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Analyzing the many Detroit Lions roster questions as the team rebuilds

Will the Lions bring back Kenny Golladay in 2021? That is one of the many questions facing the Lions this offseason. AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

ALLEN PARK, Mich. – It seems like this happens every few years or so. The Detroit Lions, about to change regimes and potentially offensive or defensive styles, have to take a tough look at their roster.

And with a new general manager and new head coach -- complete with a potentially a new staff -- taking over in the next few weeks, the franchise is once again at an inflection point. Let's look at the roster to see what Detroit really has to work with to build a winner.

QUARTERBACK

On the roster now (contract terms for 2021): Matthew Stafford ($9.5 million base; $33 million cap hit; $10 million roster bonus due fifth day of league year; $16 million in dead money); Chase Daniel ($4.3 million base -- $1.5 million fully guaranteed; $5.3 million cap hit; $3 million dead money); David Blough ($850,000 base, $850,000 cap hit).

Who is definitively back for 2021: None.

What decisions do the new GM and head coach need to make: This is an interesting spot. If the Lions choose to use Stafford as a bridge quarterback with a rookie or decide to commit to him long-term, cutting Daniel and absorbing the $3 million in dead money is feasible, particularly if this is being looked at as a big rebuild. Blough is not in the "definitively back" category only in case the Lions choose to keep Stafford and Daniel and find another developmental quarterback, but his salary is very, very manageable.

The big question is Stafford. His dead money is a lot to eat, especially if the Lions are trying to be competitive in 2021. But it’s also manageable enough, particularly if they trade him before the roster bonus kicks in, that if they get the right package and right offer from a team it could make sense to make a move. This is only something Detroit does if it decides to truly start over.

RUNNING BACK

On the roster now: D’Andre Swift ($998,133 base salary; $1,940,663 cap hit; $4,753,844 dead money); Adrian Peterson (unrestricted free agent); Kerryon Johnson ($1,366,869 base salary; $2,069,359 cap hit; $702,490 dead money); Jason Cabinda (FB) (exclusive rights free agent); Nick Bawden (FB) ($920,000 base salary; $941,051 cap hit; $21,051 dead money).

Who is definitively back for 2021: Swift; Cabinda.

Decisions: It would be surprising to see Peterson back with the Lions in 2021 unless the Lions convince him there won’t be much of a rebuild. Nick Bawden probably makes it to training camp, although he hasn’t been able to stay healthy throughout his career.

The big question is Kerryon Johnson. He’s entering the final year of his deal and his contract is manageable. How he was used -- or not used -- was one of the more confounding things of Detroit’s offense this season, so perhaps he gets more of an opportunity with a new staff. He’s another player who would at least make sense to bring into camp, but have challengers for his role.

WIDE RECEIVER

On the roster now: Kenny Golladay (unrestricted free agent); Marvin Jones Jr. (unrestricted free agent); Danny Amendola (unrestricted free agent); Jamal Agnew (unrestricted free agent); Mohamed Sanu (unrestricted free agent); Quintez Cephus ($780,000 base salary; $856,073 cap hit; $228,219 dead money); Geronimo Allison ($990,000 base salary; $987,500 cap hit; $137,500 dead money); Victor Bolden (futures contract); Tom Kennedy (futures contract).

Who is definitively back for 2021: Cephus

Decisions: This is a group in major flux. The main question is Golladay and whether the Lions choose to franchise tag him, sign him to a long-term extension or let him walk. Other than Stafford, that’s one of the first main decisions for the new staff to make.

It makes sense to tag him. Whether it’s Stafford or another quarterback, Golladay is a good player to have and even on the tag, he can be traded so it gives Detroit more options and time. Also sensible is the new regime keeping Golladay long-term. Letting him walk, with only the potential of a compensatory pick if Detroit doesn’t sign enough free agents, isn’t.

It’s tough to see the Lions bringing back Amendola. Jones -- especially if Detroit heads for a rebuild -- can probably get a better deal elsewhere than Detroit is likely to pay. Sanu is intriguing, but also fits in a similar, but less expensive, category as Jones in terms of age.

