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Lions could address backup QB position via free agency, draft or both

INDIANAPOLIS – One regret Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes had about his offseason process last year was waiting too long to settle the backup quarterback job behind Jared Goff.

"I feel like last year we kind of left training camp kind of sliding into home plate trying to fill that backup quarterback role," Holmes said this week at the Combine. "And that's on me. I gotta do a better job of making sure that we're not in that position again. So that is something that we're gonna need to address whether it's here in free agency or upcoming in the draft. But that's something that we've had a lot of conversations about. I gotta do a better job of making sure we get that rectified."

Nate Sudfeld was signed right before the season and did a nice job in the backup role. He wasn't asked to play but did a good job in the quarterback room helping to prepare Goff week-to-week. Sudfeld is an unrestricted free agent.

Goff is the unquestioned starter for the Lions in 2023 after throwing for 4,438 yards with 29 touchdowns and only seven interceptions, earning a Pro Bowl nod. He's on a streak of 324 consecutive passes without an interception.

But Holmes is going to make sure that position is solidified this offseason behind Goff whether that's via free agency with a veteran or in the draft with a rookie, or both.

There are some draft analysts who think the Lions should take a quarterback at No. 6 or No. 18 in the first round to secure the future of the position. This year's draft class of quarterbacks is led by Alabama's Bryce Young, and there could be as many as five quarterbacks taken in the first round with C.J. Stroud (Ohio State), Will Levis (Kentucky), Anthony Richardson (Florida) and Hendon Hooker (Tennessee) at the top of the class after Young.

Quarterback could be in play for the Lions at No. 18, depending on how the draft falls, but it's a deep class overall with some capable young potential backups available in Day 2 as well, where the Lions have three more picks.

Whether the Lions sign a quarterback in free agency or draft one, offensive coordinator Ben Johnson said he's on the lookout for a winner.

"My personal philosophy has been give us the best guy that can win a game for us," Johnson said this week. "When I look at a backup quarterback the two areas I start with are third down and two minute because that's really where they have the most impact."

Johnson said on base downs the run game and play-action pass game can mask some deficiencies in a backup quarterback, but it's third down and two minute that shows the true character and identity of a signal caller. If the game is on the line, do they have the ability to ultimately win a game for you?

"I think probably the majority of the backups out there they're just more keep the train on the tracks and let's just manage this thing," Johnson said. "The really good ones, the best backups, are the ones that can still win a ball game for you. If you look at the win-loss record for backups in the league, it's hard to find ones over .500."

View photos of Detroit Lions players at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Johnson coached Matt Moore in Miami and he still considers him one of the best backup quarterbacks he ever coached. Moore won 12 games for the Dolphins while Johnson was coaching there over a seven-year stretch.

When evaluating the potential backup quarterback candidates for the Lions this offseason, Johnson said he'll look at how they did on third downs, the last two minutes of the half and their potential fit for the room.

"Really, at the end of the day, does he fit the room," Johnson said. "Does he fit what we need and can he help us win a game if it's on the line."

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