"Our team will be based on having outstanding depth."
Those were the words of general manager Bob Quinn during his introductory press conference back in January. Since then, that has been his mantra for building the Detroit Lions' roster. A few months later, when speaking with the media at the NFL Combine, Quinn reiterated the importance of depth. "I think the depth really needs to improve, and that's something that I'm going to set out and do in free agency, hopefully." On day two of free agency, Quinn followed through on that promise.
Thursday, the Lions made the signings of Tavon Wilson and Johnson Bademosi official, while reportedly nabbing Stefan Charles and re-signing Tahir Whitehead. All four moves represent the strengthening of the middle of the Lions' roster.
With Wilson and Bademosi specifically, the Lions are carving out specialized talent. Wilson brings raw talent that never fully developed in New England, along with some special teams experience. Bademosi has been touted as one of the best special teamers around.
Bademosi co-led the NFL in total special teams tackles with Cleveland last season with 17. https://t.co/qtdA19ANkC— Eamonn Reynolds (@Eamonn_Reynolds) March 10, 2016
To show how much he values depth, Quinn ended up giving Bademosi a surprisingly big two-year, $4.5 million contract.
The addition of Charles was a particularly savvy addition for the Lions on day two of free agency. Charles is a young talent (27) who has been somewhat productive in a rotational role amongst a talented Bills defense. Just watch him blow up some guy named Dominic Raiola:
Whitehead's return comes with much fanfare and for good reason. Whitehead played a major role for the Lions defense last season, after DeAndre Levy was sidelined for the year and Travis Lewis proved to be an ineffective starter. Whitehead will compete for a starting role, but will also help contribute among special teams.
Quinn's devotion to depth should come as no surprise. The Patriots have always put a high priority on building depth rather than making big splashes in free agency. Take, for example, the conundrum faced by the Patriots in 2015. Darrelle Revis was facing free agency and New England had the option of signing him before he hit the market. The Patriots ended up letting Revis go (he would eventually sign a humongous five-year, $70 million contract with the Jets). With that money saved, the Patriots were able to sign Jabaal Sheard, a rotational defensive end that ended up tallying 8.0 sacks for the Patriots that year. As for the Patriots pass defense, who not only lost Revis but also Brandon Browner, they only dropped one spot in DVOA (12th to 13th) from 2014 to 2015, thanks to the growth of young players.
And while the Patriots failed to reach the Super Bowl in 2015, depth has paved the way to the promise land in the past for New England. Throughout their successful run in the 2000s, the Patriots have been one of the most injured teams in the league. This study from the Boston Globe breaks it down best (AGL stands for Adjusted Games Lost, a measurement of injuries) :
Kacsmar’s AGL data goes back to 2002. During that time, the Patriots have ranked among the bottom 10 teams in the NFL in seven of 13 years. Except for the 2008 season, when Brady was lost for the year and the 11-5 Patriots just missed the playoffs, New England has made the playoffs in every season in which it ranked among the most-injured teams in the league — with Super Bowl victories to their credit in the 2003 season, when they ranked 31st in the NFL in AGL, and 2004, when they ranked 24th.
Of course, having a quarterback like Tom Brady helps to mask roster deficiencies, but depth doesn't hurt either. One has to look no further than Super Bowl XLIX to see the impact of depth, when Malcom Butler -- an undrafted rookie cornerback -- ended up making the game-winning interception.
So while fans may have been urging for Quinn to take a sledgehammer to the roster, Quinn decided to go with a much more subtle method, carving out young, undervalued talent at the bottom of the roster. But with Russell Okung scheduled to visit the team on Friday, Lions fans may end up getting the best of both worlds.