Agnew is a low-key tough decision because of his ability as a returner, where he’s one of the league’s best. If Detroit believes in his receiver potential, he could be worth the investment. If not, then Agnew feels like a player who could be a good specialty piece on a contender. Bolden and Kennedy are unknowns, largely favored by the old staff.

TIGHT END

On the roster now: T.J. Hockenson ($850,000 base salary – fully guaranteed; $5,580,789 cap hit; $11,712,543 dead money); Jesse James ($4.95 million base; $6.429 million cap hit; $2.858 million dead money); Hunter Bryant ($780,000 base salary; $901,667 cap hit; $6,667 dead money)

Who is definitively back for 2021: Hockenson, Bryant

Decisions: Bryant's combination of skill set, cap hit and age should make him attractive enough to keep through camp. This is a position that’s going to see at least one new face and James, who has never found a big role in Detroit, could end up being a cap casualty cut. It might be best for both sides unless the new regime had definitive plans for him that never came to fruition under Matt Patricia and Darrell Bevell.

OFFENSIVE LINE

On the roster now: LT Taylor Decker ($1 million base salary + $12 million option bonus fully guaranteed; $4.9 million cap hit; $17.25 million dead money); LG Jonah Jackson ($828,035 – base salary; $1,090,176 – cap hit; $786,423 – dead money); C Frank Ragnow ($2,086,383 base salary – fully guaranteed; $3,748,226 cap hit; $3,748,226 dead money); RG Oday Aboushi (unrestricted free agent); RT Tyrell Crosby ($920,000 – base salary; $991,921 – cap hit; $71,921 – dead money): OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai ($9 million base salary – fully guaranteed; $10.4 million cap hit; $14.6 million dead money); OL Joe Dahl ($1.4 million base salary; $1.85 million cap hit; $250,000 dead money; $50,000 roster bonus due fifth day of the league year); OT Matt Nelson (exclusive rights free agent); OT Dan Skipper ($850,000 – base salary; $850,000 – cap hit; $0 dead money); OL Logan Stenberg ($780,000 base salary; $965,411 – cap hit; $556,233 – dead money); OL Russell Bodine ($910,000 base salary; $750,000 cap hit; $0 dead money); OL Evan Brown (futures contract)

Who is definitively back for 2021: Decker; Jackson; Ragnow; Crosby; Vaitai.

Decisions: The biggest issue for the Lions is what to do with Vaitai. It’s cost-prohibitive to move on and it’s not clear what position he’s exactly going to play in 2021, either guard or tackle. Detroit’s most pressing need would be at guard, since Crosby is good enough at right tackle.

The starters seem to be in pretty good shape. Ragnow, Decker and Jackson are pieces to be built around long-term. It’s among the best building Quinn did during his tenure. Dahl is a serviceable backup who can be a starter and Nelson has been a good growth project worth bringing back. A new staff likely means new veteran linemen so Aboushi and Skipper might end up somewhere else. Russell Bodine sat out due to COVID-19 restrictions. A former starter, he could become the veteran presence Detroit needs.

DEFENSIVE LINE

On the roster now: Trey Flowers ($14.375 million – base salary, $10 million fully guaranteed; $19.989 million – cap hit; $21.228 million – dead money); Austin Bryant ($850,000 – base salary; $1,033,158 – cap hit; $366,316 – dead money); Everson Griffen (unrestricted free agent); Romeo Okwara (unrestricted free agent); Julian Okwara ($834,152 – base salary; $1,120,759 – cap hit; $859,821 – dead money); Frank Herron ($850,000 – base salary; $850,000 – cap hit; $0 dead money); John Penisini ($780,000 – base salary; $822,794 – cap hit; $128,382 – dead money); Kevin Strong ($850,000 – base salary; $850,000 – cap hit; $0 dead money); Nick Williams ($4.1 million – base salary; $5.5 million – cap hit; $1 million – dead money); Da’Shawn Hand ($920,000 – base salary; $1,090,491 – cap hit; $170,491 – dead money); Jashon Cornell ($780,000 – base salary; $801,133 – cap hit; $63,399 – dead money); Danny Shelton ($4 million – base salary; $5.25 million – cap hit; $1.25 million – dead money); John Atkins ($850,000 – base salary; $850,000 – cap hit; $0 dead money)

Who is definitively back for 2021: Flowers, Julian Okwara, Penisini, Austin Bryant.

