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Lions mailbag: Are there any contract extensions, restructures coming in 2022?

Will the Detroit Lions make any contract extensions/restructures ahead of the season? Which UDFA has the best chance of making the 53? Which players could be coaches? And more in this week’s mailbag.

Arizona Cardinals v Detroit Lions Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

As the dead period of the offseason rolls on, we are taking this opportunity to answer some of your questions and wrapping up another edition of our Detroit Lions Mailbag. As always, Jeremy Reisman and I (Erik Schlitt) collaborate to give POD readers different perspectives on the topics they’re curious about.

Enjoy this week’s installment.

Jeremy: Erik, you tackled potential restructures at the beginning of the offseason and concluded—more or less—that there wasn’t any restructure worth doing. Now that we’ve passed over the June 1 deadline and that alters the finances a bit, has that changed at all?

Erik: Not really. Restructures are basically a necessary evil when you need cap space and are willing to double down on a player sticking with the team over the duration of their contract. Currently, the Lions have around $10 million in available cap space, which is plenty for in-season moves, and of the six remaining contracts I evaluated back in February, none of the cost benefits are enticing enough to make a change worth it. If the Lions need a late-season restructure to keep them cap compliant—like last season—they can do a simple restructure with Frank Ragnow’s contract to make things work.

Now, as far as a contract extension, I think the most obvious candidate is Amani Oruwariye. He is in the final year of his rookie contract ($1,045,834 cap hit in 2022), has 31 starts under his belt, and is coming off a career season where he forced six interceptions. Giving him a contract extension would help their cornerback room’s stability moving forward.

The only other player I think they would consider is T.J. Hockenson, but after picking up his fifth-year option, he is under contract through 2023, so there’s no rush. What do you think Jeremy, could/should they get something done with Hockenson?

Jeremy: I’m of the belief the Lions should wait on Hockenson. Obviously, the harm in waiting is that an extension could cost more next year, but with David Njoku inflating the market this offseason with his ridiculous contract that nearly pushed $14 million a year, I’m not sure Detroit would get that much of a “discount” this year.

As I said on this week’s PODcast, I’m much more willing to give the extension to Oruwariye this offseason. His value is probably tougher to suss out. Does he deserve CB1 money? Does the coaching staff even view him as the top cornerback on the team? He’s not of the lockdown variety, but he’s still just 26 years old and he’s coming off his best season. Something around the $8-10 million range is probably fair.

I would say there’s not enough precedent to know whether these extensions are coming down the pike this offseason or if Brad Holmes has packed it in. Holmes’ one true extension was handed in May of 2021 (Frank Ragnow). Many other general managers, including Bob Quinn, preferred to do it right before the start of the season.

What UDFAs do you believe have the best chance of making the 53? Which one or two would you most like to see make the 53? I’d like to see Kalil Pimpleton (hometown kid, fast and electric) and Demetrius Taylor (short for his position but has a fast first step and position flexibility). — WeightIssues

Erik: Among the undrafted free agents, I’d love to see Pimpleton make it on the roster but he’s going to have to jump through a lot of hoops up the depth chart and probably catch a few breaks along the way for it to happen.

As far as the player I think has the best chance to make the roster, my thoughts haven’t changed much since our post-draft superlatives article, where I noted that Demetrius Taylor has a chance to be the most impactful UDFA, but OT Obinna Eze is probably the UDFA most likely to make the roster.

Allow me to elaborate. Both Taylor and Eze really only have one player ahead of them on the depth chart: Jashon Cornell is ahead of Taylor, and Dan Skipper is ahead of Eze. But, if Taylor was the Lions' DT4, he would surely see the field as part of the rotation, while Eze would likely be a game-day inactive as OT4.

That added factor of playing time, or lack thereof, is why Eze’s path to the 53-man roster is easier. An OT4 is essentially a developmental prospect who would only see the field in an emergency. In that situation, keeping an upside player like Eze over a more field-ready player like Skipper is a wise investment in the future. You simply don’t have that luxury on the defensive side of the ball because of the rotational nature of roles.

Jeremy: I definitely think the answer is an offensive lineman, simply due to Detroit’s relative lack of depth there. Since Erik tackled Eze, I would only add Kevin Jarvis, who received the second-highest amount of guaranteed money among Detroit’s UDFA class (only behind Eze). While money is far from the end-all, be-all, it says a lot about Detroit’s initial thoughts on Jarvis.

