NFL Nation: Martin Mayhew

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were still talking a good game Monday, even as they were announcing what felt like a bad scenario for the franchise when it came to one of its cornerstone players.

The team is tabling contract talks with polarizing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season -- a sign that, at the very least, the club and the player are somewhat far from being able to reach a deal that would benefit both sides.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions announced they will table any contract discussions with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014 season.
Considering how confident the Lions have been in the past with getting deals done and how confident they still acted Monday -- both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed optimism they would sign Suh eventually -- this is a big moment for the two of them.

The two often have said they were confident Suh wanted to be here and the team wanted him here. Mayhew went further, saying Monday that he continually felt at different points that a contract extension for Suh would happen soon. Then the combine passed. The start of the new league year passed. The draft passed.

Training camp arrived and the Lions still had no deal in place, leading them to decide to table the talks once camp began. That brings the Lions to this point, and to a risk for both sides.

For the Lions, another massive season from Suh could push his asking price beyond what he and agent Jimmy Sexton are likely asking for now, making it a very tough decision to try to re-sign him. For Suh, it’s a gamble because if he suffers a significant injury, his asking price could plummet. While there would still be suitors for his services, he would be a question mark for the first time in his career.

There is the school of thought that if Suh wanted to stay in Detroit, he would have reached a deal before the season started, as quarterback Matthew Stafford did prior to the 2013 season. But different contracts and different agents require different time frames, so this is the Lions’ hope now: that the latest snag is just a blip instead of a major sign that Suh will end up somewhere other than Detroit in 2015. He has indicated he would like to return, although often talk is just talk until pen and paper meet.

But Suh needs to do what’s best for him -- and that goes beyond a money angle, because he will be paid well no matter where he ends up. Detroit has a new coaching staff, one he is unfamiliar with. The Lions are a franchise that has never really shown the ability to win consistently -- hence the one winning season and one playoff appearance this century.

So if winning is important to Suh as he enters the prime of his career, it behooves him to see how he interacts with this coaching staff and how he will be used throughout the course of a season. It’s something that could be explained to him by coaches, but until he sees it, he won’t know for sure.

What ends up being best for Suh? The question now is whether Detroit is the answer to that question -- and it is an answer only he will know.
From the beginning, there always seemed like a demarcation line of concern when it came to the ongoing contract discussions with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Even though he switched agents this offseason and there always appeared to be something keeping negotiations between Suh and the Lions from progressing, there was optimism the two sides would come to a deal by the time training camp started.

Training camp begins Monday with veterans reporting Sunday. And now colleague Chris Mortensen is saying a team source told him the team is not optimistic about reaching a deal by the start of camp.

With it, the Lions can officially become concerned about whether or not Suh will be with the team beyond this season. Suh has seemed like a player who would not want to have contract discussions during a season, especially if he is now potentially playing for a new deal either with Detroit or elsewhere.

It would behoove the Lions to say they would not negotiate during the season. Doing so gives a timeline for any real negotiations and eliminates what would otherwise be a constant distraction for a franchise needing to minimize them at every possible cost.

This leaves Detroit and the Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, with two potential windows to hatch a deal -- if there is even the true desire to do so: Either between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season, or between the end of the season and the start of free agency.

If the Lions were smart, they would push to not have Suh play out the season with free agency looming. Another huge season from him and he may want to test free agency no matter what, just to see what he could command on the open market as one of the top players at his position.

Either way, the concern about Ndamukong Suh is now real and it should lead to an interesting few weeks as a sidebar to Detroit’s training camp.

This also sets up one of the worst-case scenarios for Detroit when it chose to decline the fifth-year option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If Suh does not get a deal done, there is a real chance the team could lose their first-round picks from 2010 and 2011 after 2014.

It would decimate the interior of a defensive line the Lions built around the past few seasons.

Of course, the Lions can keep Fairley around by either tagging him or re-signing him if he has the season Detroit is hoping for.

None of this is to say Suh is wrong at all. He has every right to have his agent negotiate the best possible deal for him considering the finite nature of his profession. It is exactly what Suh is paying Sexton for.

But if Suh really wants to be in Detroit and really wants to help the Lions turn into a winning franchise, he would push his agent to finish a deal before Sept. 8, when the Lions play on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants.
Part of the reason the Detroit Lions essentially ignored addressing the secondary in the 2014 draft was because of the faith general manager Martin Mayhew had in the potential of his young cornerbacks.

That trust is sure to be tested now.

The Lions have released their top cornerback, Chris Houston, after an inconsistent 2013 and offseason surgery for a toe that just wouldn't heal. Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis would now likely be the team's opening day starters at cornerback and the move increases the pressure on an untested group of players.

