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Mailbag question time!

The Detroit Lions have completed the first round of Organized Team Activities, and considering it has almost been a full five months since we’ve seen anything resembling Lions football, it has fed that craving, even if just a little bit.

Now is the time to overreact and overanalyze. Teez Tabor nabbed two interceptions, so clearly he’s going to be the team’s most improved player in 2019. T.J. Hockenson will catch approximately 150 balls this year, because he’s all over the highlight reels from practice. And Jahlani Tavai is clearly the next Hall of Fame linebacker after his interception on Thursday. Oh, also Darius Slay and Damon Harrison are awful, selfish people who don’t care about their teammates and also wish the apocalypse happened to kittens and puppies.

So now is the proper time to get all of those reactions into the audiosphere, so that we can make ridiculous statements that will make us all look dumb by the time December comes.

Here’s where you come in. Send us questions in the comment section below and we’ll try to answer them in our final segment of the PODcast, where we devote 15-20 minutes on mailbag questions. They don’t necessarily have to be about the Lions, and the more interesting/clever the better. You can also send your queries to our Twitter using the hashtag #AskPOD.

Let’s hear ‘em!

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Which Lions depth receiver will emerge as the top backup?

Based on recent news, the Detroit Lions must not exactly be thrilled with their wide receiver group right now. This week, they brought in free agent Jermaine Kearse, but couldn’t come to an agreement with him before he left without a deal.

It’s not all that surprising the Lions are looking to bolster their receiver depth right now. Outside of their top three receivers right now—Marvin Jones Jr., Kenny Golladay and Danny Amendola—there isn’t much proven talent on the roster.

Detroit has some holdovers from last year in Andy Jones, Brandon Powell, Chris Lacy and Deontez Alexander. They also have a couple of new faces in Tommylee Lewis and Jordan Smallwood. Then there’s the rookie class: sixth-round pick Travis Fulgham and UDFAs Jonathan Duhart and Tom Kennedy.

While there’s a lot of potential there, there isn’t much the Lions know they can rely on there. So today’s Question of the Day is:

Who will be the Lions No. 4 receiver in 2019?

My answer: I think many are assuming it will be Fulgham, simply because the Lions drafted him. However, I see him as more of a long-term project. If Detroit had their way, the Old Dominion product would spend a year on the practice squad before jumping into a role in his rookie year. Of course, there’s no guarantee he’ll make it through waivers to land on the practice squad.

Personally, I think Tommylee Lewis may have the inside track to a spot on the roster. Though his small stature at 5-foot-7, 168 pounds makes him purely a slot option, he brings special teams value and he’s already making plays at Organized Team Activities.

However, if I’m being completely honest, I think the answer is probably someone that isn’t even on the roster right now. It’s always possible that a guy like Brandon Powell builds on his performance from late last season, but I just think there are too many guys on this roster that belong on the practice squad than those that could realistically perform on game day.

Your turn.

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No household names, but a fine group of contributors nonetheless.

While much of the attention recently has been focused on the two newest crops of rookies brought in during the Matt Patricia era many young players now hitting their stride and transitioning to becoming veterans from even earlier drafts surely warrant another look. Our Kent Lee Platte revisited the 2017 draft class, which included names like Golladay, Davis, and Agnew, but The Athletic’s Dane Brugler dialed the wayback machine even further to re-grade the 2016 draft classes team by team (subscription required).

Upon further review, Brugler gave the Lions a middle of the pack B grade overall. Both Brugler and Chris Burke, who provided some additional commentary in the article, liked the early-round trench players general manager Bob Quinn selected on both sides of the ball: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, and A’Shawn Robinson. While the team has probably not gotten as much as it hoped for from Miles Killebrew and Joe Dahl, Burke’s judgement that Detroit got an unspectacular but “pretty good return” on its picks seems quite fair.

