TIM AND MIKE: DeSean Jackson, smokescreens and remaining needs

Posted Apr 3, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara discuss big topics surrounding the NFL and the Lions over the last week

The flood of free-agent signings ended quickly this year, but after the action slowed to a trickle, there was still interest and drama when here was still interest and drama involving wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

Washington acted quickly soon after the Eagles released Jackson and signed him to a three-year contract. The question in Detroit is whether the Lions should have taken a look at him.

As spring moves on, the NFL calendar moves forward on other fronts. Lions veterans report Monday to start the official offseason workout program, and visits from draft prospects continue. One of the big names at Allen Park this week was Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan, raising another question: is there legitimate interest in drafting Lewan, or was that as smokescreen?

It’s all part of the never-ending drama of the NFL – with more to look forward to for fans. There certainly has been enough drama surrounding Jackson. Should the Lions have taken a run at him?

Mike: Teams have different needs, and Washington felt a need to fill out its receiving corps and signed Jackson to a three-year, $24-million deal with $16 million fully guaranteed. Jackson is a play-making threat, but not a high-volume receiver.

The danger he presents on every play is what makes him valuable. He had 82 catches last year. Before that, the most he had in a season was 62, which he did the first two years.

For the Lions, who have Calvin Johnson and already signed free-agent Golden Tate, it was best to see if Jackson’s price came down, then sign him to a contract with no guarantees beyond the first year. That would lessen any risk on the Lions’ part. They’d have a playmaker for one year, and Jackson could have re-established his value through performance.

As it turns out, Jackson got what he wanted – a good contract. And Washington got another receiver.

But by not making a big push for Jackson, does that mean the Lions have their eye on a receiver in the first round?

Tim: Jackson can really take the top off a defense and Washington got a really good player.

I don’t think the Lions were really ever players for Jackson’s services, however, for two reasons.

1. I think the Lions have made a concerted effort the last couple years to really bring in high-character players and guys who’ll be good in the locker room. I don’t know Jackson personally and have never worked with him, but reports out of Philadelphia were that he could be a handful sometimes.

The Lions’ two big free-agent signings this offseason were receiver Tate and safety James Ihedigbo, both high-character guys who’ll be immediate leaders in the locker room.

2. The Lions simply didn’t have the cap space for the kind of contract Jackson ultimately commanded. The price was never going to come down enough for the Lions to have any real interest.

As far as selecting a receiver in the first round, I think it's still in play, along with about five or six other scenarios. As you know, Mike, a lot can happen in the 90 minutes before the clock starts on Martin Mayhew and Co.

Mike: When you think about it, it will be more than a year since last year’s draft, but the 10 minutes between picks for the nine picks before the Lions go on the clock seem like an eternity.

Having so much time to analysis prospects and what teams might do in the draft puts the spotlight on every move leading up to the draft.

However, there were legitimate reasons for the Lions to use one of the 30 visits allowed under NFL rules to have Lewan come to Allen Park. He legitimately belongs in the top half of the first round, and there are ways the draft could develop that would make Lewan a logical pick.

It probably would involve trading down after the Lions’ top candidates are off the board, leaving Lewan as the top prospect. Having three fourth-round picks – their own and two comp picks – provides some flexibility.

I doubt if it was a smokescreen. Could I be wrong?

Tim: No smokescreen.

The Lions like what they have at tackle in Riley Reiff and LaAdrian Waddle, but if Mayhew thinks Lewan is an upgrade at either position, and a couple players at two other positions of bigger need are off the board, They could make that pick.

As you know, Mike, it all depends on the board and the grades.

Rob Sims is in the last year of his contract and there’s always the possibility Reiff or someone else could eventually move inside. If that scenario is real, again, selecting a tackle like Lewan could make sense.

Certainly if the Lions move back from No. 10 and pick up a selection or two, tackle could certainly be in play.

The Lions were doing their homework on Lewan, Tuesday, not sending out smokescreens.

What’s the biggest need left for the Lions?

Mike: When Shaun Hill signed with the Rams, adding a veteran backup quarterback with playing experience was the top priority. Dan Orlovsky can fill that role. He has previous experience with Jim Caldwell in Indianapolis.

Another pass-rusher, receiver or cornerback would be good, but at this point, those players have to fall to you either by signing a free agent who gets cut or in a trade involving draft picks. Any trades will come closer to the draft next month.

Until then, the most fun is speculating about the draft – mock drafts and potential trades.

We all get to play GM.

Tim: I’m not a fan of cornerback early in the draft, as you know, Mike, and by early I mean pick No. 10. If they add another young one later on so be it.

The two biggest needs left is a third pass catcher behind Johnson and Tate and a pass rusher.

The pass rusher can be another defensive end behind Ziggy Ansah, Jason Jones and Devin Taylor or a versatile linebacker the Lions can move around and rush off the edge.

Don’t discount the Lions still drafting a quarterback, either. I could still see them adding one late to develop and compete for backup role.