OFFSEASON REVIEW: DETROIT LIONS
By Tayyib Abu
As one season ends and another one begins, 32 NFL franchises put 2020 firmly in the rear view mirror and gear up for another tilt at the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The hard work starts here, and for many has already begun; general managers and head coaches are finalising their staff and looking ahead to turning their rosters into potential challengers.
In this series we identify the key components that go into building a winning team, and what each franchise needs to do to be in the mix come the playoffs next January. We continue our team by team offseason review with a look at the Detroit Lions:
Overall, the 2020 season provided misery and frustration for Lions fans. A 5-11 record saw Detroit finish rock bottom of the NFC North. Matt Patrica and GM Bob Quinn were on the hot seat at the start of the season, and their backsides got cooked on Thanksgiving Saturday. That pasting from the Houston Texans signalled the end for the Boston Boys. Frankly, Patricia was on borrowed time. After 2019’s disastrous three-win season, Patricia needed to fix things. Unfortunately, he didn’t. Patricia’s stubbornness and arrogance wore off, and he got fired.
Patricia presided over the worst defense in Lions history. That is a shameful achievement to best the 0-16 team from 2008. Even worse for Patrica, this defense had plenty of ex-Patriots on it that understood his scheme. The defense he coached was atrocious; for the man who took credit for the greatest defensive play-call in Super Bowl history, that is an embarrassment.
It wasn’t all bad, though; TJ Hockenson broke out to become a Pro-Bowl tight-end. The former Iowa man is a bonafide piece for the Lions offense in the short-term. As is the trio of Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson and Pro-Bowl center Franck Ragnow. That triumvirate is the cornerstone of the offensive line; a handy thing to own on the roster when there is a new quarterback in town. On special teams, Jack Fox became a cult-hero as the rookie punter thrilled everyone on Punter’s Paradise.
Apart from that, there wasn’t much else to shout about for Lions fans. Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn embarked on a three-year plan to turn the franchise around; sadly, they’ve left the franchise in tatters. The Lions were lucky to win five games in 2020; that is the bottom line.
It took one 90 minute press conference for Dan Campbell to get the Lions fans back on board. The former Lions player dropped a fiery, ferocious press conference that spoke to all Lions fans’ hearts. ‘The Dude’ needed to relight the fire after so many years of mediocrity. Campbell played a long career in the NFL for several teams; he also became the interim coach of the Miami Dolphins in 2015. Sheila Ford and Chris Spielman will hope that the ex-Saints assistant head coach is the alpha leader of men the Motor City has wanted for 50 years.
Joining Campbell are Aaron Glenn as defensive coordinator and former Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator. Duce Staley arrives from Philadelphia as assistant head coach, while former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell is the quarterback coach. The Lions coaching staff boasts over 70 years of experience in the NFL. That isn’t just a coincidence; the Lions required buy-in from the players. It’s easier for players to do that when the guys in charge went through the same experience as players.
The Lions front office also went through significant changes. Brad Holmes is now the new GM. The former Rams College Scouting director will work alongside NFL front office stalwart John Dorsey. Holmes excelled in his role as head of college scouting in LA. However, he needed the wisdom and knowledge from a veteran like Dorsey. Chris Spielman is also involved in the front office, while rising star Mike Disner will stay under the new administration. Shiela Ford cherry-picked several talented people to work under one roof. It is a far cry from The Only Way is New England method from the previous regime.
Whether there are too many cooks remains to be seen; nevertheless, the Lions were aggressive in approaching candidates and got the people they wanted. That is a positive start. It will take time, like anything. Overall, it feels like Detroit made smart hires in their front office.
State Of The Roster
For the first time in 12 years, there is a new quarterback in Detroit. The blockbuster trade that sent Matthew Stafford to Los Angeles saw Detroit get Jared Goff in return. The California native travels to the Midwest, hoping to resurrect his career. That is one of the crucial roster positions sorted. In Goff, the Lions own a baseline quarterback. Other parts are messier; the wide receiver room sees tumbleweeds travel through it as Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, and Danny Amendola are now free agents. Detroit must address the position. Detroit can franchise tag Golladay if they don’t want to commit long-term.
On the defensive side, there are enormous concerns. Desmond Trufant and Duron Harmon played at an abysmal level. One man occupies the linebacker room, that is Jamie Collins. The rest of the Lions’ linebacker corps is the worst in the NFL. As the Bucs demonstrated in the Super Bowl, dynamic athletes on defense can make the difference at the elite level. The Lions’ front seven lacks athletic playmakers. Outside of John Penisini, Detroit doesn’t possess good tackles, while sack leader Romeo Okwara is also out of contract. The defensive side of the ball needs a massive overhaul.
Salary Cap & Cut Candidates
Detroit is not in bad shape regarding the salary cap. The world still doesn’t know what the cap ceiling will be. $180 million is the salary floor; the protracted TV rights deal leaves teams in limbo regarding the salary cap. Nevertheless, Detroit will carry over around $12 million in cap space. That can get massaged into a higher number if the Lions can cut several veteran players from the roster.
Desmond Trufant’s services are not required any more; he came in as a Patricia fit; sadly, the former Falcon flopped. His struggles with injury and lousy play will see him go. That is the same for Jesse James. The former Steeler has endured three miserable years in Detroit as he displayed magnificent ability not to catch anything. Justin Coleman, Nick Williams, Chase Daniel, and Christian Jones are all cut candidates. If all of these players get cut, the Lions could save around $23 million. That is is a decent place to be when the team is in a rebuild.
There are 18 unrestricted free agents for the Lions to deal with; the top priorities are Kenny Golladay and Romeo Okwara. Only one of these players can get the franchise tag if negotiations bog down. Golladay is a number one wideout; he is a contested-catch machine. On the other hand, Golladay is injury-prone and may lack that superstar skill. The up-coming draft boasts an absurd amount of depth at the wideout positions.
The other big free agent for Detroit to re-sign is Romeo Okwara. The Notre Dame alum broke out with a good season as he notched 9.5 sacks. The Lions’ anaemic defense requires plenty of help. A speed rusher like Okwara must stay. Okwara’s on-the-cap value is $12 million dollars, whereas Golladay’s was as high as $18 million before his stock plummeted as he sat out the rest of the year.
As for the 16 other free agents, many of them are in limbo. Duron Harmon, Everson Griffen, Reggie Ragland and Danny Amendola are all veteran players who may not want to play for a rebuilding team. Simultaneously, depth players such as Darryl Roberts and Tony McCrae are not worth bringing back. Detroit can use good veteran players as bridges and mentors to the newer players; however, that does need to get balance with on-field production.
There are needs all over the field for the Detroit Lions. They need wide receivers, defensive tackles, edge rushers, linebacker and defensive backs. The team can’t do that in one offseason. There are too many holes to fill. The Lions front office must transform this team from a stodgy, slow, unathletic team to a side that can play in the modern NFL. They’re starting to assemble the draft capital for future drafts; this year, they must execute to the best of their ability. Detroit only has five picks as it stands, that won’t change the team overnight, but it can lay the foundation for building on.
TAYYIB IS AN AVID NFL FAN AND, AS A FOLLOWER OF THE DETROIT LIONS, IS A PERMANENT RESIDENT IN THE HONOLULU BLUE HEARTBREAK HOTEL. WRITING FOOTBALL ARTICLES SINCE 2019, TAYYIB LOVES EVERYTHING ABOUT THE SPORT EXCEPT THAT WINS ARE NOT A QB STAT. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @TAYYIBABU