  • Pro Football Focus has a new reason for Lions fans to be optimistic about second-year safety Tracy Walker. In limited action last season, he was excellent in late game situations with a close score:

Even in his short time in the lineup, Tracy Walker III (@TracyWalkerIII) earner the third-highest “Clutch” grade among safeties in 2018, the future is bright for the #Lions young defensive back #OnePride https://t.co/69iBlhjvVA

— PFF DET Lions (@PFF_Lions) May 24, 2019

  • Dave Birkett from the Detroit Free Press went through everyone drafted by the Lions and still with the team to understand what “the Lions are so giddy about internally” when it comes to the draftees of 2018 and 2019.

“You got all these pass-happy offenses in the league these days. Having somebody a little bit old school, who understands the game and gets it from a 90s perspective, it’s pretty cool to see.” - @cjandersonb22 on #Lions OC Darrell Bevell https://t.co/hysB3JNyU9

— Michael Stets (@Michael_Stets) May 24, 2019

  • Did you know Lions safety Quandre Diggs was an outstanding spread-option quarterback in high school? Nino was a two-way player who won accolades on offense in addition to all-district honors as a defensive back. He is also an aesthetic design visionary:

I can do it all! I had the @drake NWTS cover before anybody! I’ll put my HS tape up against anybody too!! https://t.co/VFlguIUgB9

— Nino (@qdiggs6) May 24, 2019

  • Head coach Matt Patricia will give the instruction for drivers to start their engines at the Michigan International Speedway next week:

So this happened last week…

Thrilled to have @Lions Head Coach, Matt Patricia deliver the most famous words in motorsports at the #FireKeepersCasino400 on June 9!

GET YOUR TICKETS: https://t.co/Ww7cGrkxFj pic.twitter.com/abuDBOEjv1

— MISpeedway (@MISpeedway) May 24, 2019

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The rookie is taking things slow in his first taste of the NFL.

Jahlani Tavai is entering a whole new world.

The Detroit Lions linebacker and 2019 second-round pick is a long ways away from the Hawaiian Islands where he played college football and the beaches of Southern California where he played in high school.

He is also faced with the new challenge of playing in the NFL, and most likely stepping into a huge role in Matt Patricia’s defense this season.

It is a lot to take on for a young player, but Tavai is abiding by a simple message.

“My main message right now is literally take it day by day,” Tavai told reporters after OTAs on Tuesday.

As challenging as the days ahead will be, he has great people leading him.

“[I’ve been] getting to learn from guys who are vets here. They’re great leaders and I strive to try and become a leader like them,” Tavai said.

For Tavai this is a huge paradigm shift. At Hawaii, he was one of the team leaders. The linebacker was the quarterback of the defense and the most important player on that side of the ball. He was the face of the team and most important guy in the locker room.

The linebacker notched 390 combined tackles and 16.5 sacks in his four years as a Rainbow Warrior. He led the Mountain West Conference in solo tackles in 2016, and landed in the top 10 in 2017. It would not be a stretch to name him as one of the best linebackers to ever play at the University of Hawaii.

In Detroit he is back at the bottom. A rookie entering a new league, a new city, and attempting to learn a new playbook.

He is taking things one step at a time, though.

“First I gotta learn the playbook. I gotta perfect that part,” Tavai said, “The vets learned it last year and they’re doing a great job for the younger guys. I just gotta take the responsibility to learn it on my own and do the right thing.”

As the challenges ramp up for the rookie, he at least feels as though he is in the right place. He spoke highly of both the leadership on the roster and the leadership in the organization as a whole.

“This is a great environment. I love how the coaches have a standard on being successful,” he said, adding “I wanna ingrain that in my mindset and just come out here everyday and just be a Lion.”

The rookie has already managed to make quite the impression as a Lion, leaping into the air to snag an impressive interception off of backup quarterback Tom Savage on Day 3 of OTAs.

A look at Jahlani Tavai's INT in practice today pic.twitter.com/XTxbVcX586

— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) May 24, 2019

Detroit should be just as excited to have Tavai as he is to have them, and as he learns and grows, they hope they have found a potential star in the 2019 NFL draft.

