TIM AND MIKE: Is moving up in draft best option for Detroit?

Posted Mar 28, 2014

Senior writer Tim Twentyman and columnist Mike O'Hara talk Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, the search for a backup quarterback and Nick Fairley

ORLANDO – The Lions departed the NFL Annual Meeting after three days of discussing league-related matters with work to do and issues to face involving their own team.

In preparation for the draft, GM Martin Mayhew and Coach Jim Caldwell took off to watch Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans’ pro day after already being impressed at another pro day workout by Clemson’s Sammy Watkins, the top-rated receiver in the draft.

With the veteran roster, they have to find a backup quarterback to replace Shaun Hill, who signed a one-year contract with St. Louis, and they’ve made a decision not to pick up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

The first round of the draft is May 8, but at this state, does the fact that the Lions have taken close looks at Watkins and Evans mean they’ll take a receiver with their first pick?

Mike: Watkins is clearly the best receiver in the draft, and Caldwell didn’t hide how impressed he was after having dinner with Watkins and his family. He likes everything about him – ability and character makeup. The only questions are whether he’ll be available with the 10th pick (he won’t), and if the Lions can trade up high enough to take him (they might).

Evans might fill the need, too. But Mayhew and Caldwell – one or both – will have looked at lot of other receivers and players at other positions before the draft.

The Lions have not whiffed on any high first-round picks under Mayhew’s watch – Matthew Stafford, Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah. Brandon Pettigrew and Riley Reiff, taken further down in the round, are solid starters.

That should provide some comfort that they won’t land another Mike Williams or Charles Rogers in the top 10.

Tim: The Lions are going to get a good player, whoever and whatever position that might be.

To me, the biggest impact positions -- and the two positions that if drafted could make the most immediate impact -- are receiver and linebacker.

The Lions also got a close look at linebackers Khalil Mack and Anthony Barr. Both players offer a hybrid linebacker/rush-type player, who could do a lot of things.

I still think receiver is very much in play, even with Golden Tate signed.

Watkins would be ideal. The Lions sat with him and his parents at Clemson's Pro Day and came away very impressed. He’s a difference maker.

They’ll have a better idea about Evans after this week’s Pro Day.

Mike: A report surfaced late in the meetings that the Browns are interested in trading down from No. 4, and the Lions might be interested in dealing with them.

The price would be rich – probably their pick at No. 10 plus another in the second- or third round. I’d do it if the second pick was the third-rounder, but not the second.

Is that too rich for your blood?

Tim: I’m with you about a second-rounder. Too rich for my blood. A combination of a third- and fourth-round pick, I’d even think about. The Lions just acquired two additional fourth-round compensatory picks.

It really comes down to how the Lions’ grades come out. If they think there are only five or six “elite” players in the draft, I’m never opposed to trying to move up and get one of those players for the right price. The second-rounder the Lions then pick will be an immediate starter in this draft, too.

Snagging an elite player and a starter in the first two rounds is a good draft, and maybe they’ll get another starter and depth in the fourth round.

Mike: The Lions have a quarterback issue, and it does not involve Stafford. Hill signing with the Rams after four years as the backup quarterback leaves a void, and it’s been proven that a season can be made or broken by how well the backup plays when the starter goes out.

Last year’s NFC North race was a prime example of that. Josh McCown kept the Bears in the race after Jay Cutler went out. Green Bay sank out of contention when Aaron Rodgers went down with a broken collarbone but beat the Bears in the final game to win the North when Rodgers returned for that game. He won it with a late TD pass.

The point is, it’s a vital job, and you don’t have to wait for disaster to strike to know that. Trusting it to a rookie is a gamble, and the Lions’ coaching staff cannot have any line on Kellen Moore because he’s never been active for a regular-season game.

One name that’s come up is Dan Orlovsky. He’s been in the league since 2005 – as a draft pick by the Lions – and he played for Caldwell with the Colts. He’s a pro who has been in a lot of systems with different teams. There are a lot worse options than Orlovsky.