Bill Bentley has experience in the slot and is probably best suited there instead of on the outside. Jonte Green started games the past two seasons when players went down to injury, but has not been consistent. Chris Greenwood can't stay healthy and has minimal experience. Cassius Vaughn had a good spring, but was used to primarily used to provide depth at cornerback in Indianapolis.

The one pick the Lions did use on the secondary, corner Nevin Lawson in the fourth round, should have been more of a developmental selection.

At least one of those players will need to be counted on this fall. The early guess would be Vaughn, who has some experience and had moments where he looked extremely sharp in the spring. He likely won't be a starter, but he at least feels like part of the reason the team could have felt comfortable releasing Houston without even seeing him in training camp.

Now, unless the Lions sign a cornerback before camp, they will have to use this group to forge a cornerback corps. It is a unit with some talent, but short on experience. In a division with receivers like Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, that is not the type of situation you want to have.

Yet this is where Detroit is in the middle of June.

Something like this -- and Detroit had to have an inkling of concern here considering Houston did not play well in 2013 and had surgery -- was part of why it was so confusing how the Lions handled the secondary in the draft. Yes, Justin Gilbert was off the board when Detroit picked, but the team wasted little time before drafting tight end Eric Ebron, who the team opened up money to sign by cutting Houston.

They didn't seem to consider either selecting or trying to trade down to nab cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Darqueze Dennard or even Jason Verrett from TCU or Bradley Roby from Ohio State. Or the team could have drafted Ha Ha Clinton-Dix from Alabama or Calvin Pryor from Louisville at safety and moved Don Carey, the team's third safety, to cornerback -- a position he previously played.

After Ebron, the team went with an interior lineman, Travis Swanson, in the third round and traded their fourth round pick to move up for Kyle Van Noy. The move possibly cost them one of the litany of defensive backs who went off the board before the team took Lawson with a supplemental pick in the fourth round.

Any of those first three picks could have been used on a secondary player that could have helped.

Of course all of this is hindsight now. Yet the Lions knew this possibility existed because of Houston's past few months. And that possibility became reality Friday -- even if it was somewhat predictable after Houston was excused from mandatory minicamp.

It leaves Detroit either hunting on the free agent wire or sticking with what they have – a group of young cornerbacks that could end up deciding Mayhew's future.

This is a sequence -- between the draft strategy, how's Houston's injury and eventual release was handled -- that should be used to judge Mayhew if Detroit struggles this season.

Mayhew put his faith with a group of young cornerbacks early. With Houston gone, Mayhew will now need them to prove he was right all along.
Nick Fairley is committing himself to weight loss, and this is exactly what Detroit Lions general manager Martin Mayhew had in mind.

Mayhew said from the beginning when he chose not to pick up Fairley’s fifth-year option that this was going to be a motivational push for the talented defensive tackle. He hoped by not having anything guaranteed after this season, Fairley would turn into the player the Lions expected when they drafted him in 2011.

It also came with a risk – that Fairley would turn into the player the Lions wanted and then they wouldn’t be able to afford him when free agency came calling after this season. It would appear, judging from the Detroit Free Press story Saturday, that Fairley is at least going to attempt to do that.

The newspaper said he is down to 295 pounds, which will likely make him faster and able to have a quicker first step against interior linemen. He also told the paper he is going to keep with his diet, and that is going to be key for any Fairley consistency on the field this fall.

Remember, this is a player who has as much natural ability – if not more – than Ndamukong Suh, who the Lions are trying to re-sign this offseason as he enters the final season of his contract. If he transforms into the always-there player Detroit needs, it could finally give the Lions what they were desiring when they drafted Suh and Fairley in back-to-back seasons at the start of the decade.

They built a 4-3 system around the strength and potential unblockable nature of the defensive line for former defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. But it never truly worked under Cunningham because of the lack of consistency from Fairley, among other things.

If Fairley is faster and less blockable, it might force teams to pick between Suh, Fairley and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah as to who to double. This should lead to more rush lanes for all three of those linemen along with anyone else new defensive coordinator Teryl Austin is going to send at opposing quarterbacks.

If it works and if Fairley stays both healthy, in shape and motivated, it could give Austin the aggressive, attacking defense his players have boasted about over the past few weeks.
NFC wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A wrap-up of the Detroit Lions' draft.

Best move: Trading up five slots to take linebacker Kyle Van Noy in the second round Friday night. He was clearly one of the top players on Detroit's board after the first day and a player the Lions front office has theoretically targeted for over a year after first seeing him while scouting Ezekiel Ansah in 2012. The Lions needed linebacker depth and someone who could be versatile enough to start right away. In Van Noy, they have a linebacker who can play every down and is both adept at rushing the passer and dropping into coverage, as evidenced by the seven interceptions in his career.