But for now, Tavai still just has a simple message. Take things day by day.

“I’m just gonna have that mindset and take care of what I can control.”

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The Lions’ second-round pick had the play of the day.

The Detroit Lions have gone into protective mode. On Thursday, the team had their final OTA practice of the week, and seeing as it was closed from the media, we were again left to digest the session just from a photo gallery and highlights.

However, unlike Day 1 of OTAs, the Lions didn’t divulge much information from those sources. There were no photos or video of the offensive or defensive lines, meaning we have no idea if Frank Ragnow still took reps at center on Thursday or what the defensive lineup may look like right now.

But the Lions did provide one awesome moment from the practice session, and it came from their highlights at the 35-second mark:.

OTA Highlights: Day 3 - YouTube

That’s Lions second-round pick Jahlani Tavai picking off Tom Savage, by leaping in front of a pass intended for first-round pick T.J. Hockenson. Let’s take another look:

A look at Jahlani Tavai's INT in practice today pic.twitter.com/XTxbVcX586

— Alex Reno (@alex_reno) May 24, 2019

While Savage made it fairly easy for Tavai, that’s still a pretty darn good play from the rookie. He’s reading the eyes of the quarterback, he gets a fair amount of air and secures the catch after a quick bobble.

The only other real notable highlight was at the end of the video. The Lions have Jarrad Davis receiving a punt, and the third-year linebacker snags it as the rest of the team goes wild.

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Frat Stafford is back!

On Thursday night during the NBA Conference Championship Game between the Toronto Raptors and Milwaukee Bucks, the camera crews inside the Milwaukee arena found Packers tackle David Bakhtiari.

As has become tradition in the past year or so, when a famous athlete gets caught on the big screen at a sporting event, he must immediately chug his beer. Bakhtiari, being the offensive lineman he is, had no problem fulfilling the tradition, swinging back two beers in about nine seconds.

Then cameras cut to Aaron Rodgers. He... well, he gave it his best:

@DavidBakhtiari and @AaronRodgers12 go head-to-head in a beer chugging competition!! #GoPackGo | #FearTheDeer pic.twitter.com/etedPaiJ9G

— Milwaukee Bucks (@Bucks) May 24, 2019

Okay, first off, that isn’t even a full Beer, Aaron:

That’s like three-fifths of a beer. And not only does it take Rodgers eight seconds to drink approximately eight ounces, but HE DOESN’T EVEN FINISH. Thankfully, the camera went back to Bakhtiari to reclaim pride in the land of the Pack.

This would have adequate schadenfreude to be noteworthy on a Detroit Lions blog like this, but the story doesn’t end here.

Minutes later, Kelly Stafford, wife of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, posted this on Instagram:

View this post on Instagram

#kingofthenorth

A post shared by Kelly Stafford (@kbstafford89) on May 23, 2019 at 7:00pm PDT

This social media post deserves an Emmy.

First, kudos to Kelly for the cinematography. She zooms in on the same basketball game being played. This accomplishes two things: Like taking a picture with today’s newspaper, it confirms this is present day, 31-year-old Matthew Stafford. Secondly, it confirms this is a direct response to Rodgers’ pathetic drinking attempt.

Then Matthew takes over. Tall-boy in hand, like the Patrick Mahomes of drinking, Stafford no-looks the camera and takes down a full beer in about four seconds. Frat Stafford is back, y’all.

(Also underrated, the very, very real, definitely not staged conversation between Sam Martin and his lady friend at the beginning of the video.)

This just continues the trend of the Lions owning the Packers. Detroit has now won four five straight over Green Bay.

Here’s a tip for you next time, Rodgers. You need to R-E-L-A-X the throat a little bit.

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Harmless negotiating tactic or greedy selfishness?

