They may be on the hot seat, but ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said taking Tua Tagovailoa in April's NFL draft could buy Detroit Lions coach Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn more time heading into what most consider a make-or-break season.
"In terms of Tua and the Lions, and I agree they need to win and all that, and that's important," Kiper said in a teleconference Wednesday. "Tua, if you drafted him, that would send a message to ownership to say, 'Hey, we got a quarterback now who could be the heir apparent to Matt (Stafford).'"
Kiper gave Tagovailoa to the Lions in his latest mock draft, published this week, defying conventional wisdom that has the team taking a defensive playmaker with the third overall pick.
He is one of the top quarterback prospects to come out of college since the Lions took Stafford with the first pick of the 2009 draft, but his stock is clouded by questions about his health.
Tagovailoa fractured and dislocated a hip in November that will keep him from working out at next week's NFL combine -- he hopes to work out for teams later this spring -- and he underwent surgery on both ankles during his time at Alabama.
The Lions have Stafford, 32, under contract for three more seasons, but he missed eight games with a back injury last year and has yet to win a playoff game in his 11-year career.
Kiper said the Lions could draft Tagovailoa and have him sit out this season, or look to trade Stafford despite the sizable cap hit (up to $31.5 million) the team would incur.
"Matt's had an outstanding career, coming off an injury," Kiper said. "There's a trade possibility there with the money involved. I'd say you could redshirt Tua, which may be the best, a medical redshirt for that one year, maybe the best scenario for him moving forward for his career, and to benefit him moving forward."
A more realistic possibility is that Quinn and Patricia, who were given a win-now mandate by ownership late in the disappointing 3-12-1 season, stick with Stafford and trade the No. 3 pick to one of the more quarterback-needy teams picking in the top half of the first round.
The Miami Dolphins at No. 5, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 6), Carolina Panthers (No. 7) and Las Vegas Raiders (Nos. 12 and 19) are trade-up candidates, and the Lions still should be able to land a top defensive player if they stay in the top 12.