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Detroit Lions mailbag: Breaking down draft trade scenarios

Exploring all of the Lions’ options with the seventh overall pick.

NFL Draft Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

It’s a slow week in Detroit Lions news, so now is a good time to dust off the old mailbag. As expected, you all had a bunch of questions about the draft and quarterbacks and trades, trades, trades.

I’ll try to make these written mailbags more of a common occurrence, so if you ever have any questions wanting to be answered, be sure to hit us up on Twitter using the hashtag #AskPOD.

Let’s get on with this week’s edition:

Given that the Detroit Lions are a team in rebuild with so many needs, it only truly makes sense for them to move up in this draft for a quarterback they’re absolutely in love with. They’ll have their choice of an elite pass catcher at 7, so no need to spend multiple picks on their favorite.

So do I think the Lions could get aggressive and trade up for a quarterback? It’s possible, but I find it unlikely. We obviously saw the Los Angeles Rams go up and get Jared Goff in the 2017 draft—with Brad Holmes’ endorsement, too—so it’s not a matter of philosophy. However, I keep going back to this quote from Dan Campbell in January:

What I do think is, let’s build this team first. Let’s build the nucleus and the foundation of this team first and get some roots in the ground. And once you get the roots in the ground and let it grow a little bit, we’ll find the right guy at the helm.

The Lions don’t have that solid nucleus yet, so I’m not sure the timing is right to draft a quarterback. That is, unless one falls into their lap at 7.

So let’s talk about this scenario. Personally, I believe the Lions should have quarterback as an option at seven. And with the Panthers getting Sam Darnold, let’s say the Lions can’t find a worthwhile trade down option with both Trey Lance and Justin Fields on the board.

In my opinion, Trey Lance is the biggest risk among the top-tier quarterbacks in this class. You’re not only talking about a player with one year’s worth of college play, but that year was against low-tier competition. That being said, he was also one of the most exciting players to watch in the entire country in 2019, and his physical skills are exactly what they need to be for an NFL career. The Lions are a good fit for Lance, in that they can let him sit and develop for a couple years.

But I’m still going with Justin Fields here. I’m a risk-averse kind of person, and there’s just more proven tape out there. He’s a two-year starter who has risen to big occasions on big stages. He, too, has all the physical tools, and I think he’ll, too, benefit from a year of development on the bench under Anthony Lynn and Mark Brunell.

Boy, these questions are flowing together nicely.

We have not heard directly from Mark Brunell since being hired as Lions quarterbacks coach. Positional coaches typically only face the media once a month during the season, and almost never during the offseason. Among the new hires, the Lions presented all three coordinators and Duce Staley—not because he’s the running backs coach, but because he’s the assistant head coach.

However, Brunell did talk to Tim Twentyman of DetroitLions.com, and while he could not directly address Goff—the trade was still unofficial at this point—he did say this:

“So sure, I can identify with Jared Goff, or whoever is our starter, but I can also identify with the kid who’s just new to the building, who’s young and nobody really expects to even make a team. I’ve been that guy, too. I think players can respect that. I hope they can at least.”

I don’t know about Dan Campbell, but I believe Brad Holmes, the man partially responsible for the Rams drafting Goff, when he talks glowingly of Goff.

The truth is, the Lions have invested a lot of cap space in Jared Goff. They’ll pay his $5.65 million in salary this year, and the restructure guarantees he’ll take up at least another $20 million in cap space spread out over however many years the Lions decide to keep him.

They didn’t have to take that investment on. They had other trade partners available for Matthew Stafford, and they just so happened to grab the guy the new Lions GM recruited hard. I highly doubt that’s a coincidence.

Do they believe Goff is their long-term option? They’ve left enough uncertainty in their words to suggest that’s a conclusion they haven’t made yet. But I do believe this franchise is eager to see what Goff has on the field.

First, let’s consult the charts. According to the Jimmy Johnson trade chart, a move from Pick 7 (1500 points) to Pick 12 (1200) requires a 300 point compensation. That’s the equivalent of a late second-round pick. So, absolutely yes. Get that extra pick.

If you were asking if the Lions had the third pick, would I have accepted that trade down, the answer is a little more tricky. While the trade chart has it as an even trade, you’d be talking about passing on a top-tier quarterback. Still, I think my answer would be yes, because I truly believe this team needs to simply acquire as many picks as possible right now, but I’d have a long discussion over that.

Again, consulting the charts, here’s the breakdown:

  • 7 to 15 (New England) = 450 points difference, or the Patriots’ second-round pick (440 points)
  • 7 to 19 (Washington) = 625 point difference, or a late first-round pick. Maybe Washington’s 2022 first-round pick

There are other things to consider here. If it’s for a quarterback, you could maybe convince the teams to give up a little more. However, these teams may also be calling the Panthers at eight, so Detroit would either have to convince these teams they need to trade the extra spot, or give them a little discount.

Getting Goff—or any quarterback, really—a top-tier offensive line should be a primary goal for the Lions, yes. However, making Goff a success in Year 1 should not be the team’s priority in the draft. This team needs to be thinking years down the line.

If the right prospect is there at seven (see: Penei Sewell), yes, they should be in the mix. However, I don’t think the Lions need to force an offensive tackle in Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft. They can get by in Year 1 with starting Tyrell Crosby at right tackle if they have to. But, yes, there needs to be a long-term plan for the entire right side of the line.

The worst case scenario is they draft the wrong guys. I’m sorry to make it that simple, but it is. The truth is the Lions will have their shot at talented players that can make an impact immediately with each of their first four picks, maybe even beyond that.

No matter how you play out the first six picks in the draft, the Lions should be in a good position at seven. My least favorite realistic outcome would probably look something like this:

  1. Jaguars: QB Trevor Lawrence
  2. Jets: QB Zach Wilson
  3. 49ers: QB Trey Lance
  4. Falcons: TE Kyle Pitts
  5. Bengals: OT Sewell
  6. Dolphins: WR Ja’Marr Chase

Let’s say the Lions are sitting there with whoever QB4 and QB5 are (Mac Jones and Justin Fields in this example). They can’t find a trade down partner, and don’t particularly love either guy on their own.

In this “worst-case scenario” the Lions could still get a game-changer like Jaylen Waddle or DeVonta Smith. I’m cool with that.

I agree it’s definitely a bigger need, especially for the long term. However, I think the reason there hasn’t been a lot of talk about drafting an interior defender is because this just isn’t a great draft class for it. That’s why many believed the Michael Brockers trade was even more savvy than it looked on the surface.

Still, if you’re hoping the Lions land a DT in this year’s draft, La Tech’s Milton Williams and Iowa’s Daviyon Nixon are potential Day 2 options with pass rush upside.

Given my little Warzone experience—and all of it terrible—I have to go with Kerryon Johnson. He’s a serious gamer, and seems to really enjoy Warzone specifically. If there’s anyone that could help me build a loadout—which I am absolutely clueless doing—he’s the guy to call on.