The first week of Organized Team Activities is in the books for the 2019 Detroit Lions. The team had their third and final practice of the week on Thursday, and they remained without arguably the two best players on their defense. Both Damon Harrison Sr. and Darius Slay have not been present at offseason workouts this year, and both appear to be seeking new deals.

This is pretty normal negotiating tactics, but for some, this is a put-off. Because both players still have two years remaining on their contracts, many believe they need to “wait their turn” until they’re entering a contract year.

Others don’t appear to be that bothered. Matt Patricia didn’t seem to make a big deal about it, and both players appear to be working out on their own. Not to mention both have earned a little respect and don’t necessarily need the extra few practices with the team.

But it’s sometimes hard to quantify how exactly a fanbase is feeling when your only measurement is Twitter replies and angry sports radio callers. So today’s Question of the Day is:

Are you mad that Darius Slay and Damon Harrison Sr. skipped Week 1 of OTAs?

My answer: Absolutely not. On Thursday, I explained why it made every bit of sense for Slay to try and get his money right now. Many of those same arguments hold for Harrison, but he probably has an even better case for being underpaid right now, so I totally get it from Snacks’ standpoint, too.

Given the short nature of this game, and the ability of it all to be taken from you with one, brutal injury, I’m almost never not in the players’ corner. Get paid as much as you can while you still have worth in this league, and if it means missing a few practices three months before any games, that’s totally fine with me.

Your turn.

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The Lions’ running backs haven’t commanded much respect yet.

Since head coach Matt Patricia came to town, the Detroit Lions have made a concerted effort to make the running game a priority both on offense and defense. The addition of Damon Harrison Sr. made the Lions a formidable run defense last year, and Kerryon Johnson made them look dangerous, at times, running the ball.

But not everyone is convinced of their talent on offense yet. Bleacher Report’s Brent Sobleski ranked every team’s backfield for the 2019 season, and the Lions came in at just 22nd in the league.

Sobleski doesn’t offer much in terms of criticism talking about Detroit’s backfield. In fact, he’s quite complimentary. He notes that Johnson averaged 5.7 yards per touch and provided Detroit with “a real running threat.” He calls C.J. Anderson “a vital component to the Los Angeles RamsSuper Bowl run.” He even praised Theo Riddick, labeling him as “a top-notch third-down back.”

Still, his ranking suggests there’s some skepticism with Detroit. Perhaps it’s Johnson’s youth, inexperience and injury history. Perhaps it’s their questionable depth. Either way, the Lions will likely have to produce more actual results before they climb lists like these.

  • Zach Zenner wasn’t at OTAs earlier in the week, and now we have a pretty good understanding of why that may have been. Congrats, Zenners!

New Zenner in the world, welcome Boden! Mom did great. pic.twitter.com/2m7pjkzQam

— Zach Zenner (@zenner31) May 23, 2019

  • Darius Slay has a response to those who think he should just commit to the contract he signed a few years ago:

They don’t keep their words when they cut us while we in our contracts ... https://t.co/EqsDXgAJ93

— Darius Slay (@_bigplayslay23) May 22, 2019

  • Thursday marks the 10,000th day since the Lions’ last playoff victory. Here’s a hard-to-read graphic putting that into perspective relative to the other professional sports teams. The infographic is measuring playoff wins (playoff series wins in the MLB, NBA and NHL), and Lions are that speech bubble on the left.

This from my guy @theford is a pretty amazing visual breakdown of every pro sports team and their playoff appearances/wins over the last 10,000 days pic.twitter.com/qApUMxSShf

— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) May 23, 2019

“I don’t think any fan expecting 10 wins this year is being unreasonable.”

  • Danny Amendola threw a strike(?) when throwing out the first pitch at a Tigers game on Tuesday:
View this post on Instagram

⚾️

A post shared by Danny Amendola (@dannyamendola) on May 22, 2019 at 12:02pm PDT

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Pro Football Focus thinks Frank Ragnow’s potential is endless at his “new” position.

