafting Tua Tagovailoa

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It probably won’t happen, but here’s why it shouldn’t.

LSU v Alabama Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

We had a nice influx of mailbag questions this week, so I figured it was time to address the overflow in an article this week. Let’s skip the formal introductions and jump right into it.

From @GIL818MDC: Please provide some objective reasons why Tua is a bad pick? No Kool-Aid please.

I figured I owe this question a real explanation after we brushed aside the thought a couple months ago. And even though it looks like the Lions won’t do it, it’s only fair to address it as a real option.

The biggest case for drafting Tua Tagovailoa when you already have a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford simply comes down to two things: age and cost. Tagovailoa is 10 years younger than Stafford, so he could stabilize the franchise for over the next decade. He’d also come on a rookie contract, and there’s nothing in the NFL more valuable than a franchise quarterback on a rookie deal. I concede both of those things.

However, I’m not that worried about Stafford’s age. He’s coming off the best year of his career, and many of the best quarterbacks in the league are just as old or older than him (Russell Wilson—31, Drew Brees—41, Kirk Cousins—31, Tom Brady—99).

Injuries are obviously a bit of a concern with Stafford, but I’m not ready to accept that the dude is injury-prone just a few months after his 136-game starting streak was snapped. The Lions don’t realistically need to start thinking about the future at quarterback for at least another three or four years in my opinion.

As for price, consider what the Lions would be getting in Tagovailoa. He would almost certainly sit his rookie year, meaning you’ve already burnt one of his four “value” years. His second year would become his “rookie” season, and expectations should be somewhat tempered for a guy who will not have played a single snap of football for nearly two calendar years. I know the Patrick Mahomes model suggests he could have a huge impact immediately, but Mahomes is the exception, not the rule. Plus, the team would still be on the hook for $19 million of Stafford’s dead cap, so the savings haven’t really even kicked in yet, either.

So now you’re only left with two seasons of “value” Tagovailoa. Maybe by then the Lions have built the rest of their team to an adequate level now that the Stafford money is off the books. Maybe Tagovailoa is starting to become the face of the NFL. Maybe the Lions actually make a deep run at the playoffs and become a contender now. But I’m just not that high on Tagovailoa. I think there are questions to his game that aren’t being asked because the narrative is simply around his health—which, obviously, remains his biggest question mark (beyond just his hip injury). He has shown some questionable decision making at times and struggled at the college level against good defenses. I’m admittedly nitpicking a little here, but he’s not the perfect prospect many are making him out to be. No one is.

You can argue that Stafford’s contract is holding this team back, but we’ve seen plenty of teams build a complete team around an expensive quarterback. Is it harder? Of course, but good teams do it. And I’m not ready to give up on that in favor of a huge risk like Tagovailoa. The Chiefs could do it because they already had a really good team when they drafted Mahomes. The Lions don’t have that luxury.

Given the current trajectory of XFL ratings:

... I’d say we’re still quite a bit off from that happening. Though it’s worth noting that XFL ratings are still outnumbering NBA weekend games and the NFL Combine, I can personally feel the fatigue setting in.

While I think the XFL is doing a fine job with their broadcasts, and the talent level is as close to the NFL as they can possibly get, it’s just not catching on right now. I think part of the problem is poor quarterback play, which can make for an ugly product at times.

But as to the original question, until the XFL can start offering competitive pay—and they’re nowhere close right now—expect the NFL to steal all of the premier talent for at least the next decade.

By itself? Of course not. The Lions have way too many holes on this team right now for one player—albeit a top-three one—to turn this franchise’s fortune around.

But say the Lions go out and get themselves D.J. Reader in free agency. They snag Jeff Okudah in the draft, and maybe one more front-seven starter with their second-round pick. They either keep Darius Slay or get a top-tier veteran free agent to replace him and pair with Okudah.

Suddenly, you’re talking about a defense with three or four playmakers instead of one or two (Trey Flowers, Tracy Walker).

Is that enough to make them a Super Bowl contender? No, it’s not. But it probably would have been enough to flip at least three or four contests from last year, and it could set them up nicely for the next few years defensively.

From FeelTheBern2020: If the lions are in love with Chase Young would they ever consider moving up to number 2 and take him?

I’m the kind of person who believes “never say never,” but I don’t believe this would be a wise move for Detroit. A trade up from three to two may seem inconsequential, but by the commonly-used trade chart, it would cost the Lions the value of a mid second-round pick. So is the difference between Jeff Okudah and Chase Young equal to the value of an additional starter on a rookie contract? I don’t think so. And when you consider that the Lions could realistically land Okudah and an additional second-round pick with a trade-down scenario, you may be sacrificing even more by trading up.

The draft really opens open after the top six, so there are plenty of directions the Lions could go if they decide to go the “ACCUMULATE ALL THE PICKS” route. I think the most popular—and most logical—pick would be Javon Kinlaw to finally provide some interior pass rush for this team.

Some less popular, but still logical, picks would be whichever Alabama receiver is still on the board or Oklahoma’s CeeDee Lamb. Offensive tackle is an underrated need for this team, and the value is there in the early 10s to pick a guy like Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs or Alabama’s Jedrick Wills.