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Detroit Lions free agency: What’s with all the old running backs?

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Trying to understand why the Lions are exclusively bringing in older running backs.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Things have been going fast since the legal tampering period began at noon on Monday. Players are signing with new teams left and right. The Lions got in on the action with their signings of linebackers Devon Kennard and Christian Jones. They’ve even made splashes in the re-signing game by bringing back Kerry Hyder, Tavon Wilson and Nevin Lawson. All players here are expected to be starters in 2018.

The Lions aren’t done yet. I’m sure they’ll make some more moves on Wednesday and going forward. There’s one position that remains on the top of many Lions fans’ minds, and that’s running back. What are the Lions going to do to fix the 32nd ranked rushing attack? Well, this week we’ve got a little insight into what their plan may be.

Back in January, Bob Quinn said in a press conference that he...

It’s was clear early on that Bob sees the error of his ways on this front. Bob regrets not adding a running back in the 2017 offseason, and he’s clearly looking to fix that mistake this year, but he may be doing it in a way that nobody expected.

There’s a lot of running backs that hit free agency this week that many Lions fans were hoping the team would target. Carlos Hyde, Orleans Darkwa, Isaiah Crowell and Dion Lewis are the first that obviously come to mind. Le’Veon Bell was even a fun pipe dream at one point in time. But as of Tuesday night, the Lions have shown no interest in any of those guys and with the exception ofr Darkwa, they’ve all been picked up.

The Lions have shown an interest in a very specific kind of back: the veteran back—particularly guys that are in their 30s. The Lions have reportedly already met with Jonathan Stewart and DeMarco Murray. And late Tuesday night, Frank Gore joined the party.

What is going on? The Lions need—and I say Need with capital N—a running back that can help transform this run game. So why are they going after the old guys? Well, there’s a reason here, and while you might hate it now, you’ll likely love it in September.

The Lions have tried over and over again to draft a running back, hoping that they will finally help transform the team’s running game. That’s a plan that has worked for other teams, but it never seems to work for the Lions. So why keep doing just that?

I’m not saying don’t draft a running back. Bob Quinn absolutely has to do that... and he will, likely within the first three rounds of the NFL draft in April. But in the meantime, why leave that rookie holding the bag by himself? The Lions need a guy that can play right now. The Lions need a guy that has a proven track record of running the ball in the NFL.

The three veterans that the Lions have brought in have just that. All three guys have gone over 1,000 yards in their career, and all three guys have continued to run the ball with some success throughout the course of their careers—even in 2017.

I think it’s important to realize that there’s a plan here to grab two new running backs and have a committee in the backfield. With Theo Riddick and maybe Ameer Abdullah on the roster already, a veteran addition would do wonders to take a ton of pressure of a rookie running back’s shoulders. He can just go out and play his game.

The Lions could very well start the veteran at the beginning of the season and then have him relinquish that role more and more as the season goes on. The Lions might find themselves a stud and then have an embarrassment of riches in the backfield on Day 1. We’ll have to wait and see.

If this is the Lions’ plan, this is smart way to go. If the Lions bring in one of these guys, you have to be expecting that they are not going to be the starting running back forever, and they’re likely going to be on a short-term deal that doesn’t cost big time running back money.

Lastly, I’ll say this. If the Lions do get one of these guys to sign, hope that it’s Frank Gore. The man is a machine. He’s 34, yet that has not stopped running the ball with great success. Gore ran for 961 yards and three touchdowns in 2017. Imagine if the Lions had at least that in 2017. Gore isn’t a flash in the pan either. He’s ran for over 800 yards for 12 straight years.

We’ll see what happens on Wednesday. If there’s one thing to know about free agency, it’s that things don’t always happen according to plan, and sometimes you have to adjust the plan. Buckle up, Lions fans, this ride could get bumpy.