Every week, we try to answer some of your questions in a Lions mailbag. To ask a question for a future mailbag, use the hashtag #LionsMailbag on Twitter or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, on to this week’s questions.
Could you compare Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel and give your opinion to who would fit better with the lions? #LionsMailbag— Fayez AliAhmad (@TheRealSugar99) January 11, 2018
Fayez, this is a question I’ve received from several people this week, so I’ll give a shot at answering since it would appear that Matt Patricia and Mike Vrabel are the top two candidates for this job. And this answer comes mostly from research and from chatting with people about both candidates.
Both appear ready to be head coaches, so let’s start there. And in the right situations, both have the chance to be successful. Patricia has more coaching experience than Vrabel. Vrabel has a better understanding of what it is like to be an NFL player, having done it for a decade. They both have at least some sort of familiarity with general manager Bob Quinn, although it’s fair to think Patricia has more, as he had been around the Patriots longer and was in a coaching role instead of a playing one.
Patricia’s experience as a coordinator -- and his defenses holding teams to 19.2 points per game during his tenure as New England’s defensive coordinator have been impressive (even if the yards per game have been fairly average). There’s also no question about his intelligence and how he has helped the Patriots during his time there both from an innovation standpoint and a coaching one.
While Vrabel’s coaching experience is not extensive, he’s clearly thought of highly. And it is tougher to judge him because he only had one season as a coordinator, a year where he lost his two best playmakers and Houston also lost its starting quarterback, Deshaun Watson. All of that led to the Texans allowing a league-worst 25.38 points per game.
On Vrabel, in this story on the MMQB earlier this month, he talked about the importance of versatility in a player and preparation, and it should sound familiar. It’s basically how the Patriots -- and Quinn -- view things.
The truth is every candidate is an unknown to some extent. Patricia and Vrabel have not been head coaches before. Pat Shurmur has been a head coach, but he failed, as so many other coaches have in Cleveland. So while it’s important for the Lions to make a good hire, it won’t be clear whether it was the right hire for at least a year.
The Lions may soon have an ownership issue given Martha Ford's age. Do you think that is a concern for the head coaching candidates or is her succession plan clear? #LionsMailbag— Michael Lewis (@malewie) January 12, 2018
Michael, this is a very reasonable question, and one I asked at Quinn’s news conference on Jan. 1. The Lions have kept the ownership succession plans a secret since Martha Ford took ownership of the club following William Clay Ford Sr.’s death in March 2014. Whenever I’ve asked this question to people in leadership -- be it Quinn, team president Rod Wood or even the team’s public relations department, I’ve gotten variations of the same answer: There’s a plan. They know what it is. No, they have no interest in making it public.
Yet when I asked Quinn about whether or not he would have to explain the succession plan to head coaching candidates, he said, “Haven’t thought of it.” If I were a head coach candidate, I would want to know what it was going in, mostly because, while she’s been active in the organization and at almost every game since taking over ownership of the club, she is still 92 years old. Do I think it will be a concern for candidates? Not really, because if you win, you’re fine. If you lose, you’re not fine. That doesn't matter who the owner is. But if I were a candidate, it would be something I would want to know.
I’ve received this question a bunch as well this week. The short answer is at this point, I can’t see the Lions jumping up the needed spots to take Saquon Barkley. It’s very early to guess this, but to even have a shot, the Lions might have to move into the top five and I don’t know if that would make sense, especially considering there are other very talented running backs in this class.
Plus, Detroit also needs to address the pass rush and the front seven, an issue that in my opinion is a bigger problem than the running back, depending what happens with Ezekiel Ansah. So if the Lions had a shot at a player like Georgia’s Roquan Smith, that would make more sense to me. So would a lineman such as Michigan’s Maurice Hurst or Washington’s Vita Vea.
The Lions are going to add at least one running back this offseason and free agency might change the view here, but moving up the spots necessary to get Barkley might be a bit too much. Think of guys like Nick Chubb, Bryce Love or Derrius Guice as potential players that could work for the Lions.
Before any of this, though, the Lions need to hire a head coach.
Khaleb asks via email: Michael, Do you think Bob Quinn tries to get Le’Veon Bell? The Steelers have tagged him twice now. Do you think he’d give any other teams a look? Especially one that is in the state of his alma mater, MSU?
Do I think the Lions will try if Bell hits the open market? Sure, why not? I’d at least inquire. And Detroit will have a lot of money to spend. But the Lions also have to figure out if Bell will fit their offensive scheme (although, in reality, he should fit any scheme) and if they want to pay that much money for him. That said, there’s a long way to go before Bell hits unrestricted free agency. He can still work out a long-term deal with the Steelers and there’s always the chance for the franchise tag -- although Bell has made it clear to colleague Jeremy Fowler that he doesn’t want that.