Riskiest move: Waiting until the third day to take any secondary help. That the team ignored both cornerback and safety throughout the first three rounds was more shocking than surprising, considering two of the bigger needs entering the draft. That they focused two of those three picks over the first three days on offense is even more so. For a franchise that has placed a premium on winning now while Calvin Johnson is still in his prime, not bolstering an area where the team's cornerbacks have questions about ability, age or productivity is somewhat surprising. Detroit might have hoped a cornerback would fall to No. 133 in the fourth round, but none of the bigger ones did and the Lions ended up with Nevin Lawson, who is the opposite of the tall type of corner defensive coordinator Teryl Austin covets. Lawson was a three-year starter at Utah State but had more than one interception only once, when he had four picks as a senior.

Most surprising move: The Lions focusing on offense for two of the first three picks after the team spent a lot of their primary free-agent dollars on signing receiver Golden Tate and re-signing running back Joique Bell and tight end Brandon Pettigrew. Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew continued to say throughout the draft that the team's defense and offense were not that far apart. He used the stat that the Lions were 15th in points allowed last season -- except Detroit lost a defensive end off of that team, Willie Young, whom it has yet to adequately replace and are still thin at safety. The Lions could have used another playmaker in the back end out of this draft, especially after passing on the secondary in the first day.

File it away: Mayhew said before the draft that a successful one would have three starters, three contributors and three developmental players. With eight picks, Detroit won't get there exactly through the draft, but if you were to project out, those starters in the 2014 draft -- likely most beyond 2014 -- are tight end Eric Ebron, Van Noy and kicker Nate Freese from Boston College. The contributors would be defensive tackle Caraun Reid (fifth round), wide receiver TJ Jones (sixth round) and center/guard Travis Swanson (third round). As far as developmental picks go, those could be Lawson (fourth round), defensive end Larry Webster (fourth round) and a likely undrafted free agent. Of course, as is with every draft, the true barometer of how this class fares will be beyond this season, if not longer.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Martin Mayhew has said often the Detroit Lions are going to focus on their board and take who they deem the best player available.

On Thursday night, it left the Lions selecting a player who seemed like a luxury instead of a significant need. On Friday, Detroit came away with two players who could fill major roles potentially early.

Two areas the team was going to handle in the draft was to find a linebacker with pass-rush ability who could be versatile and an eventual replacement for veteran center Dominic Raiola.

[+] EnlargeLions GM Martin Mayhew
AP Photo/Paul Sancya"I certainly didn't mean to let on that I didn't have any confidence in our secondary if I did," Lions GM Martin Mayhew said.
Detroit did by drafting linebacker Kyle Van Noy from BYU in the second round and then offensive lineman Travis Swanson, who can play both guard and center, in the third round. These two picks represent a smart second day of drafting for general manager Martin Mayhew, who took cornerback Darius Slay in the second round and right guard Larry Warford in the third round last season.

They filled those needs then and did again now.

“Like I said a couple of days ago, we just want to keep getting good football players,” Mayhew said. “We want to improve our front seven, our secondary, our offensive line, our receiver corps. We want to keep adding good football players to this football team.

“That's what our goal is.”

It's a goal accomplished Friday with a caveat. As the Lions have filled some of those needs, there is one area that remains empty.

The secondary.

It's a curious decision by Detroit, considering Mayhew and Jim Caldwell have expressed concern about cornerback Chris Houston returning to form while Rashean Mathis climbs toward his mid-30s and the rest of the cornerbacks are unproven or untested. At safety, the Lions have a surefire starter in Glover Quin and another potential starter in James Ihedigbo, but he is also on the wrong side of 30.

After going two days in the draft with no cornerbacks or safeties selected, Mayhew seems unconcerned by this theoretical defensive hole. When asked if not drafting a defensive back meant he has more confidence than previously thought in the secondary, he insisted he does have confidence in a back end that inspired little of it last season.

“I certainly didn't mean to let on that I didn't have any confidence in our secondary if I did,” Mayhew said. “But yeah, as I said to you guys before, it's not about what position these guys play. We want to keep drafting good players. If we do that, we'll have a talented football team.

“Again, going back to last year, like I said to you guys before, we were 15th in points allowed, which is right in the middle of the pack. We were first on third-down defense. I think we were ranked first or second in red zone defense, so I have confidence in our entire defense.”

It didn't seem that way before, but as more of the draft passes by and more and more defensive backs are taken off the board -- nine cornerbacks and six safeties Thursday and Friday -- the Lions better hope that by addressing positions other than the secondary, they are making the right decision.

