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Mailbag: Did the Detroit Lions make a mistake restructuring Jared Goff’s contract?

Plus conversations about potential trades, 21 personnel, Missed assignments, other examples of a rebuild, and more.

Cincinnati Bengals v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

It’s time for another edition of the AskPOD Mailbag, where Jeremy Reisman and Erik Schlitt answer a handful of your questions about the Detroit Lions.

Let’s get started!

Why is Brad Holmes not being held accountable for restructuring Jared Goff’s contract? If he would have just left it alone we would have been able to get out of the contract next year for around $10 million. Now we are stuck with it for another year. — Ken0701

Jeremy: I’ve seen this complaint lobbied against Brad Holmes a couple times, and I feel like it should be addressed. On the surface, yeah, it would warrant some criticism. Life would be better if they could get out of Goff’s contract after this year fairly cleanly, and this restructuring makes that a lot harder.

However, I didn’t view this move as extra faith in Jared Goff. I viewed it as an absolute necessity to even field a team this year, even one as bad as they are right now. As of right now, the Lions have just $2.5 million in cap space, well below the team average of $6.5 million right now. Goff’s restructure created $15 million in cap space. So this team would be even less functional without that space.

Of course, the counterargument is: who cares if the Lions were worse? This year doesn’t matter and last place is last place. And I get that, but I don’t think those making that argument understand just how dire the Lions’ financial situation was. You’re our numbers guy, Erik. Can you paint a picture of what would’ve happened without a Goff restructure? Take us back in time to March. Could they even sign their rookie class without a restructure? Were there any other viable cap-saving options?

Erik: Without the restructure they wouldn't have been able to sign their rookie class or be able to survive the extensive amount of players put on injured reserve during the season.

And the big one for me. Without restructuring Goff’s contract you don't have room to re-sign Romeo Okwara. But even if they were ok with that, they still would’ve needed to clear more space and that would mean restructuring another player or two or three, and the only realistic candidates were Trey Flowers, Hal Vaitai, and now released Jamie Collins. And to be perfectly clear, releasing them outright was not an option to clear space because it would’ve cost even more money to cut them, than to keep them, even without a restructure.

So, out of this group of restructuring candidates, Goff’s contract presented the best opportunity to clear space with the least long-term impact on future years. While it did put him in a spot that indicates he will probably be on the roster in 2022, if they had opted to extend Flowers and Vaitai, both of their contracts would have stuck around in 2022—but now both of those players contracts are easier to get out of next offseason, if the team decides to move on.

Bottom line: Clearing $15 million in space was an absolute must. With the salary cap still significantly lower than anticipated and the necessary dead cap assumed by beginning the restructure, They had to make a decision on who to restructure and Goff’s contract was the least invasive.

Is a major trade for the Lions happening before the trade deadline? — Spit in the coola

Erik: Major? No. A low-level trade to get a player of the future? Maybe. The rumors are the Lions are been in some trade discussions about adding another wide receiver, but I’d expect that to be about players closer to Trinity Benson skill level, rather than a starter per se. Additionally, the Lions just signed Geronimo Allison off their practice squad, which could also impede the Lions’ aggressiveness in adding a receiver.

Jeremy: The Lions absolutely are not going to be buyers at the trade deadline. Despite the wide receiver rumors, I hope they don’t even become the littlest of buyers. They’ve committed to the rebuild at other positions like cornerback without spending more resources on the position, so don’t do it with wide receiver.

The question, in my mind, is whether the Lions will be significant sellers. The problem here, simply, is who can they sell? Taylor Decker has been a common name thrown out there, but that was a long shot even before his current injury, which could potentially shelve him for the season. Who else could the Lions actually get something for? Tracy Walker is in the last year of his contract and is playing really well, but it seems like the Lions really like him and he also seems very happy in Detroit. At 26 years old, he strikes me as young enough to be a part of this rebuild, and experienced enough to be a leader of that secondary.

Who else? Trey Flowers is too expensive to get anything worthwhile in return. Is there anyone else even playing well enough to warrant a draft pick in return? Maybe D’Andre Swift, but say goodbye to the only part of your offense that is working. So... no. I don’t see a big trade coming.

It’s no secret that two of the best offensive playmakers on the team are D Swift and J Williams. With the struggles at the WR position, do you think we will see more 21 personnel? — Hungry Lion

Jeremy: We had another question regarding how efficient the Lions were with both running backs on the field, referencing this post from Chris Burke of The Athletic:

I’ve been dying for more 21 personnel for years, and the point is well made here... but... I’m not sure how much targeting the running backs really helps this offense out. Their biggest issue is that they can’t threaten defense’s downfield. Even when Detroit is moving the ball successfully, it’s 4-6 yards at a time, and that is just not going to work when Jared Goff is too mistake-prone and the offensive line is taking too many penalties. In a follow-up post from Burke, he notes that Goff’s average depth of target plummets even further in two running back sets:

So while I’m with you that this strategy gets the ball in the best players’ hands, I don’t think this solves many of the team’s actual issues. Swift, Hockenson, and Williams lead the pack in touches by a large margin right now. They’re putting the ball in their playmakers’ hands already. The problem is none of them are testing defenses downfield and defenses have already wised up. Bend don’t break against the Lions' defense, because they’re almost certainly going to break.

