November 5, 2015 was a monumental day for the Detroit Lions. That was the day the team fired Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand, officially killing off the final remnants of the Matt Millen era. The Lions had been a poorly-managed train wreck for years before Millen took over. But the team truly went to the depths of hell from 2001 to 2015. While there were some good moments, they were always fleeting.
When the Lions hired former New England Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn in January, we truly didn’t know what to expect. The early thoughts were that the Lions were going to live by this “Patriots Way” motto and completely change the direction of the team to model after what Bill Belichick and company have done in Foxborough.
I personally believe that with that in mind, many Lions fans assumed the team would either jump head first into immediate success or become the next team to fail to apply what’s happened in New England to another team. What’s happened so far is neither.
The Lions didn’t immediately jump into Super Bowl contender-ship. They didn’t go out and win the division or do anything spectacular. In fact, since Quinn and Rod Wood have come to town, the Lions have only been to the postseason once in 2016.
What could be perceived as failure early on looks like something completely different now. I think the thing with Lions fans is that they—and I’m include myself in here—have never truly seen what it looks like to see a football team start a journey to improve from near the bottom up before. We’ve always seen a middling team swing for the fences and miss embarrassingly.
But that’s what’s happened. That what’s happening. Under Quinn, the Lions have not tried to swing for the fence. They’ve consistently worked to get on base. While that’s a slower and less flashy way to win, it’s still a time-tested way to succeed.
The Lions have played the long game by drafting talented players that have come in and either started immediately or found a role and stuck to it. Sure there’s been misses like Teez Tabor, but when you look at the 11 that the Lions put out on the field in both phases, there are Bob Quinn draft picks everywhere.
Throw in the players that have been brought in through trades and free agency and you get this Lions defense that’s been balling out for the first four weeks of the season. You even get some nice little role players like J.D. McKissic.
I’m not going to say Quinn hasn’t made mistakes, and it’s more than just one bad draft pick. There have been a few different occasions when Quinn got locked into a position or an ideal of what he wants and tunnel visioned on that need, ignoring everything else. That’s how you end up with last year’s tight end corps.
All of this work is leading to something. You’re really starting to see that work pay off this season. For the first time in a long time—maybe ever, if we’re being honest—the Lions look like a team that cannot only hang with anyone, but beat anyone too.
The guys in the locker room believe that more than anyone. I’ve noticed at camp, and I’ve noticed in the locker room. The mood and the culture has changed completely. It’s hard to fully explain. It’s not a misguided cockiness that you look at and shake your head at. It’s a belief that they’re good and they’re going to show you that they’re good.
That’s what happened on Sunday. That’s what’s happened this season. The Lions have gone into every game with something to prove. They’ve beaten two 2018 playoff teams and took a Super Bowl favorite to the thinnest of wires.
Going into a stretch that usually looks really daunting, the Lions feel like a team that’s got this. You believe they can go out to Lambeau and win. You believe they can welcome Minnesota to Ford Field and win that game too. You can look at the Lions’ entire schedule and see the Lions path to not only win a bunch of games, but maybe even host that elusive home playoff game.
I think the Lions are a team that’s ready to potentially win the division this year. As I mentioned in Sunday's “What Just Happened?” it’s actually time to start expecting the Lions to do some big things and hold them to those expectations.
But still—and here’s where people might get upset—the Lions have not fully arrived yet. That’s why the title of this article is “The Lions are finally on the path” instead of “The Lions are ready.” They’re not fully ready yet.
That doesn’t mean they’re good. It means they still have another year, maybe two before they hit their peak. This team could contend for a home playoff game and even a postseason win this year, but I don’t see them as championship caliber quite yet.
The Lions keep on building up and have found themselves in a place where they keep putting themselves in a position to add good talent without losing good talent. Looking forward to next year’s free agency, and the best player the Lions could lose is probably Graham Glasgow. The Lions will mostly likely pay the man and that’s not going to be a contract that breaks them.
They’re expected right now to have just over $47 million to spend next year according to Spotrac. That’s not a little bit of money. While it will be on the low end of the league spectrum, the Indianapolis Colts are pretty good proof that having more money than any other team doesn’t mean players are going to sign with you. The Lions can still get big talent to come to town with that money.
Throw in another good draft for Quinn and the scouting department, and you have a team that’s theoretically better than the team that just beat two playoff teams and nearly beat the Chiefs. That’s a pretty good football team.
The Lions are finally in a good place right now. Only time to will tell if any of this leads to the promised land. But it’s undeniable that this team is on a good path. As fans, all you can do is sit back and enjoy the ride.