TIM AND MIKE: Offseason decisions looming

With two big decisions already made – the hiring of Bob Quinn as general manager and his decision to retain Jim Caldwell as head coach – the Lions can move on and deal with the questions and the issues that they would face regardless of who was leading the team in 2016.

In terms of player personnel, some decisions involve which players will be brought back. Others will focus on strengthening the roster via free-agency, the draft and re-signing players whose contracts are up.

How are the Lions positioned to go forward after a tumultuous two months, and what stands out in what promises to be a new way of operating on the football side of the franchise?

Mike: It should be clear that the tone and direction of the franchise will follow what Owner Martha Firestone Ford said when Quinn was hired as GM.

"I just thought we needed a fresh start," she said at Quinn's introductory press conference.

Bringing in a GM from another franchise instead of promoting from within means fresh ideas and ways of operating instead of following the basic approach of previous leadership but trying to do it better.

No matter who was hired as GM, I thought bringing Caldwell back was the right move. The Lions have had bigger problems with player personnel decisions than they've had with coaching, and they all haven't been because of scouting. It's been the players they selected, not the way they've been rated.

Quinn has started building his staff in the personnel department. An important next step for him and his staff will be scouting players at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, where practices begin next week.

Tim: That process has actually started this week with the East-West Shrine Game. Then it's on to the Senior Bowl next week and the NFL Scouting Combine in February.

Bringing back Caldwell and his staff made a lot of sense for Quinn, a first-time general manager. I agree with Mike that the bigger priority is reshaping the draft process and the type of players brought in.

Missing on Nick Fairley, Titus Young, Mikel Leshoure, Ryan Broyles and countless other draft picks over the years has hit the "middle class" of this roster hard.

Caldwell has assembled a pretty good coaching staff led by coordinators Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter. Both men have proven they can put players in the right spots to be successful. Now it's Quinn's job, and the job of his staff, to get Caldwell, Austin, Cooter and Co. the right players.

Two big decisions are behind this franchise, but one big one still looms with Calvin Johnson debating whether or not to call it a career. How will that decision impact Detroit's offseason?

Mike: Just the fact that Megatron is thinking about retiring means the Lions have to start adding another quality receiver to the roster. I think another receiver was a need anyway, and if he retires it's an even bigger need.

It's likely that Johnson will make his plans known before the start of free-agency.

Either way, retire or return, signing someone the caliber of Jeremy Maclin – who went from the Eagles to the Chiefs last year – would be a big boost for the offense, not only in 2016 but for the next few years.

And the way Maclin's contract was structured cost the Chiefs only $3.4 million in the first year. That's a cap bargain for a player who had 87 catches and eight TDs.


Tim**: So who's out there? This year's free agent crop at receiver is pretty thin with Alshon Jeffery (Bears), Travis Benjamin (Browns) and Marvin Jones (Bengals) leading the way. Jeffery's had some big years in Chicago and could be a solid big receiver to pair with Golden Tate. He's likely to be more expensive than Maclin was, however.

The draft is a viable option, but it would be a tough sell early on with the obvious needs the Lions have on both lines.

Ideally, Johnson comes back for one more season to try and make a run with Caldwell, Cooter and Matthew Stafford. If not, Tate will have to play to 2014 levels and Eric Ebron will have to become the player the Lions thought he'd become when they drafted him 10th overall. That's a 1,000-yard receiver with upwards of 10 touchdowns from the tight end position.

Quinn also has to decide this offseason which of his own young players deserves an extension. The Lions could potentially have $30 million in cap space. Who should be No. 1 on the list?

Mike: I call it a tie between offense and defense.

On defense, it's cornerback Darius Slay.

On offense, it's running back Theo Riddick.

Both are products of the 2013 draft who have progressed steadily at a rate in three seasons to show that neither is a flash in the pan or a one-year wonder.

Both are at point where it's time to lock them up for future seasons. They've gotten good with the Lions. Let them get even better with the Lions.


Tim**: There's some worthy candidates here from the 2013 draft with Ziggy Ansah, Slay, Larry Warford, Devin Taylor, Sam Martin and Riddick all entering the final year of thier rookie deals.

If I had to pick just one though, it's got to be Slay. He's proven the last two seasons that he can be a solid No. 1 cornerback in this league. Those players are hard to find and you hang onto them when you do find them.

Slay's gotten better each of the last two seasons and there's no reason to think he won't continue on that trend.

The one thing missing from his game right now is the big plays and the interceptions. He had just two interceptions this past season and has four in three years. If the Lions don't extend him this offseason, and he goes out next season in a contract year and gets five or six and makes a Pro Bowl, his price just went way up.

Some people will argue that Ziggy Ansah should be the number one priority to re-sign this offseason – I won't hate that move at all – but the team will no-doubt pick up the fifth-year option on his rookie contract this offseason, which means the Lions control him for at least two more seasons.

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