Decisions: This will be very dependent on Detroit’s new defensive scheme. The contracts of Shelton and Williams, both of whom underperformed in 2020, can be gotten out of. Hand is in the final year of his deal and should get to camp, but his health has been a concern for two seasons.

Romeo Okwara should end up getting a good market in free agency. If a team values him more than Detroit, he might very well leave the Lions. Pass rushers have cachet, and at age 25 he still is trending toward his prime. Griffen might not make sense for a Detroit return and he’s openly trying to get back to Minnesota.

LINEBACKER

On the roster now: Jamie Collins Sr. ($8.8 million base salary -- $7 million fully guaranteed; $11,333,333 – cap hit; $11,666,667 – dead money); Jarrad Davis (unrestricted free agent); Christian Jones ($1.26 million – base salary; $2,832,720 – cap hit; $1,092,720 – dead money); Reggie Ragland (unrestricted free agent); Jalen Reeves-Maybin (unrestricted free agent); Jahlani Tavai ($1,071,124 – base salary; $1,880,173 – cap hit; $1,516,898 – dead money); Anthony Pittman (futures contract).

Who is definitively back for 2021: Collins.

Decisions: Jones’ contract can be maneuvered out of if Detroit wants. Reeves-Maybin is a core special teams player, but the Lions have many to choose from.

Tavai is the unknown here depending on what the new scheme is. He’s not a speed linebacker, and he had by all accounts a difficult season in the middle, so the Lions' 2019 second-round pick could be in a tough spot entering Year 3.

CORNERBACK

On the roster now: Desmond Trufant ($9.5 million base salary -- $3.5 million fully guaranteed; $12.5 million – cap hit; $6 million – dead money); Amani Oruwariye ($850,000 – base salary; $930,834 – cap hit; $161,668 – dead money); Justin Coleman ($8.95 million – base salary; $11.029 million – cap hit; $4.058 million – dead money); Jeff Okudah ($780,000 – base salary fully guaranteed; $7,620,119 – cap hit; $27,432,429 – dead money); Darryl Roberts (unrestricted free agent); Mike Ford (restricted free agent); Tony McRae (unrestricted free agent)

Who is definitively back in 2021: Oruwariye, Okudah.

Decisions: The Trufant contract could be hard to get outYu of -- and if Trufant is healthy he can still be a contributor even at his salary. Detroit could also move on from Coleman, but it might depend on the system the Lions are playing.

SAFETY

On the roster now: Duron Harmon (unrestricted free agent); Miles Killebrew (unrestricted free agent); Tracy Walker ($802,000 – base salary; $1,022,497 – cap hit; $220,497 – dead money); Will Harris ($850,000 – base salary; $1,118,061 – cap hit; $476,122 – dead money); C.J. Moore ($850,000 – base salary; $852,334 – cap hit; $2,334 – dead money); Bobby Price ($780,000 – base salary and cap hit); Jalen Elliott (futures contract)

Who is definitively here in 2021: Walker.

Decisions: There could be a decision made on Walker, but he’s still the best of the team’s returning safeties. Harris probably at least makes it to camp, but a new staff isn’t going to be as loyal to him and he hasn’t proven much. Moore is a great special teams player so he could squeeze his way onto the team.4

Of the free agents, Harmon would be a player worth inquiring about re-signing, but he should have offers elsewhere. Killebrew is a well-respected high-level special teams player so he should have a home in Detroit, but it’s not entirely a lock.

SPECIALISTS

On the roster now: Matt Prater (unrestricted free agent); Don Muhlbach (unrestricted free agent); Jack Fox (exclusive rights free agent)

Back definitively in 2021: Fox

Decisions: While Fox is technically a free agent, being an ERFA means he’ll be back in Detroit next year. Don Muhlbach’s future remains year-to-year.

How the Lions handle Prater is interesting. He’s one of the most clutch kickers in NFL history but had a down year. His family has built a life here, so there’s reason for Prater to want to stay, but it might not be his choice, depending on what the new general manager and head coach decide.