The biggest news out of the first week of Detroit Lions Organized Team Activities is the offensive line shakeup. After preparing 2018 first-round pick Frank Ragnow for the guard position all of last year, Detroit trotted him out at center in the first two practices, suggesting there may be a positional change in the making.

It’s still very possible that the Lions are simply cross training their players to give them more versatility in case of injury. However, Pro Football Focus appears to be a big fan of making that move to center permanent for Frank Ragnow.

PFF’s Connor McGuinness explained why by looking and his grades at both a college level and from his rookies season in Detroit. The difference is clear as day. At Arkansas, he started his career at guard, but then moved to center for the final two years. The difference in grades is drastic:

Center: 92.5 overall grade, 81.6 pass block grade, 94.4 run block grade
Guard: 80.6 overall grade, 67.9 pass block grade, 86.6 run block grade

Of course, it’s hard to know whether this was simply Ragnow getting better over time or getting more comfortable head-manning the offensive line at center. His offensive line coach in college certainly seems to think Ragnow is right at home at the center position:

Ragnow's college O-line coach, Kurt Anderson, after the Lions drafted him: "He is about as natural a center as you’re gonna find. ... (He) sees the big picture, he sees the rotation of the secondary, how that adjusts things up front, gets you into the right call." https://t.co/gEuRez5jhF

— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) May 23, 2019

Now potentially in a position where he was so dominant in college, McGuinness believes Ragnow’s ceiling is as high as they come.

“The reality is that the position change could be the difference between the Lions having a starting-caliber guard, and an elite-level center who could go on to be the best in the NFL,” McGuinness.

He’s not mincing words here. Not “one of the best,” “the best in the NFL.”

We obviously shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves here. Ragnow has literally played just a single NFL snap at center. However, everything from his college profile suggests he should be able to, and the Lions clearly think it’s a good idea to at least try him there.

As for Ragnow himself, he seemed pretty excited about the potential move when talking about the play-calling aspects a center gets.

“I enjoy that part of the game,” Ragnow said. “That’s a part of the game I really enjoyed in college, making all the calls, kind of leading the guys.”

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Darius Slay wants an extension now, and it makes complete sense for him to seek that new deal.

With news that Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay is sitting out Organized Team Activities and likely seeking a new contract, the response has been predictable. Many fans are upset that Slay isn’t being a “team player,” while others are panicking that the Lions need to do everything they can just to keep him around.

And while the timing certainly isn’t convenient for the Lions—they’re coming off a rough year, just spent a ton of money in free agency that may tie up a lot of money down the road, and Slay still has a few years left on his contract—this actually isn’t all that complicated.

Darius Slay has every right to fight for a new contract, and the Lions should seriously consider getting a new deal done as soon as possible. Let’s break down why.

“Just honor your contract”

Perhaps the most common complaint I’ve heard about Slay—or any other player wanting an extension/restructure—is that they signed the deal a few years ago and need to honor it. This is easily the laziest argument made by fans, as it has no scope on how NFL contracts work.

How often have we heard about teams asking a player to take a restructure? How often have we’ve seen players become cap casualties because they were unwilling to restructure that deal? This is just players using that same leverage. Instead of “take a paycut or find a job elsewhere” players are simply saying the opposite: “pay me more, or I’ll find a job somewhere else.”

This is how leverage works in NFL contract negotiations. No side is right or immoral or ungrateful. This is simply each side doing what’s best for them.

No holdout yet

Now, in Slay’s case, let’s be clear. He hasn’t threatened to play anywhere else or sit out a year or anything like that. He’s only missed voluntary workouts and OTAs. Again, this is something that has become so pervasive that it’s just how negotiations work in this league, and both players and coaches know it’s not that big of a deal at this point in the offseason.

Here’s Matt Patricia on Slay and Daman Harrison Sr. missing Week 1 of OTAs:

“Back in the day, I’ve had other great players, really great ones on my defenses before—just whatever the situation was, they have other offseason routines that are agreed, or talked about, or kind of just gone through, so everybody’s on the same page with all that stuff,” Patricia said.

