Back when the Detroit Lions fired Jim Caldwell, general manager Bob Quinn asked if the team Caldwell had was good enough to be better than their 9-7 record in each of the previous seasons. His answer was simple: “Yes.”
While that clearly puts a lot of blame on Caldwell himself, Quinn admitted he also shouldered the blame.
“I definitely could have done a better job,” Quinn said back in January. “Like I said, unless we win every game, I didn’t do my job well enough. So, I’m the first one to stand up and admit that I won’t be perfect, but I think we have more than a competitive team to be competing for championships.”
So heading into a new era with head coach Matt Patricia in tow, Quinn faced a difficult task. A new coach brought a new defensive scheme which meant the roster would be going through some serious turnover in a single offseason. To prevent a big backslide in talent, Quinn would need to nail free agency.
It has only taken two months into the regular season to see that Quinn has completely failed in that endeavor.
Let’s travel back in time to the offseason and see the kind of moves they made.
Added: G Kenny Wiggins, RB LeGarrette Blount, TE Luke Willson, TE Levine Toilolo, G/C Wesley Johnson, QB Matt Cassel
Lost: C Travis Swanson, TE Eric Ebron
Bob Quinn knew that T.J. Lang may not be reliable at this point in his career, and they needed a contingency plan in case the Lions didn’t last a starting left guard in the draft. So he tried to bring in some reinforcements on the interior offensive line. Unfortunately, the results have been downright horrible. Johnson didn’t make the team, and Wiggins has been the worst offensive lineman on the team. His 50.1 PFF grade ranks 65th among guards.
In an effort to overhaul the Lions’ backfield, the Lions signed LeGarrette Blount, a move that proved to be a year late. Quinn picked Blount over Frank Gore, who signed for far less with the Dolphins ($2 million cap hit vs. $1.1 million) and is wildly more successful than Blount has been this year:
Blount: 71 rushes, 182 yards (2.6 YPC)
Gore: 117 rushes, 528 yards (4.5 YPC)
The biggest failure offensively, however, is at tight end. Sending Eric Ebron away was a tough decision that was based on bubbling frustration and tight financials. And while Quinn may have had legitimate reasons to part ways with Ebron, he completely failed to compensate for the loss. Luke Willson, Levine Toilolo and Michael Roberts have combined for 22 catches, 206 yards and three touchdowns in nine games. Ebron, on the other hand, has 39 catches, 463 yards and 9 receiving touchdowns on his own as the Colts’ “backup” tight end. Ebron, by the way, is a $6.5 million cap hit for Indy. He would’ve been responsible for $8.25 million in Detroit had they not cut him.
Added: LB Devon Kennard, LB Christian Jones, DB DeShawn Shead, DT Sylvester Williams, LB Jonathan Freeny, DT Ricky Jean Francois
Lost: CB DJ Hayden, DT Haloti Ngata, LB Tahir Whitehead, LB Brandon Copeland
The Lions’ biggest offseason signing—inking Kennard to a three-year, $17.5 million contract—has been their best move, but even that addition has seen limited results. While Detroit is milking every snap of that signing (Kennard has played in over 95 percent of snaps this year), his production is lacking. He hasn’t had a sack in over a month and his PFF grade of 58.5 is subpar.
Every other signing has been a complete waste. The Lions desperately needed some help at defensive tackle, and their solutions have resulted in Sylvester Williams getting cut—with the Lions having to eat his bulky 1-year, $3.5 million contract—and Ricky Jean Francois getting demoted to just a dozen or so snaps per game.
After reportedly whiffing on Richard Sherman and Malcolm Butler, the Lions’ response to fixing their secondary was to re-sign Nevin Lawson and Tavon Wilson, while adding DB DeShawn Shead. I probably don’t have to remind you what Mitchell Trubisky did to that trio of players on Sunday.
While the players the Lions let go haven’t exactly gone on to excel in their new homes (except Brandon Copeland, who is having a career year with the Jets), the Lions, again, failed to adequately replace them.
The silver lining
After thoroughly depressing you with our trip back in time, here’s where I leave you with something promising. Quinn signed almost all of these players to short-term deals, knowing that they’d likely serve as stopgap replacements while Matt Patricia and Quinn eventually roster build through the draft and the benefit of a full offseason. Remember, Patricia entered free agency just a single month on the job.
In some cases, the Lions have already found their long-term replacements to these failed signings. The Damon Harrison Sr. trade was masterful and has single-handedly made up for the Sly Williams signing. Da’Shawn Hand has helped out, too.
There will be a lot of holes to fill next offseason, but thankfully Detroit likely won’t have to deal with this year’s failures. Sylvester Williams, Jonathan Freeny and Wesley Johnson are already gone. Shead, Willson, Toilolo, Wiggins, Francois, and Blount are all probably going to follow shortly.
Bob Quinn will get his mulligan next year, but he’ll need to do a hell of a lot better.