Lions entering their biggest rebuild since drafting Stafford
By LARRY LAGE
DETROIT (AP) The previous time the Detroit Lions went into an offseason with a rebuilding project this large, they were coming off a winless season and drafted quarterback Matthew Stafford with the No. 1 overall pick in 2009.
Detroit's new general manager and coach will have to decide if Stafford is part of their plans to retool a franchise in desperate need of major changes after losing 33 games in three seasons.
Stafford has two years left on his $135 million, five-year deal, but the new leaders of the Lions may opt to reshape the roster by trading him to acquire more draft picks.
And Stafford may simply say he's ready to move on from the Motor City.
"There's a lot to discuss," he acknowledged after the season ended with a 37-35 loss to Minnesota. "I'll obviously keep that between my family and I and all that, but we'll figure it out at some other date I'm sure."
Stafford surpassed the 45,000-yard mark for passing Sunday in his 165th game, the fewest games an NFL player has had to reach that number, and he threw three for three scores against the Vikings to raise his career total to 282 touchdowns.
Like many of Stafford's statistics, they were marred by a loss as the team dropped to 5-11 this season and he fell to 74-89-1 in the regular season as a starter.
Detroit drafted the strong-armed Stafford with the hopes he could help the franchise have playoff success. But he went 0-3 in the 2011, 2014 and 2016 postseasons.
Offensive tackle Taylor Decker, who signed a six-year, $85 million deal just before last season started, said Monday he planned to lobby Lions President Rod Wood to keep Stafford as a teammate.
"I would love to keep protecting his blindside," Decker said.
LEADERS OF LIONS
The franchise's top priorities this offseason are to hire a general manager and coach to replace Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia after both were fired f ive-plus weeks ago.
San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh is interviewing with the Lions later this week and he is also talking with Atlanta and Jacksonville about their head coaching job, according to 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy plans to interview with the Lions among other teams, a person familiar with his plans told the AP on condition of anonymity because he has not made his plans public.
Chris Spielman, who has ties throughout the league as a former Lions linebacker and TV analyst, is playing a key role in the searches as a special assistant.
The Lions have needs at every position group on defense after setting franchise records by allowing 519 points and 6,716 yards, breaking marks set by their winless team in 2008 and ranking among the worst ever in the league.
"The talent is here," insisted safety Duron Harmon, one of the many ex-Patriots that Quinn and Patricia acquired. "Injuries were tough on us this year. We never had a fully healthy team."
Even though receiver Kenny Golladay played in just five games during the 2020 season, the Lions can't afford to let him get away in free agency. Detroit drafted him in the third round four years ago and he led the league in receiving touchdowns in 2019.
The Lions likely won't be able to afford to keep veteran receiver Marvin Jones, who had nine touchdown receptions for the second straight season, a career-high 76 receptions and nearly 1,000 yards receiving to improve his value on the market as a free agent.
Detroit will have the No. 7 pick in the draft and it needs help at every position, giving the team a lot of options in April. And it desperately needs 2021 picks to pan out.
The Lions took Jeff Okudah last year No. 3 overall, becoming the first team in more than two decades to draft a cornerback that high. Okudah struggled with only one interception in nine games before needing season-ending groin surgery in mid-December.
"I don't want to make any excuses," he said. "If you're out there on Sunday, you're good enough to go."
Looking back, the team probably would have been better served by selecting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert instead of a highly touted cornerback.
Okudah said he will be motivated to validate his place in the draft for the people who believed he was worth selecting as high as he was last year.
AP Sports Writer Dave Skretta contributed to this report.
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Updated January 4, 2021