And now, there are indications from all over — including this follow-up report from Birkett — that the Lions' interest in Watkins is very much mutual.
There are several layers to this story.
First, Lions fans bristle at the mention, but history has a seat at this table. The team has hit the entire spectrum at drafting receivers high, with Johnson the lone high note (albeit one of the best high notes ever), middling Roy Williams (who produced one big season in Detroit then netted a draft haul from Dallas), plus all-time flops such as Charles Rogers and Mike Williams. But even the team's recent second-round swings, Titus Young and Ryan Broyles, have been misses.
Second, is Watkins really even that needed? He's great — no arguing that. But with Tate on board and this being such a deep class of wideouts, would Watkins be something of a luxury pick? Clearly, the team wants as much of a sure-thing pick as possible, and there's little doubt they are doing everything they can to help out Matthew Stafford be the best he could be. Adding another prime target would only be the latest move toward that end, and it would give new coordinator Joe Lombardi a Saints-like attack in terms of diversity and talent. The upside of the deal from that perspective is fairly obvious.
But, third, there's the cost. Consider: This was a flawed team last season that blew leads late. It had problems on all three levels of the defense, ones that only partially have been addressed this offseason. The Lions appear to want to let their young corners figure things out and develop, but that's not a position of certainty. Neither is safety. There is an outside linebacker spot open. Another pass rusher is needed.
So would trading up and giving up multiple picks be the best option?
Let's explore what it might cost the Lions. Here's a look at the draft trades the past two years involving picks inside the top 10:
|Draft year||Highest number pick (overall) traded||Team receiving highest pick||Picks traded in return (all same year unless noted)||Other trade team|
|2012||2||Redskins||6, 39, first-rounders in 2013, 2014||Rams|
|2012||3||Browns||4, 118, 139, 211||Vikings|
|2013||8, 71||Rams||16, 46, 78, 222||Bills|
(FYI: I only included trades involving the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts because I believe that the pre-CBA ramifications of the 2011 NFL draft changed the value dynamic that year that doesn't apply now.)
In order to move up to assure they land Watkins, the Lions likely would have to make a deal up to the 2nd overall pick with the Rams, who — as this chart clearly shows — are willing dealers. They have made more significant draft-related trades than any other team the past few years. Would they move all the way down to No. 10? With myriad needs (receiver, offensive tackle, safety and linebacker, for starters), the Rams just might, and it still would give them two picks inside the top 13 (they netted the No. 2 overall pick in that 2012 trade with the Redskins listed above). But then again, maybe they have eyes for Watkins, or one of the top offensive tackles. That's the leverage the Rams and GM Les Snead could use against the Lions in order to raise their price in return.
So of these trades above, we probably can throw out the Rams-Redskins deal — there's no way the Lions would give up that kind of insane bounty, and with no franchise QB as bait, the price drops precipitously. That one is out.
But if we look at the deals involving the Cowboys and Rams and Dolphins and Raiders, we might have a decent starting point for the Rams and Lions this year. The Lions have eight draft picks this year — Nos. 10, 45, 76, 111, 133, 136, 189 and 227 overall. Picks 133 and 136 are compensatory choices and can't be traded.
Would the Rams take 10 and 45 straight up for No. 2 overall? Would the Lions be willing to give that up? There would be a long wait for the Lions between Watkins and the mid-third-round choice at 76, but such would be the cost of doing business. And the Rams might say, "Hey, give us 111, too" or perhaps a 2015 pick. That might be their counter.
If you're Lions GM Martin Mayhew, Watkins is your guy and you're trying to convince beat-up Lions fans that you should be kept in your current position, do you throw in 111 as the sweetener to make the deal happen, knowing you have those two compensatory picks in your back pocket?
It's a deep draft, and it certainly would be tempting. But that would also put the onus on the Lions finding, let's say, a safety, a pass rusher and one more front-seven player in Rounds 3 and 4. Can it be done? Sure. Some defensive gems — Tyrann Mathieu and Logan Ryan — will slip into that range, and this is considered a talent-richer crop than the past few years. The Lions themselves also struck gold in Round 3 a year ago, selecting guard Larry Warford, who could anchor the interior of the offensive line for years.
The Lions' secret fear might be not making a deal for Watkins, and then also missing out on a pretty good consolation prize in Texas A&M's Mike Evans. What if he goes 5th to the Raiders, 7th to Tampa Bay or 9th to the Bills? He could fit on any of those rosters.
This is the Lions' dilemma. It has many layers. This will not be an easy decision. And as Lions fans surely know, nothing ever seems easy for their team.
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