Otherwise, it might not matter how many good football players they collect at other positions because stopping the pass in the NFC North might be more difficult than ever.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Kyle Van Noy is ready for the reunion. He's ready to line up again behind the player whom he believed in from the beginning -- behind the player he once told if he kept working hard enough, he could be a high draft pick.

The player Van Noy touted back then was Ezekiel Ansah. The two were teammates and sometimes roommates at BYU, where Ansah first played football and learned a lot about the game.

"The first time I met him, I was like, 'Dang, he's big and he has a lot of potential,'" Van Noy said. "I told him he could go really high in the draft if he works really hard and masters his craft. He's got good enough to go to the Lions, and last year, he did pretty well.

"He just has to stay healthy and we'll see him as a Pro Bowler in my opinion.”

[+] EnlargeKyle Van Noy
Boyd Ivey/Icon SMIKyle Van Noy will reunite with former BYU teammate Ezekiel Ansah on the Detroit Lions defense.
Van Noy believed in Ansah then. He still does now -- and they will again be teammates after Van Noy was selected by the Lions in the second round Friday night. And this time, it was Ansah expressing excitement about being reunited with his former roommate, tweeting about the pick and then calling Van Noy to celebrate with him.

When Ansah called, the two started laughing, and then Ansah started calling Van Noy "teammate” again. And his happiness didn't stop there.

"Already texted me and said, ‘Great, can't wait until he gets here,'" defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. "I think those guys, any time you have some people, it'll help Kyle because he's coming into a new situation, that somebody's here to show him the ropes and tell him how it works.

"I think that's always good.”

The Lions, in essence, found Van Noy because of Ansah. When Detroit's staff started scouting Ansah for the 2013 draft, it kept noticing the guy behind him making a lot of plays -- and Van Noy, a junior, was in the midst of his best season, when he had 53 tackles, 22 tackles for loss, 13 sacks, seven pass breakups and two interceptions.

So while the Lions didn't necessarily take major notes on Van Noy then, they definitely remembered who he was when they started scouting this season.

"It was ‘Who is this guy?'" Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said. "We were watching Ziggy and this guy is making all these plays.”

The guy who made all those plays turned into someone Detroit had at or near the top of its board entering the second round. Mayhew was so insistent on grabbing him -- or one of the other three players he said were must-gets entering the second day -- that the Lions started with Houston at pick 33 and kept calling until they found a suitable trade-up partner.

Seattle was willing to make the move, so the Lions were able to get their target and reunited two old friends and teammates along with filling a linebacker need.

"I'm happy where I'm at,” Van Noy said. "I landed at a great spot.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions had a chance to make a bold statement Thursday night, to add to the side of the ball that has been lacking for years. Detroit struggled to reach the quarterback and intercept passes last season.

And with a chance to add a strong piece to their defense, the Lions, with a slew of offensive coaches leading the way, drafted the best tight end on the board instead.

Eric Ebron from North Carolina was the pick and he is a nice player. Let’s get that out of the way. He could be a difference-maker at some point and perhaps take pressure off of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate. But Ebron had issues with drops at North Carolina. And while he was a dynamic tight end -- and truthfully more of a receiver than a tight end -- this feels more like a luxury pick than a pick for a team that needs to fix some problems.

[+] EnlargeEric Ebron
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsEric Ebron caught 62 passes for 973 yards and three touchdowns for North Carolina last season.
Yet he is the player Detroit clearly coveted and general manager Martin Mayhew said he was the No. 2 offensive player on the board after receiver Sammy Watkins.

“He’s a matchup nightmare as a tight end. Gives you something down the field. He’s a route runner,” Mayhew said. “You know, [Joseph] Fauria, he’s good in the red area right now and is working on developing the rest of his game, running routes and things. This guy can run some routes and get open and get separation. [Brandon] Pettigrew can be a blocker and a receiver in the intermediate area.

“This guy can get downfield and make big plays for us. We expect a big impact from him.”

For the Lions to justify going away from picking defense in the first round, he has to.

To pick Ebron, Detroit passed on the best defensive tackle in the draft, Aaron Donald, perhaps the best cover corner in the draft in Darqueze Dennard and the top two safeties in the draft, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor. Mayhew said the Lions didn’t get any massive offers to move down at No. 10, but there didn't seem to be any real effort to trade down out of the pick, either.

When Mayhew was asked if he even considered going defense at No. 10 when the board fell, he referred to the Lions' rankings and that they believe Ebron will help them win games.

“Our defense, we were right in the middle of the pack last year in points allowed, we were 15th. Offense was 13th in points scored,” Mayhew said. “There’s this perception that there’s this huge gap between our offense and our defense, it’s not that big a gap.

“We have got some players on defense that could make some plays for us.”

