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Lions mailbag: Could Detroit build a championship roster if they extend Jared Goff?

If Jared Goff is earning $45-50 million a year, could the Lions still build a championship roster around him?

Chicago Bears v Detroit Lions Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

We’re back to doing written mailbags here at Pride of Detroit, and this week’s main topic isn’t all that surprising. This league is dominated by quarterback talk, so whether we’re talking about Anthony Richardson getting drafted or the future of Jared Goff, passers tend to dominate the conversation in Detroit.

So let’s kick this thing off by talking about Goff and whether the team can build a winner with him.

Do you think there is any chance Goff thinks so highly of Holmes giving him a chance and wants to “stick it to McVay” so badly that he’d sign a team friendly long-term deal? Obviously not something ridiculously low, but some that allows the team around him to stay strong? — Roar-schack

Is success sustainable with Goff from a roster construction standpoint? I fear that if the Lions move forward with him and at some point offer him a new contract we’d have a difficult time retaining other key players and remaining competitive. — Jayare100879

Like always, we got a ton of Jared Goff questions, but I want to focus more on the money side of the debate this week, so I’m packaging these questions together.

I’m not going to pretend I know what Goff’s motivations are, but I do think the idea of “hometown discounts” are mostly a fantasy from a hopeful fanbase. There are rare examples of it—especially at the quarterback position (Tom Brady)—but I would be very surprised if Goff is still that motivated to stick it to Sean McVay; I think he’s more likely to put that era far behind him.

So let’s discuss the real possibility of Jared Goff getting an extension. With Giants quarterback Daniel Jones reportedly seeking $45 million or more a year, that’s probably the absolute floor for a Goff extension. Eventually, the Lions are going to have to pay budding superstars like Amon-Ra St. Brown, Penei Sewell, and Aidan Hutchinson, so is it possible to balance a budget and still compete for championships?

The answer is unquestionably yes. Former Packers vice president (and budget balancer) Andrew Brandt wrote about this exact topic this week. Here’s my favorite nugget:

“NFL team rosters have varying numbers of players on rookie contracts, but my best estimate is between 50% and 65% of NFL rosters are players under their first NFL contract. Let’s say there are 30 such players on a team’s roster, and we’ll say that, conservatively, each player has a cap charge of $1 million. That is a cumulative cap charge of $30 million for more than half the team.”

The timing would be a little awkward with a Goff extension coming around the same time as these top-10 draft picks seeking their first non-rookie contract, but the structure of these deals in terms of cap hit make money management more than possible for the Lions. Remember, the first few years of extensions are typically quite affordable.

Getting a quarterback on a rookie deal is not a team-building philosophy, it’s a shortcut. It’s a lot easier to succeed when you have that, but it’s also a lot harder to find a quarterback capable of elite play in their first years in the NFL. It’s also just a temporary solution.

The biggest correlation for long-term success in the NFL is finding the right quarterback, not the cheapest one. Get the right quarterback and you’ll be a yearly playoff contender. The tougher step is going from playoff to Super Bowl contender, but with consistent drafting and developing, it can be done. How did the Chiefs do it with an expensive Patrick Mahomes this year? With the seventh-youngest roster. Get your quarterback, draft well, and the rest will follow.

The obvious question is whether Goff is the right quarterback, and that is a far tougher question to answer. If he can continue to play at a top-five level like he finished the season, the answer should be yes. But he needs to show he can consistently do that over the course of a full season—or even multiple seasons—before he convinces a lot of people.

I’ve seen a lot of people suggest Michael Brockers for the Lions’ vacant defensive line coach position, but I’m glad you mention assistant defensive line coach instead, because that feels far more likely than an immediate promotion to the main positional coach position.

Still, I’m not sure that’s in the cards... yet. Don’t get me wrong, Brockers has a lot of potential as an NFL coach. He showed clear leadership and can connect and communicate with players on an elite level.

But Brockers has also shown that he’s a man of many interests. He’s talked about doing his own podcast. He was all over Radio Row this year at the Super Bowl, so I get the feeling he’s exploring other career options at the moment. Remember, coaches actually work longer hours than an already demanding player schedule. So my best guess—admittedly based on speculation—is that Brockers takes at least a year to step back. Of course, all of this is assuming he believes his playing career is over.

I would like to hear your thoughts on how likely it is that Holmes will sign a Free Agent this offseason that will cost more than $50M over the life of his contract?

Personally, that would be specifically for a CB or DT only. — NorthLion12

$50 million is a pretty monster contract, and there will probably only be a handful of players who hit the market and get that kind of deal. Last year, only seven players saw such deals, and many of them won’t actually get anywhere near $50 million. Combine that with Detroit’s relatively frugal spending thus far under Holmes, and it seems fairly unlikely.

