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Lions Mailbag: What happens to the defense without Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley?

3/13/2015

Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are gone, and the Detroit Lions have begun to shape their roster for 2015.

It has left a lot of questions. Hopefully, there are some answers in this week's Lions Mailbag. As always, if you want to ask a question for the Mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter, pop on over to my Facebook page or email me at michael.rothstein@espn.com.

Now, on to your questions.

@mikerothstein: You have reason to be annoyed, more so with the loss of Suh than Fairley. The return of Fairley was always questionable after Detroit declined to pick up his fifth-year option and then Fairley missed half the season with a knee injury. But the Lions expressed so much confidence in being able to retain Suh that it is a fair emotion to be angered by it. As far as the defense itself, it's tough to say, because the Lions have not said anything about what they plan to do schematically or how they plan to use Haloti Ngata or Tyrunn Walker -- the two acquisitions this week. Both come from 3-4 defenses that had multiple looks, and in talking with some other players, they feel like that is how this might trend for Detroit as well. Suh could have fit in any defense. Fairley? Not quite sure.

@mikerothstein: Trying to acquire Greg Hardy would be something that would be very, very, very, very unlikely for the Lions. Detroit already has a bunch of defensive ends under contract, and considering Hardy's past, he doesn't seem like a fit for the Lions. There are character concerns there, and the Lions have made it a point to bring in players they believe have good character. Detroit also doesn't have the money to sign him, more than likely.

@mikerothstein: Detroit is going to grab a cornerback, but the longer it goes on, the more likely it means the return of Rashean Mathis for one more season. That's not a bad deal for the Lions, either. It would keep their secondary intact from last season, and should the Lions draft a cornerback early, Mathis can mentor him much like he mentored Darius Slay. At this point, especially with Detroit's salary-cap situation, that seems like the best possible marriage.

@mikerothstein: According to Spotrac, the Lions should have about $5.5 million in space left, but that includes money needed to pay the rookie class. So there is not a ton of room left, but there aren't many players out there now who would be high-money signings. Detroit should have enough money to grab an offensive lineman and a cornerback heading into the draft. There is also the chance of a Ngata extension or a restructured contract or two that would free up some more cap room if necessary.

@mikerothstein: I'll put this as a disclaimer -- in order for a team to make a move, it needs a willing partner. Sitting at No. 23, the Lions can do a lot of things, especially if an unexpected player as a position that Detroit doesn't need happens to slide down the draft. Think linebackers, tight ends, and safeties here. Or a quarterback. That would be the best possible situation for Detroit to move back, snag another pick or two and still get a player the franchise is targeting. I still think it is way too early to consider those things, though, because so much can happen over the next six weeks.

@mikerothstein: This came up a few months ago when it looked like Teryl Austin might head to Atlanta to coach the Falcons. Considering the staff, there isn't someone that necessarily needs to be groomed for the role. Alan Williams and Bill Sheridan both have experience as defensive coordinators and could slide into the role if necessary. There is also a chance the Lions would look to the outside to fill the position, based on how the defense performs in 2015. The other thing with this is if Detroit's defense falters without Suh and Fairley, then Austin might not go anywhere.

@mikerothstein: Not great at this moment, but I didn't think the Lions would make the playoffs last season, either. The schedule is theoretically harder than in 2014, and the crux of the defense is changing, so that's a concern. But without rosters fully formed it is basically impossible to really make that prediction. The one thing I'll say is this: Good defense and good quarterback play usually equals a playoff team. So if you think the Lions will have both of those, then you think the Lions will have a shot. If not, then not..