When the No. 10 pick came, Mayhew said there was not any real debate. Ebron was their top-ranked player at the time, so they took him. After avoiding other glaring needs on the roster in hopes of addressing them in the rest of the draft, Mayhew needs to hope Ebron works out.

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions' front office seems to desperately want to keep Ndamukong Suh in town.

They've said as much since the start of the offseason and indicated he wants to stay, too, even if many of his actions since the team hired Jim Caldwell have indicated otherwise. Suh, after all, is not at voluntary workouts -- something explained away by general manager Martin Mayhew and some teammates as what Suh typically does.

And it is Suh who switched agents and didn't hire another one until right before the start of free agency, meaning the team couldn't negotiate to lower his $22.4 million salary-cap number entering the final year of his contract.

This was all a part of the lead-in to Monday afternoon, when Mayhew addressed rumors about Suh without even being asked a question about the defensive tackle. At his pre-draft news conference, Mayhew said the Lions have no interest in trading Suh, have not engaged in discussions about trading him and that Suh is a part of their plans.

Of course he is a part of their plans. This is a team that wants to win now -- has a mandate to win now. And unless the Lions get a major offer in the next few days, Suh is going to remain in those plans.

Mayhew couldn't really say anything else. If he says the team is trying to trade Suh, he loses leverage with potential partners and also could change the tenor of negotiations with Suh and his agent, Jimmy Sexton.

Mayhew has to say the team isn't interested in trading Suh. But Mayhew, like any general manager, certainly would listen if a team came to him with an offer. He just might not be the one out there pursuing a move.

But don't expect a trade to happen. The Lions have too much invested in their marquee defensive player to not make a concerted run at keeping him in Detroit for the next few years. The bigger question is how much Suh wants to remain a Lion.
 Mike EvansThomas Campbell/USA TODAY SportsIf Mike Evans is available when the Detroit Lions pick at No. 10, Mel Kiper Jr. would select the Texas A&M wide receiver.
Since the end of the 2013 season, when the Detroit Lions once again found themselves in the familiar position of being in the top 10 of an NFL draft, many questions have been asked about what the team will do with the pick.

Could they trade it and try to move up to nab receiver Sammy Watkins? Could they try to trade back to acquire a position of need – perhaps a cornerback – and also to stockpile picks? If they stay at No. 10, what could happen?

Would they draft a wide receiver? Reach for a corner? Take the best defensive player available or best player available (other than a quarterback) period?

With Detroit not in the market for a starting quarterback this season, the Lions have many, many options available to them a month from now when the NFL draft starts at Radio City Music Hall.

And with so many potential scenarios playing out, I gave one to ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. last week. Four names, four different positions, one slot – assuming Detroit stays at No. 10 – available. What does he think the Lions would do if wide receiver Mike Evans, safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Justin Gilbert were all available at No. 10?

This came on the heels of his Grade A draft last week , when he selected defense for the Lions in the first three rounds. He did that, in part, because he doesn’t seem to believe Evans will be available for Detroit at No. 10.

So what does he think Detroit would do if those aforementioned four players were all sitting there for the Lions?

“If Evans, Barr, Clinton-Dix and Gilbert are there, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Kiper Jr. said. “It’s Mike Evans because he’s the highest-rated player, by a pretty good margin now. I always say, if you’re picking at 10, you have to get a guy who is six, seven or eight. He’s number five on the board right now. Five, six on my board, right on the heels of Sammy Watkins as the second-best receiver in this draft and some may even have Evans ahead of Watkins. He’s a big-time talent. He’s a physical freak.

“People say, well, he reminds some of us of Mike Williams, well, yeah, you could make that argument but he’s much more consistent catching the ball and is more explosive. But there’s always going to be that comparison. So I would say Evans.”

The Lions, of course, drafted Mike Williams in 2005 -- the first draft Martin Mayhew was the assistant general manager for. That selection did not work out too well for the Lions, who were hoping to pair Mike Williams with Roy Williams for a dynamic receiver pairing.

Unlike 2005, receiver isn’t as big of a need position since the team signed Golden Tate to be the team’s No. 2 receiver this offseason.

Kiper went on, though, and explained what he thinks the Lions might do if Evans is unavailable at No. 10 – and considering Tampa Bay traded the other receiving Mike Williams (Syracuse-and-still-in-the-NFL variety) to Buffalo – the Bucs are now in desperate need for a receiver and pick ahead of Detroit.

“Clinton-Dix is still the major need. He’s a hot guy right now and is clearly, I think, the consensus best safety,” Kiper said. “So if you want to stretch it a bit and fill a need, I’m not saying they are stretching because their rating may have Clinton-Dix in the top 10, but I would say just on need alone in a division with Aaron Rodgers and [Jay] Cutler and you know Minnesota is going to address the cornerback spot, I would say they may stretch it a bit for Clinton-Dix if Evans was gone at that point.”

