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2021 NFL free agency preview: 5 quarterbacks with ties to Detroit Lions

A look at some options the Lions have at quarterback for depth in 2021.

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The Detroit Lions will start building their roster anew under an entirely different staff of team builders in the next couple months. Oftentimes when starting from scratch, coaches and front office members are most interested in adding people they already know because there’s a level of comfortability. In fact, we’ve already witnessed it with the Matthew Stafford trade. Lions general manager Brad Holmes may have turned down tempting offers because only the Rams could offer Jared Goff, a player he scouted and still believes in.

So over the next couple weeks, we’re going to highlight some players hitting free agency that have ties to either the coaching staff or the Lions’ front office.

Today, we start with quarterback. After the Goff trade, there isn’t a huge need for one on the roster. However, the need may be more than you think. The Lions are tight against the cap, and Detroit may decide to let go of Chase Daniel’s $5.3 million cap hit, saving themselves $2.3 million in the process.

And with a new system to learn, offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn may want an experienced passer he’s familiar with to help Goff, or perhaps a rookie quarterback, acclimate to his verbiage and style of play. Here are five options he may be considering in free agency:

Tyrod Taylor

Connection: With Anthony Lynn in 2015-16 (Bills), 2019-20 (Chargers)

We start with the most obvious connection. Obviously, Lynn likes Taylor enough to bring him to a second team after modestly successful 2015 and 2016 seasons in Buffalo. Taylor would be well-versed in Lynn’s offense, and his career stats are actually pretty solid, especially under Lynn. Here is his collective statline in his four years with Lynn:

62.3 completion percentage, 7.4 Y/A, 38 TDs, 12 INTs, 93.8 passer rating

That’s not even mentioning his mobility, which resulted in 1,148 rushing yards in his two seasons with Lynn in Buffalo.

The issue here may be price. The Lions have already committed $27.8 million of cap space to Goff’s contract. They’re still responsible for $19 million in dead cap for Matthew Stafford’s contract. And if they cut Daniel, that’s another $3 million in dead money. That’s already over $49 million in cap space devoted to the quarterback position. Taylor’s last contract was for two years, $11 million. That wouldn’t be a huge hit, but Detroit may be thinking something a little leaner.

Geno Smith

Connection: 1 year with Anthony Lynn in 2018 (Chargers)

Smith comes with less experience under Lynn, but he’s one year younger than Taylor, and he’ll undoubtedly come cheaper. If you’re looking for a quarterback with playing experience that you’d be comfortable playing in case of emergency, Smith may not be your guy. He has only started two games since 2015, and he hasn’t particularly been good when on the field.

However, if you’re looking for a cheap option that can serve as a sounding board for Goff and whoever is a part of this quarterback room in 2021, you could do a lot worse than Smith, who has spent the last two years with the Seattle Seahawks.

Jameis Winston

Connection: 1 year with head coach Dan Campbell (Saints)

Of the five, this is the least likely to happen. All signs point to Drew Brees retiring, which means the Saints will likely want to bring Winston back. While the Saints have even less cap room than Detroit, neither team wants to get in a bidding war. Winston himself will likely be looking for a starting opportunity, and he won’t get one with the Lions.

Blake Bortles

Connection: 1.5 years with the Rams under Lions GM Brad Holmes

Bortles was intriguing enough to the Los Angeles Rams to bring him back on two different occasions. They signed him to a one-year deal in 2019, and they added him very late last year when Goff suffered his finger injury.

And while Holmes was the director of college scouting both times they added him, Holmes noted that oftentimes the college scouting department was in on decisions like that. And there’s a pretty good chance Holmes scouted Bortles heavily in 2014, when the Rams had the second-overall pick (Bortles went third).

Though Bortles’ career has fallen off significantly, he’s a cheap option that Detroit will know well and could be of value in the quarterback room.

Sean Mannion

Connection: Drafted by Rams (Holmes) in 2015, spent four years with team

Holmes will have a good idea of Mannion’s talent as he was not only heavily involved in drafting him six years ago, but Mannion stuck around the Rams for the entirety of his rookie contract.

Mannion doesn’t come with a lot of experience, though. He’s only made 13 game appearances and two starts. He’s got a pretty decent arm, but won’t bring you any mobility like some of the other options above.

For the past two seasons, he’s been the backup with the Vikings—where he’s been valued as part of their weekly game preparation—but with their offense going through some changes, they may be looking elsewhere for a backup. Mannion should come cheap, as his last deal came in with a cap hit under $1 million.