Back in the lab with the NFL best NT @snacks !! 2019 is about to be legendary, just watch!!! pic.twitter.com/WI3iC8Yt4D

— Coach Brandon Jordan (@CoachBTJordan) May 17, 2019

Yes, veteran players like Slay and Harrison are still working hard. Yes, they’re still working out. Yes, they fully intend on playing this year. They’re just not working out with the team right now, and in a lot of cases, they’ve already made agreements with the team. No drama here.

“He’s already getting paid so much”

In the case of Slay, an argument could be made he’s getting his worth. Looking at 2019 cap hits among NFL cornerbacks, and Darius Slay ranks.... wow, first. What is he even complaining about?

Well, cap hit isn’t exactly a practical way to look at it from the players’ point of view. Slay isn’t just being handed a paycheck for his $15,934,375 cap hit—that number just represents how he fits in the Lions’ budget. That’s the team’s point of view.

For Slay, his annual salaries for 2019 and 2020 are $12.55 million and $10 million, which rank second and 12th respectively. That’s a clearer picture of the money Slay will actually be seeing over the next few seasons, and while those aren’t exactly bad figures for a Pro Bowl cornerback, should he actually be earning less than the likes of Janoris Jenkins and Desmond Trufant, who have a combined seven interceptions over the past two years (Slay has 11?

Look at the newest contracts signed by NFL cornerbacks. Xavier Rhodes got a five-year deal worth an average salary of $14 million. Xavien Howard got a five-year deal for an average of $15.05 million. That’s obviously the range Slay is looking for, and he’s arguably worth it.

Why this year?

Slay has two remaining years, and it’s commonly thought that player negotiations should take place the year before the player becomes a free agent. So why now?

Well, part of it may have to do with the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The current CBA is set to expire in 2020, and while current talks between the NFL and NFL Players association are currently optimistic, that could change at any moment. With next year being the crucial year towards either an agreement or a strike, the future of NFL contracts is unclear.

The players will likely push for fully-guaranteed contracts—which Slay has publicly said he wants—but it’s highly unlikely they’ll ever get that.

By getting a big extension this year, Slay would be securing his future in an uncertain time.

And for cornerbacks, it’s important to get paid while you can. Top-tier cornerback very rarely get two big extensions during their NFL careers. How many times have you heard the term “wrong side of 30?” Well, Slay is currently 28. He’s nearing that edge.

Just look around the league right now. All of the best cornerbacks in the league have yet to receive that lucrative second extension. Aqib Talib: Still playing on his six-year extension from 2014. Josh Norman: working off his 2016 five-year deal. Even a guy like Richard Sherman didn’t really get to cash in on his third contract (although being his own agent didn’t help). His three-year deal with the 49ers puts him at an average salary of $9.05 million (20th), granted there was a significant injury risk there.

The most recent example of a cornerback who cashed in twice after their rookie deal was Darrelle Revis. After signing a six-year, $96 million deal with the Buccaneers, he signed a five-year $70 million contract with the Jets (with a one-year, $12 million deal in New England in the middle).

Only one problem: he ended up playing a collective three seasons for those teams. Yep, he never saw a huge portion of those deals. So goes the life of a late-20s, early 30s cornerback.

By heading back to the negotiating table now, Darius Slay is giving himself one last shot at a big extension that he could actually play out in Detroit.

There is certainly a big risk from the Lions’ standpoint. Handing over another big contract to player who has likely peaked is dangerous business dealing for an NFL GM. But an extension now for Detroit makes a lot more sense than potentially waiting another year for Slay to get 365 days closer to that cornerback age drop off. Not to mention, the price is only going to get higher the longer you wait. If you’re Lions general manager Bob Quinn, you’re probably thinking either get a deal done now, or let him hit the market at the end of his current contract.

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