This would be a fairly logical selection for Detroit even though the team signed James Ihedigbo to a two-year deal this offseason to play next to Glover Quin. Ihedigbo will be 31 years old by the end of the season, and if the team can pick someone up to be a third safety this year and a starter by 2015, that scenario would put them in a good position in the defensive backfield for the first time in a long time.
The Detroit Lions appear to be falling in love with wide receiver Sammy Watkins and while that is nice, they appear to be entering the same territory they did a decade ago.

Bolster the offense and deal with the defense later on.

[+] EnlargeSammy Watkins
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsSammy Watkins set Orange Bowl records for catches (16) and receiving yards (227).
Considering this is a team that wants to win now, it should be much more cognizant of its other needs instead of making what will likely end up being a large move up to grab a receiver it believes has a bright future.

Especially in this draft, which boasts one of the best receiver groups in recent history and where second- and third-round value at the position is high.

Detroit has too many concerns on the defensive side, from safety to cornerback and even to linebacker and defensive line, to ignore. Going with a wide receiver in the first round -- and even more so, by trading away more draft picks or even a player to do so -- reeks of a team that has not learned its own focused-on-offense lesson from before (Mike Williams over DeMarcus Ware in 2005) and one that hasn’t learned from mistakes other teams have made in the past.

In 2011, Atlanta traded way up in the first round to nab Julio Jones -- a receiver like Watkins who was considered an immediate difference-maker. In return, Cleveland got the Falcons' first-round pick (No. 27), second-round pick, fourth-round pick and Atlanta’s first-rounder and fourth-rounder in 2012.

Atlanta did this, in part, to pair Jones with one of the top receivers in the game: Roddy White. That sound familiar in this case?

So far in his three seasons in the NFL, Jones has been a fantastic receiver, albeit one who has played in every game just once -- in 2012. The Falcons were also a team that had three straight winning records entering the 2011 draft. They had gone 13-3 the season before.

Since drafting Jones, Atlanta has gone 10-6, 13-3 and then 4-12 in 2013. They have not made a Super Bowl. But they were a team with a lot of strong pieces and saw Jones as the difference to reach the championship game they haven't gotten to yet with him.

In 2012, Jacksonville traded up two spots to make sure it grabbed Oklahoma State receiver Justin Blackmon, a player who didn’t have the credentials of Jones or Watkins coming out of college. Blackmon played in four games last season and has yet to hit a 1,000-yard year.

This is just recent history, and we're not even mentioning the Saints giving away the equivalent of a roster (OK, not a whole roster, but a boatload of draft picks) for Ricky Williams.

If you're noticing something familiar, it is this: All of those trades were for offensive skill position players. They worked or didn't to varying degrees, but none of the teams that made the big moves ended up making the Super Bowl with the player they made the move for.

Atlanta still can, but three years is a long window to wait with this Detroit team, for instance.

To get Watkins, the Lions would have to make a similar move up -- but this team is nowhere near one player or two players away from turning the franchise into a Super Bowl contender. They have pieces to be one at some point, maybe even in 2014.

To get there, Detroit needs defensive difference-makers, not another shiny offensive toy for Matthew Stafford to throw to. And this is a team that seems solely focused on winning in 2014, even if it means sacrificing the future for a successful present. And that would seem like why they would be looking to grab Watkins.

Since rumors of Detroit maybe making a move up started, one thing has stuck out. After he was fired, Jim Schwartz discussed on a Nashville radio station how depth was a major problem for the Lions. That there were a lot of talented front-line players there, but when injuries hit, they didn’t have as capable a group of replacements.

That problem hasn’t changed with the Lions, which are star-heavy but have added very little in terms of experienced and talented depth.

Moving up and sacrificing draft picks in a deep draft at multiple positions -- including receiver and cornerback -- doesn't seem to be the correct answer here. It seems to be one of desperation and one of wanting to make the big splash instead of the systematic build Detroit has tried to do in other areas the past few years. Draft for true need with the best player available, something the Lions have done smartly over the past four seasons under general manager Martin Mayhew. And this is a draft where depth can be built both for now and in the future.

Not moving up has little to do with Watkins' ability -- he is likely to become an excellent player in the NFL and could end up as an All-Pro at some point in his career. And if Detroit were a 10- or 11-win team a few years running, this move would make sense.

But the Lions aren't and haven't been, well, ever. If they want to reach that point -- and want to be sustained there -- not making this move would probably end up being the smarter answer.

A week ago, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand said the plan for the team was to win now and that he didn’t have a five-year plan in place.