The former Michigan State Spartan played both guard and tackle in college, and that versatility will always be welcomed. Jarvis got offseason workout reps at guard, where he'll have to contend with the likes of Evan Brown, Tommy Kraemer, and Logan Stenberg for likely two or three roster spots up for grabs. Brown is probably close to a roster lock after showing his capabilities as a backup center last year, but everything else should be considered wide open on the interior offensive line.

Jeremy: Love this question. When thinking of a player I am going to build a franchise around, I am weighing four things: position value, overall talent, age, and character. I think that immediately narrows down the field to just two options: Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson. We’ve seen proven production out of Sewell, but I’m a sucker for a pass rusher who will set the tone and attitude for the defense. Give me Hutchinson. Are you just going to take Sewell here, or is there someone else in consideration for you?

Erik: It’s clearly between Sewell and Hutchinson for me as well. Each was the top player (non-quarterback) in each of the last two drafts for me and each plays an incredibly important foundational piece for any roster. I don’t think you can go wrong either way, but if I was forced to choose, I’d probably lean Hutchinson as well.

Pretend there’s an expansion draft, hockey style, and you can only protect 5 players. Who are you protecting and why? — redux0

Jeremy: Let’s start with the two I mentioned in the “expansion GM” question above: Penei Sewell and Aidan Hutchinson are easy choices and shouldn’t require an explanation. I’m going to throw Jameson Williams in there too, since we’re talking about a young player at a high-value position on a relatively cheap rookie contract for at least four more years. Now it gets a little tricky. Give me Frank Ragnow, arguably the most talented Lions player relative to his position. My final spot is between Tracy Walker and Taylor Decker. Because I’ve already kept Sewell, though, I’ll side with Walker here, who is also a couple years younger than Decker.

Erik: Once again, I’m with you on the first four choices: Hutchinson, Sewell, Williams, and Ragnow. But, I am going to deviate from you on the fifth choice, though I do agree with Decker and Walker being options. Instead, I’ll protect Alim McNeill. It’s hard to find true hybrid nose tackles and I am a believer in the player he can become. I also strongly considered keeping Amon-Ra St. Brown here and may regret not picking him, but keeping Williams helped soften the need.

Jeremy: Oh man, Amon-Ra is a great choice there, too. Would hate to see the Sun God go.

Erik: The first name that comes to mind is Josh Paschal, who on multiple occasions has told the media about his desire to get into coaching after his playing days are over.

“I want to play this sport as long as I can, but after this sport is over with me playing, I want to be around coaching it too,” Paschal said in his post-draft selection interview. “This is what I love, so no matter if it’s playing as long as I can. After that, I want to get into coaching.”

But as far as which player might be the best coaching fit with this coaching staff, I’d say it’s Jeff Okudah—who we have already seen taking a mentor/coaching role within some of the team's younger defensive backs like Jerry Jacobs, among others.

Jeremy: Given the kind of players this team is targeting, I think there are a ton of potential answers here. So many of these players eat, sleep and live football. If I had to pick one, however, I’d go with Jarrad Davis. His work ethic is unmatched, and he doesn’t seem like the kind of person who would mind the long hours required for the position. He also oozes authenticity, something that players will relate to easily.

It’s worth noting that Davis recently talked about how he’s grown as a person beyond football, but it’s not hard to glean from him that this sport is still incredibly important to him, and he clearly loves this organization, too.

“It’s just amazing to be able to have an opportunity to come back in this building and to be able to go to work,” Davis said after signing with the Lions this offseason. “I love it. This place is so familiar. I know it. There are people I know in the city that can help me be a better person, a better player. There’s so many things that excite me coming back to Detroit.”

Jeremy: We haven’t seen the Lions try anything like this in practice—although, we wouldn’t be able to tell you if we did. But I absolutely think it’s possible with this staff. As most of you probably know, McNeill played some running back in high school, and was damn good at it:

At the NFL level, we’ve seen defensive linemen occasionally used as an offensive weapon. Dontari Poe has run, passed, and even received a touchdown. Former Bears DT Akiem Hicks rushed for a touchdown back in 2018. Former Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams did it in 2017.

It’s extremely rare—per Pro Football Reference, a defensive lineman has scored a rushing touchdown just 11 times since 1950—but I think offensive coordinator Ben Johnson is young enough and crazy enough to do it. Tell me I’m crazy.

Erik: I’m all for aggressive Dan Campbell giving Twinkletoes the rock.