The dust of the Detroit Lions’ offseason roster building has begun to settle. I’m sure the Lions will get involved veteran free agency going forward, and there are still some splashes that could be made there, but overall, this is the team Lions fans can look forward to having.
But what is this team? Since Bob Quinn became the general manager for the Lions before the 2016 season, we’ve tried to understand his image of what this franchise should be. They obviously want to be a championship team, but what route are they taking to get there? This offseason, depending on how you look at it, can give you a few different answers to that question.
Today I want to look at three different direct and ponder about which one the Lions appear to be headed towards. Let’s jump right into it.
Back in January I wrote that the Lions should go all in during the offseason. When you look at what the Lions did in free agency, you could come away believing that they did just that. They signed the best defensive end on the market in Trey Flowers, the best available tight end in Jesse James, one of the best nickel corners in the league in Justin Coleman and a legitimate back up running back in C.J. Anderson.
In the draft, they doubled down at tight end with the additions of T.J. Hockenson and Isaac Nauta and continued to add players to their defense like Jahlani Tavai and Amani Oruwariye. It appears the Lions looked at the spots they struggled with in 2018 and instead of simply plugging the hole, they plugged the hole and overflowed the sink.
The idea here is that the Lions have a window. This is a theory I had back in 2014, as well. The Lions had their best chance to win it all if they had gone all in. I’m not saying they would have, but the possibility was there. Instead, they let the window close. They let Ndamukong Suh walk, lost other key players and fell apart. Of course, Calvin Johnson was gone two years later.
It doesn’t seem that the current Lions are close to that 2014 team, but the fact is that this is a team that has a group of great players that, if surrounded with the right parts, can possibly win big in this new window.
Where this Lions team lucks out is that many of these centerpieces are younger and cheaper. The Lions aren’t tied down by three mega contracts. Matthew Stafford’s contract is large, but the Lions still have money to spend and players such as Kerryon Johnson, Kenny Golladay, Darius Slay and Da’Shawn Hand to build around.
So when you see the team go out and get all these splash signings to pair with these players, it seems somewhat indicative of a team that wants to win right now as opposed to later.
Getting Younger and Building for Tomorrow
Maybe it’s because we’ve been fans of the Lions all our lives and have never seen a front office run this team like this before, but something seems different about the way this team is roster building. It’s easy to remember when the Lions were signing bad and drafting even worse.
Those days appear to be long gone by now. We can talk all day about Teez Tabor and Jimmy Landes, but the fact of the matter is that Bob Quinn has drafted really well in his time in Detroit. Of the 25 players Quinn has drafted previous to this April’s draft, 17 of them are still on the team and almost every single one of them starts or plays a prominent role on the team.
With that in mind, it should be somewhat safe to safe to assume that streak will continue with this year’s crop of draft picks.
This all points to a team that getting younger. Currently the Lions only have six players in their 30s on the roster. That number will eventually get larger since they have seven players that are 29. But the gist of it is that on theoretical 53-man roster, there’s only about 13 “old” guys, and out of those 13, only five them are starters—Matthew Stafford (31), Danny Amendola (33), Kenny Wiggins (30), Damon Harrison (30) and Rick Wagner (29). Everyone else is a special teamer or role player.
The Patriot Way
We can’t get out of here without talking about the Patriot Way. It’s not lost on me or anyone else that the Lions keep signing former Patriots. With the exception of Jesse James and C.J. Anderson, damn near every player the Lions signed this offseason used to lay for the Patriots at one point or another.
This brings up two questions. Are the Lions simply trying to be the Patriots or are they doing the smart thing, getting players they trust and know will work in their system? I may be alone, but I still think it’s the latter.
There’s a lot to gain from signing players you’re familiar with. The big thing, first and foremost, is that they’re familiar with you too. You can bypass the awkwardness and the lack of knowledge in the system on Day 1 and start working on the particulars right away. It helps with team building right away, as well, because everyone knows the culture and the goals you’re working towards.
If the plan is to simply relocate the Patriots to Detroit, then the Lions are going to suffer the same fate that every other team that’s tried this before already suffered. They will fail and fail miserably.
Which way do you think this Lions team is going? Are they trying to win now? Build for the long run or trying to be the Patriots?