The five-year plan bit triggered something almost as soon as he said it -- and it popped up again after general manager Martin Mayhew said the team wouldn’t be picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Fairley has been a maddening player for Detroit. He has first-round talent, but has not been able to put any of that together consistently, which appears to be why the Lions have made this decision, especially since keeping him around would have cost $5.5 million in 2015.

Mayhew told reporters this move is to motivate Fairley for this season -- and this is where the five-year plan problem comes in again. Planning, though, has the history of backfiring from time to time. This is what the Lions have to hope doesn't happen now that they are going to take a massive risk on their future in order to win now.

While it is good to be adaptable and flexible, the Lions have now put themselves in a position where there is a chance they could lose both of their starting defensive tackles -- the same tackles they spent first-round picks on in 2010 and 2011 -- at the end of next season. Theoretically, after the threat of possibly losing Ndamukong Suh, they could also lose their top three tackles as C.J. Mosley is also in the final year of his deal.

This puts immense pressure on Detroit to make sure it gets a deal done with Suh, and while the Lions appear confident it will happen -- they could have waited before making a decision on Fairley. Now, if negotiations with Suh aren’t fruitful over the next few months, a defense built solely around a strong front four would be losing its most critical interior pieces.

Those are decisions that can blow up plans for a coaching staff and an organization if they get it wrong.

When it comes to Fairley, this feels like it could mean 2014 is the final season he is in Detroit. If Fairley responds well to this somewhat bizarre motivational tactic, he could then choose to test free agency and see what his market value is. If he doesn't respond, he is gone anyway.

As long as the team retains Suh, they can handle that.

But there is the doomsday for Detroit option in play now. Suh chooses to leave. Fairley plays well and also decides to bolt. And now there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Lions' defensive line that will need to be rebuilt with immense speed.


It goes back to Lewand and the need to win now. This decision backs up his statement of not having a five-year plan and of having immense urgency to win now. Sometimes what makes sense in the short term doesn’t work for the long term and in this case, the Lions need to hope they are right with this decision.

Otherwise a lot more than one player might need to be overhauled.
In the past two days, the Detroit Lions have been given an idea of what the team might see when free agency starts March 11.

And they have had to make no moves of their own to do so.

By Philadelphia re-signing wide receiver Riley Cooper and Baltimore hanging on to tight end Dennis Pitta, two of the positions the Lions will potentially look to the most in free agency, Detroit now has a base of what could be expected.

Cooper signed a five-year, $25 million contract after a breakout season where he caught 47 passes for 835 yards and eight touchdowns. In a deep crop of free agents at his position, Cooper was part of a tier of player that the Lions are likely going to look at to potentially fill a need, so this gives them a market value to work off of.

Pitta’s signing, as first reported by the Baltimore Sun, does more to shape Detroit’s free agency than Cooper’s will. Pitta’s contract will be five years for $32 million, according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter, and it could give an idea of what the Lions’ own comparable tight end in the free agent market, Brandon Pettigrew, might want.

It would be logical to think that Pettigrew would at least seek out a deal similar in value to Pitta and depending how Detroit feels about that situation, could give an early indication whether the team might feel that is worth it to pursue.

Pettigrew actually put together better statistics than Pitta during the overlapping parts of their careers -- Pettigrew has one more year of service than Pitta -- but they are capable of doing similar things. Both are tight ends who are considered dual-purpose, meaning they can block and catch, so that helps set the market even further.

The final piece of this, and perhaps the reason why Pettigrew might end up leaving Detroit, is he might now be the top free-agent tight end. With New Orleans using the franchise tag on Jimmy Graham and the signing of Pitta, Pettigrew and Buffalo's Scott Chandler are now the top free-agent tight ends likely to hit the market in less than two weeks.

That could drive the value for Pettigrew higher than it might have been had Pitta not re-upped with the Ravens.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL combine a week ago that Pettigrew is a priority free agent for the Lions, but like with every move the team makes, everything will be interconnected both with comparative value through the rest of the league and also how it fits with other free agents the Lions are going to try and acquire.
Troy NiklasAP Photo/Michael ConroyTroy Niklas, who worked out at the combine on Saturday, says he's a "prototypical tight end."
INDIANAPOLIS -- Troy Niklas walked off Podium C in Indianapolis on Thursday afternoon, answered one more question and laughed at the proposition of it.

Unlike a lot of tight ends in this NFL draft, the former Notre Dame tight end is a rarity at the NFL combine as opposed to a decade ago, when more players at his position were like him.

Or, as he put it, “last of a dying breed.”

The breed being the tight ends who can both block and catch passes, whose skills aren’t limited to one or the other as an obvious strength/weakness comparison but rather a dual-threat tight end who can do a little bit of everything.

