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The Detroit Lions are suffering from Smartest Guy in the Room Syndrome

The Lions are their own worst enemies, but not in their own opinion.

Detroit Lions Introduce Matt Patricia Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

January 8, 2016.

That was supposed to be a date that changed everything for the Detroit Lions. Leading up to that date the Lions, with help from the NFL, brought in former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi to assist the team find its new general manager. The Lions interviewed plenty of candidates including (now) Browns assistant GM Eliot Wolf, Giants assistant GM Kevin Abrams and their own interim GM Sheldon White before deciding to go with the Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn.

Quinn came to Detroit with a solid reputation. He was a smart guy that many believed would help right the ship and finally help this team bring home a Super Bowl. At the very least, Quinn could take his years of experience evaluating personnel and bring the talent necessary to this organization to make them a perennial playoff team. That was January of 2016.

Here were are now in November of 2019—57 games into Quinn’s reign at GM—and the Lions are 27-29-1 under Quinn’s watch. Quinn has one more win than Martin Mayhew had in his final 57 games as the Lions GM. Mayhew got fired by the Lions because 26 wins in 57 games wasn’t good enough.

To be fair, Mayhew was in charge of the Lions for more than 57 games and was 47-81 during that time. He deserved to be fired. But are the Lions any better off than they were under Mayhew? Right now, it’s hard to definitively say yes. Quinn will likely be afforded the time to turn things around, but things aren’t currently promising.

So what happened? What has gone wrong with this team? Right now, the blame is being spread around. Matt Patricia looks like he’s in over his head. He’s 9-15-1 as the Lions head coach. There’s defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni, who is running the NFL’s 31st ranked defense right now. Obviously specific players are also shouldering some of the blame.

But none of those coaches are here without Bob Quinn. Most of the players aren’t either. It was Bob Quinn that came in and fired the team's head coach after back-to-back winning seasons so he could hire his friend and former co-worker Patricia.

It was Quinn who drafted Taylor Decker, Teez Tabor, Jarrad Davis, Michael Roberts and others who have not lived up to their billing. As a matter of fact, when you take Frank Ragnow, Kenny Golladay and A’Shawn Robinson out of the equation, Quinn’s drafts look really bad right now: A lot of injuries and a lot of players that fizzled out far too early.

There are so many things wrong with this team under Quinn. The draft picks are failing, the head coach is failing, mistakes keep piling up, communication between the team and the players seems to be lacking, former Lions are speaking out about the team’s lack of respect and wanting to control players, the NFL is currently investigating the team for how they handled reporting Stafford’s injury, the Lions are consistently unhealthy and players are upset about losing and the sudden trade of Quandre Diggs. There’s a chance they might lose some players over it too.

All these things are happening, but if you ask the Lions, there’s nothing to see here. There’s a feeling in the air like everything is all good and fans and media are over-exaggerating by worrying about it.

This is where I have my biggest issues with the Detroit Lions. They are, in my opinion, the epitome of a team that believes they’re the smartest guys in the room.

The Lions front office and coaching staff are products of Bill Belichick: The legitimate smartest guy in the room. They have taken what they’ve learned from him and tried unsuccessfully to apply it to another franchise. Instead of putting their hands in the air and saying, “Hey, we got it wrong,” they coach-speak you to death and never take really take blame, and even worse, they never change their approach.

From a roster building standpoint, the Lions are much more likely to go out and get the player that makes them look smart instead of the player that’s more likely to make a difference. Look no further than this year’s trade deadline. The Lions desperately needed a running back. Instead of going out and shooting their shot on a guy like Melvin Gordon, they went for Devonta Freeman instead, a guy that looks good on paper, but hasn’t done anything of note in two years.

They’re also shockingly willing to just stay put on things, too. Last year, when the Lions were in desperate need for defensive line help, they completely passed on Johnathan Hankins and instead rolled with.. Ricky Jean Francois and A’Shawn Robinson to open the season. It wasn’t until the wheels had fallen off that they finally got Damon Harrison Sr. And while that move looked great at the time, with Snacks’ recent struggles, even that move may not be as brilliant as we thought.

Another great example of this was 2018’s tight end corps. The Lions stayed put on that all year long. They didn’t bring anyone in, and as far as we know, they didn’t attempt to do anything during the trade deadline. Sure, they took a shot at Rob Gronkowski, but they still stayed put after that didn’t work out.

Some will say this takes time. The Lions are building their roster up block by block, and fans are not giving them enough time to do that before they jump on them. But we’re in Year 4 of the Bob Quinn era, and the overall talent of this team doesn’t look much—if any—better than the Mayhew days.

I could be wrong, but I believe Lions fans would probably lay off the pitchforks if just once the Lions came out and admitted they screwed up, and that they would do their best to turn things around. But they don’t do that. They don’t say anything. Bob Quinn hasn’t held a press conference since before the NFL Draft. Quinn regurgitating Adam Schefter to us in the hallway on his way to the box in Chicago doesn’t count.

Where do things go from here? That’s where a problem presents itself. The Lions aren’t going to fire Bob Quinn. Bob Quinn isn’t going to fire Matt Patricia and Matt Patricia probably isn’t going to fire Paul Pasqualoni.

But let's say they did. Let’s say Martha Ford decides, “I’m done with this,” and lets Quinn go. That likely sets off a chain reaction for this team. The Lions are now looking for their third GM since 2008 and whoever that is will likely come in and start over with their own coaching staff.

Now you have a soon-to-be 32-year-old quarterback with his fourth coaching staff and fifth offensive coordinator. You also have a roster nucleus that was built by the previous staff and more than likely won’t work out with a new system and staff. In other words, prepare for a full rebuild.

The Lions are stuck between a rock and a hard place. They are in a position where this has to work out. This has to be the group that finally gets it right.

It’s not looking good at the moment, though. The Lions are 3-5-1, and there is no way they’re winning out and shocking the world to make the playoffs. Another season in the books. The Lions need to essentially go out and have the perfect offseason and rebuild their culture and get players to buy back in.

I just don’t know if they can do it.