Matthew Stafford’s monster, record-breaking contract is signed and the biggest task of general manager Bob Quinn’s tenure is complete. Locking up the team’s franchise quarterback until 2022 was a massive priority, and it’s done with a week to go before the regular season.
But paying Stafford $135 million, should he finish out the length of the deal, isn’t the only thing the Detroit Lions have to do.
“There’s more money to go around,” Quinn said. “It’s my job and the scouting department’s job and the contract people’s job to make everything fit and field the most competitive team we can and I think making this contract and doing this contract with Matthew and his representatives was one step into a long process that we’re building and we still have more room to grow.”
With Stafford locked in with Detroit for the long-term, here are some areas the franchise has to focus on next.
1. Ezekiel Ansah’s contract: Stafford’s deal does a lot in regards to Detroit’s negotiating power with the defensive end. The franchise tag, which surely would have been used on Stafford had a deal not come about, is available and the likely scenario. That Ansah has been on the physically unable to perform list the entirety of training camp is a concern, particularly considering his injury history.
This is somewhat of a prove-it year for Ansah in terms of getting a big contract. If he stays healthy and has a year of production similar to his Pro Bowl season in 2015, it’s a no-brainer. A season like last year — with injuries and limited production — and the Lions have a big decision to make. The good news is Quinn said Tuesday that he expects Ansah to be ready for Week 1.
2. Finding a defensive lineman: The Lions have been decimated by injuries on the defensive line (Kerry Hyder, Jordan Hill, hybrid linebacker Brandon Copeland) and have two players facing suspensions (end Armonty Bryant and tackle Khyri Thornton).
The defensive line is by far the biggest weakness on Detroit’s roster. Could Quinn ride it out with the rookies he has backing up Ansah, along with Cornelius Washington and Anthony Zettel? Sure, but that’s a big risk on a team where there is a bunch of depth in other spots. The better bet is someone is brought in, either by trade or signing, to help out. It’s an issue that needs solving. Soon. Quinn said he’s been working on scouting — as expected — so this could be an area to watch. While he wasn’t speaking specifically about defensive line, it has to be a focus for the Lions. Quinn acknowledged the suspensions of Bryant and Thornton altered their plans for the position “to a small degree.”
“We have a lot of work to do,” Quinn said. “We’ve put a lot of time into all the other preseason games and watching all the guys that we think may be available at every position because we never know when an injury is going to pop up at any position. So we have some work to do. We’re doing that as we speak and doing that into the weekend and have to make some roster moves come Saturday and Sunday, we’re prepared to do that.”
3. What to do about Travis Swanson, Nevin Lawson and Matt Prater: Now that Stafford’s deal is done and Glover Quin is extended, Quinn can figure out whether or not those three key contributors — all in contract years — will make sense for his long-term plan.
All three offer an upside. Prater is one of the most clutch kickers in the NFL. Swanson, before a concussion ended his 2016 season, was one of the better centers in the NFC and is one of the leaders of the offensive line. Lawson is an underrated second cornerback, as all the attention goes to Darius Slay. They are the next three in line for potential contract extensions.
4. Jim Caldwell: He’s in the final year of his deal and there’s no indication he’s going to get an extension. That means a decision is going to have to come at some point — likely at the end of the season — about his future. Considering what Detroit gave Stafford and the rapport he’s built with offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter, quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan and Caldwell, perhaps that has an influence on what Detroit does with its head coach.
If the Lions bottom out this year, it would be surprising to see Caldwell return. But if he has Detroit competitive again and at least makes the playoffs, the Lions will have to decide if they believe Caldwell is the guy to take them to steps they’ve only reached once in the Super Bowl era (winning a playoff game, reaching at least the conference finals). Caldwell, as expected, deflected questions about his future with the club Tuesday.
5. Actual games: A week from now, rosters will be a bit more solidified — although there is always movement — and game-week prep will begin for everyone. How the Lions do this season could be determined by everything mentioned above.