Niklas understands this, too.

“I guess in some senses, I think I’m more of a prototypical tight end,” Niklas said. “One that can really block and one that you can also use in the pass game and be pretty effective.”

Teams want guys who can do both of those things, and the value of players who can do that is high, in part, because of the way tight ends are being coached now versus a decade ago.

“You don’t see many guys who are good at doing both,” Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew said. “But there are guys who can block coming out of college this year and there will be guys in free agency that can block.”

And in many offenses, those players become premium options. In the draft, Niklas is one, as are Austin Seferian-Jenkins from Washington and C.J. Fiedorowicz from Iowa and is a position of potential need for Detroit.

But the position has evolved dramatically over the past 10 years, turning from a definitive spot on the line next to a tackle to potentially lining up anywhere from out wide to the slot, backfield and in the traditional spot next to a tackle on the line.

And a lot of it has to do with the transition of college offense from drop-back passing run-first pro-style and west coast offenses to shotgun, spread, zone-read ones.

The proliferation of spread offenses has often eliminated the use for a traditional tight end, instead turning the position into a mismatched bigger receiver against a linebacker or safety and becoming a headache for more than opponents but those looking to evaluate them as well.

“You don’t see a lot of in-the-line tight ends, true blocking tight ends very often anymore, and when you do, it’s different,” Washington Redskins coach Jay Gruden said. “But there are still some guys that utilize the tight end position in college and those are the guys that you get a good chance to look at.

“But the ones (who don’t), you would have to see how he would fit because he hasn't been asked to do it. No fault of theirs, but it’s a tough position to evaluate right now because of all the spread offenses.”

That is one of the tougher things for coaches, general managers and scouts to decipher over the next few months. Depending on a team’s offensive system, finding a tight end who can both block and pass could be an issue.

Blocking on the line of scrimmage is becoming more of a lost ability for tight ends, who see players like Jimmy Graham and how he is used and end up being utilized in similar ways.

“I think right now people are looking for tight ends to catch more balls,” Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro said. “Than they are to make more blocks.”

So if a team wants a tight end who can line up on the line of scrimmage to be able to run block as well as run routes, it has become somewhat more of a guessing game as to when and if some of the spread offense tight ends will adapt.

“A couple of years ago we were looking at a prospect and we and it took us two years (of film) to see five snaps where he lined up in a two point stance,” said Atlanta Falcons coach Mike Smith. “You have to do some projecting when you’re looking at the tight ends. But I do think it’s an evolving position. It’s changing.

“Offensive coordinators are being very creative in how they align the tight end. He can line up in that fullback position. He can line up as an H back. He can line up in the No. 1 wide receiver position as well.”

How a team views the tight end in their system will often define what type of tight end they are looking for -- more of a specialist or a guy who can do a little bit of everything, just like the modern tight end has turned out to be.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Jim Caldwell didn't want to talk about the future of free agent Brandon Pettigrew in Detroit on Thursday, but a day later, his general manager made the priority of trying to bring Pettigrew back clear.

They would like to do so.

Detroit general manager Martin Mayhew called Pettigrew “definitely” a priority free agent on Friday and while he didn’t rule out using the franchise tag on the tight end, he didn’t seem too high on using it on Pettigrew, either.

“Never say never,” Mayhew said. “You never know how these things are going to go. If we chose to do that, we could create the room to make that happen.”

Mayhew did indicate figuring out a new contract for Ndamukong Suh, currently scheduled to make $22.4 million against the cap in 2014, will not play a role in determining whether the team brings back Pettigrew.

He did say he planned on meeting with Pettigrew's agent at the NFL combine, which is typical when a team expresses interest in one of their own free agents that they would like to bring back.

Pettigrew's value comes from his ability to both catch passes and block, an increasingly rare skill in an era where tight ends in college and in the NFL are more viewed as pass catchers than guys who can both line up on the line of scrimmage and split out wide or in the slot.

Often, players can do one of the two things well, but being able to do both is something that will make him valuable if he ends up hitting free agency next month and doesn't re-sign immediately with Detroit.

“A guy like Pettigrew is well-rounded and can do a lot of different things,” Mayhew said. “At that position, you have to have a guy who can block and a guy who can catch the ball and it’s easier to do with one guy.

“But you can do it with multiple players doing different roles. We look at each one of them on merit on what they can do to help us win football games.”

If Pettigrew doesn't return, the Lions might have to go that route. Joseph Fauria is more of a receiving tight end who can line up outside or in the slot, but isn't as effective as a blocker on the line of scrimmage. Michael Williams was on injured reserve last season but is more of a blocker and never really had a big pass-catching season in college at Alabama.