Erik: Most NFL offenses are incredibly similar at their core with the only variances happening because of the personnel on the roster and play calling. Right now, with the talent being in the backfield and at the intermediate levels, defenses are loading up and making real estate hard to come by. And Jeremy’s right, until they get a player who can stretch the defense, it’s going to be rough sledding for the Lions’ top-trio, regardless of formation.

Can you show some examples or at least guess at some of the missed assignments by the Wide Receivers Campbell mentioned? — Caustic X

Erik: As many said in response to this question in the Submissions chat, this is a really difficult thing to do without knowing what the play is ahead of time. But there are a few things that you can look for in deciphering players running off-script offensive plays.

First is to look at the quarterback. Is he holding onto the ball too long in a route because the player wasn’t where he expected him to be? Does he double-clutch a throw despite a receiver being open? The hard part with these questions is, Goff is doing these things quite a bit, so it’s hard to say what the cause is. As Jeremy wrote in yesterday’s notes, Doug Farrar of Touchdown Wire broke “Goff’s issues to three different problematic tendencies: an inability to throw to open receivers deep, failure to succeed beyond his first read, and a lack of confidence.” All of these could be contributing factors here.

The other indicator a player is missing his marks is on incompletions during timing routes. As many issues as Goff is working through right now, he is still accurate on timing routes. The only situation that jumps out to me that fits this profile is one that Jeremy actually pointed out during the game: the failed Hockenson wheel route.

On the route, Hockenson runs his route a bit too tight to the “pick” instead of getting to the sideline and away from the defenders (single-high and MIKE). As a result, when he turns his route upfield (pic No. 2) he heads towards one spot, while Goff (who has already thrown the ball) is aiming for another. In the end, Goff misses the throw behind and outside (pic No. 3).

Jeremy: On Monday, Hockenson discussed this play with the media.

“We work on it, I mean obviously we work on different situations,” Hockenson said. “That was just miscommunication. He saw something. I saw something. And I think we’re coming in this week and learning from that.”

So, in other words, even plays that look like mistakes from wide receivers or quarterbacks can change depending on your perspective. Even though I didn’t get a chance to watch the All-22 (a weekly complaint about NFL Game Pass, check), I wouldn’t want to make too many assumptions based on my own perception.

Erik: And that’s the rub, without knowing the play ahead of time, it’s often difficult to place blame with complete accuracy in these situations.

Is there a team from the last two seasons the Lions could look to for hope? 2019 Cardinals? —nrs001

Erik: During last week’s Friday open thread, I mentioned the Bengals’ rebuild as a possible blueprint for the Lions.

In 2019, the Bengals began their rebuild by hiring a new head coach, Zac Taylor, and drafting their left tackle of the future in Jonah Williams. Sound familiar? The following season they drafted their quarterback in Joe Burrow, then grabbed him a stud receiver Ja’Marr Chase in 2021.

Now two seasons into the rebuild the Bengals appear to be on the right track and are 4-2 so far this season. I like the Bengals as a comparison because I feel like their roster was in similar shape, with very few players carrying over from the previous regime, and their current group is made up of core players added by the current front office/coaching staff. In fact, only four starters (two on each side of the ball) were on the team prior to 2019.

Do you have a comparison team, Jeremy?

Jeremy: Bengals were the first team I was thinking of. The other comparison, which many drew before the season, is the 2019 Miami Dolphins. They traded a bunch of their players, built up on draft resources, and even looked competitive at the end of Year 1 of the rebuild.

In Year 2, they used their five picks in the top two rounds to grab their franchise quarterback, shore up their offensive line and add two big defensive pieces. They immediately improved by five wins.

Unfortunately, they’re turning out not to be the most optimistic of examples, because they’re currently 1-5 and potentially looking at a quarterback trade. They provide a good warning that even the most promising of rebuilds can be derailed with poor drafting. Their offensive linemen drafted haven’t worked out as planned and Tua Tagovailoa isn’t the once-a-lifetime talent some pegged him as.

The Dolphins followed the right blueprint but just didn’t find the right players. Sorry, that wasn’t too optimistic.

Erik: But it’s a harsh reality that this rebuild needs both Campbell and general manager Brad Holmes in order to make it work.

Would you rather have first class accommodations flying from Detroit to LA or have a four stop, 32 hour coach ticket in the middle of five seats on Spirit airlines going from KZOO to Flint this week? — Sit Up Straight Rothstein

Jeremy: Do we tell them, Erik?

Erik: Well folks, Jeremy and I are taking our talents to L.A. ... for the weekend.

Jeremy: But I think it’s fair to say we didn’t exactly take the first-class approach to our travel accommodations.

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