Tim: Caldwell knows better than most how important it is to have a solid backup. He knows Orlovsky and there’s probably a comfort level there.

I like the idea of having a veteran on a win-now team as opposed to a draft pick, but I see why the Lions might be interested in drafting one. They have a bunch of coaches in the quarterback-development business and a draft pick could become an asset down the road.

But if the Lions are set on winning now, which they are, getting a veteran is a must.

Get a veteran – like an Orlovsky – and there’s no rule that says they can’t draft a quarterback too. Get players in camp and see what happens.

Just make sure one of those players outside of Stafford has played in an NFL game before. Lions fans will sleep better at night.

Mike:  In terms of hard news related to the Lions this week, Mayhew’s announcement that the Lions will not pick up Fairley’s fifth-year option probably was the No. 1 item, and it was a surprise.

The logic behind it can be argued both ways. One is that it will motivate Fairley to have a big season and go into free-agency in 2015 with momentum. The other is that picking up the option at $5.5 million for 2015 comes with almost no risk. It can be withdrawn before the start of the NFL year.

It had to be a consensus decision of the Lions’ hierarchy.

The one thing that keeps showing through in the moves the Lions are making is that the focus is on winning this year. This isn’t a building program under a new head coach and staff. There is a mandate to win.

In that regard, it’s a good move for 2014. Whether the same holds true for the future will be determined over time.

Tim: True there’s a little risk in the move, and you’re right, the Lions seem to be putting a lot of chips in the middle of the table for the 2014 season.

I like the move with Fairley, however. He’s such a talented player and the ceiling is so high for him – higher than Suh, in my opinion – the Lions needed to do something to motivate him.

The risk is Fairley has a monster season and then they’re left with a decision to franchise him at more than $9 million or potentially lose him. They could also come to terms on a new long-term deal before the 2015 league year begins.

However it works out, the Lions are expecting a big season from No. 98, and a good season from him means good things for the Lions’ defense.

The other big news is the James Ihedigbo signing. Good move?

Mike: Ravens Coach John Harbaugh spoke highly of him, including the fact that he doesn’t miss practice because of chronic, nagging injuries. That is something that hampered Louis Delmas in recent seasons, and the result was a negative impact on the defense.

It should help, and ease the transition period, that Ihedigbo played under new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin in Baltimore.

It wasn’t a signing that produced screaming headlines, but it looks like a solid move.

Back-tracking to Fairley, what’s to say that by May 3, the deadline to pick up the option, some team won’t offer to trade for him? At the right price – at least one high draft pick – a deal could make sense. I doubt it will happen, but isn’t it something to consider as a possibility?

Tim: Mayhew will always take any phone call that comes his way. I don’t see a whole lot of teams lining up to trade a first-round pick for a defensive tackle on a one-year deal, however.

Maybe some kind of sign and trade, but I think other teams will be just as curious to see how motivated Fairley is in 2014. The Lions put the ball squarely in his court. It’s not often players get this kind of opportunity to hit the market on their own terms, especially young players.

You and I got into a little debate about the proposed changes to the extra point the NFL will experiment with in the 2014 preseason. You think the league shouldn’t touch it. I have the best plan of all. I’ll let you explain your reasoning first and then tell you what should happen.

Mike: It’s pretty simple to me. The NFL has had the extra point forever. It’s as much a part of the game as the intentional walk in baseball. Not very exciting and automatic – and so what?

But the argument that it should be changed because kickers are so proficient, making the extra point 99.6 percent of the time, doesn’t make sense to me. By that logic, the safety should count more than two points. There were only 20 safeties in 2014.

If you’re going to raise the bar for extra points, then raise the payoff for the safety.

Tim: Agree about the safety. It should be worth four points.

As far as the extra points go, I say get rid of it. It’s not worth the risk to player safety.

I propose making all touchdowns worth seven points. A team can then decide to score an eighth point via crossing the goal line. If they fail, however, they only get six points.

It’s perfect.