But there are two reasons I won’t count it out completely. First, Holmes showed last year that he isn’t afraid to attack a specific need hard in an offseason. The Lions were not shy about their desire to add wide receiver talent, and they did, spending $10 million on Chark, trading up to draft Jameson Williams in the first round, while re-signing Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond to new deals. So where have the Lions indicated they need to get better in 2023? This quote from Brad Holmes is telling:

“Obviously, our defense was ranked 32nd, so I mean it’s pretty obviously that we’re going to have to utilize some resources to try and improve that defense. I do believe that there’s some young guys on our defense right now that are only going to get better. Everything that Malcolm Rodriguez was able to do. I know that linebacker kind of came in as a question, but I think that thing ended as more of a position, more a strength of Anzalone having 100-plus-tackle season, Derrick Barnes taking a jump, and then Malcolm Rodriguez, and I think you know our pass rush is on the come. Obviously, Aidan (Hutchinson) with 9.5 sacks. I think he’s only going to get better. James Houston’s only going to get better – so and then guys that we did not have available to us is Charles Harris. I mean Charles Harris, he had to go on IR, so him coming back, Romeo (Okwara) had to kind of come back slowly from a really tough injury, so there’s pieces there. “

In short: We need to spend on defense, but I like where we’re at with linebackers and defensive line. Time to spend some coin on the secondary.

Problem is, I don’t know if there’s a guy out there worth a $50 million contract. James Bradberry or Jonathan Jones are probably the closest to candidates, but they’ll both be 30 by the time the season starts, so they’ll likely be on shorter-term deals that won’t reach $50 million. Emmanuel Moseley probably gets the biggest contract out of this year’s free agent cornerback class, but I get the sense the 49ers won’t let him go and there’s a significant risk since he’ll be coming off a torn ACL.

I don’t think Holmes would be against handing out a deal like that, but I’m not sure this will be the year to do it.

Why is it taboo to draft a kicker? It seems the kicker has become a very important position and if you draft a great kicker that could net you +3 points a game it certainly seems worthy of a second or third round pick. — Xlgrev

How valuable is a good kicker? That’s a tough question to answer. On the surface, it would seem obvious that a strong kicker is necessary, as games are often won or lost on the foot of a kicker. And with games being decided by one score more often than ever, it would seem a strong kicker is necessary today.

But I’m not sure that’s actually true these days. Here are the 10 teams who scored the most points via field goals:

Ravens, Raiders, Steelers, Seahawks, Panthers, Falcons, Colts, Patriots, Chargers, Buccaneers.

Just four of those teams made the playoffs and zero made it beyond the first round. I’m not advocating for “kicker wins” as a stat, but I think this highlights that games are really won with touchdowns, not field goals.

But let’s go a little deeper because that is far too thin of an analysis to come up with sweeping conclusions. One problem with drafting kickers is that they are incredibly hard to evaluate in college. Kicking is such a mental game, and production in college has a pretty rough correlation with success in the NFL. Here’s a list of the kickers drafted in the past five years, and how it’s worked out:

  • 2022: Cade York (4th round): Went 24-of-32 in rookie season, including 3 misses from <40
  • 2021: Evan McPherson (5th round): 83.9% accuracy (24th of 33 kickers with at least 30 attempts from 2021-2022)
  • 2020: Justin Rohrwasser (5th round): Cut, never kicked
  • 2020: Tyler Bass (6th round): 85.6% accuracy (12th of 30 kickers with at least 60 attempts from 2020-2022)
  • 2020: Sam Sloman (7th round): Waived after 7 games (8-of-11 FGs). Currently on 4th NFL team.
  • 2019: Matt Gay (5th round): Cut after one year, but has gone on and made 92.5% of kicks with Rams in the past 3 years (2nd of 30)
  • 2019: Austin Seibert (5th round): After a decent 2019 season (86.2%), he was cut after missing 2 kicks in the 2020 season opener. Saw some success with the Lions, but injuries have hampered his career
  • 2018: Daniel Carlson (5th round): Cut after just 2 games with the Vikings, but has since found a successful career with the Raiders (89.9% accuracy over five years)
  • 2018: Jason Sanders (7th round): The biggest success story of the bunch. Sanders is still with the Dolphins, has a career 82.9% accuracy, and was an All-Pro in 2020. However, over the past two seasons, he’s made just 77.8% of his kicks (4-of-12 from 50+), ranking 22nd of 30 kickers.

Fact of the matter is, literally zero of these kickers have returned anything more than an average performance for the team that drafted them, and because teams are so quick to move on from an ineffective kicker, it would be extremely reckless to spend Day 2 draft resources on one. Just ask the last team to do it. The Buccaneers drafted Roberto Aguayo in the second round in 2016, and he was cut after one season after going 22-of-31 in his rookie season.

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