Everyone is a genius with the power of hindsight.
Should the Lions have hired someone else besides Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia? Probably, but it was a reasonable choice at the time, despite the disastrous results we are currently seeing. The same logic can be applied to Eric Ebron over Aaron Donald or Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf: making decisions is difficult, and whether you are right or wrong might not come to light until many years down the road.
That being said, do not use hindsight to argue that the Detroit Lions should have drafted a quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa are succeeding early in their NFL careers, and their futures look bright. In Detroit, meanwhile, people are calling for the heads of Quinn and Patricia and planning for a 2021 season without Matthew Stafford as the starting quarterback. Boy, if only the Lions had drafted one of these stud quarterbacks!
Unfortunately, it does not work like that.
To think that the Lions are a young quarterback away from succeeding is absurd. To think that Matthew Stafford is the root of the Lions’ problems is downright insulting to the best quarterback this franchise has ever seen. The post-Stafford era has to start eventually, but 2020 was not the year to kick that project off.
There was plenty of optimism, with about 80 percent of the fanbase confident in the team’s direction heading into Week 1. The record predictions were similarly hopeful, with 45 percent of voters predicting a 9-7 or 10-6 record. Those aren’t incredible records by any means, but they are also records that do not warrant the luxury of drafting a first round quarterback.
“The 12-4 Chiefs drafted Mahomes in the top ten!” you might argue. While Alex Smith was coming off a Pro Bowl season, many knew that his arm talent was subpar, elevated by a fantastic offense under Andy Reid. Stafford has not had the luxury of an elite offensive scheme. He has hardly had the luxury of a mediocre offensive scheme. From no run game to play calls prioritizing short passing, it feels like Stafford has had to adapt to the coaching, instead of coaching adapting to the talent.
Stafford aside, we have seen just seven starts from Herbert and two from Tagovailoa. It is far too soon to proclaim either the savior of a franchise, although there is optimism. Neither quarterback was a slam dunk draft pick either. Herbert had shown plenty of inconsistency at Oregon despite his athletic talent, whereas Tagovailoa was coming off a significant, possible career-threatening injury. Even when healthy, Tagovailoa was never held in the same regard as Andrew Luck or Trevor Lawrence. Deviating from a crucial draft blueprint for a quarterback that might not even see the field for a few seasons made no sense for the Lions.
The front office was not playing the waiting game. Quinn and Patricia had one, maybe two more seasons to justify their employment. Why would they risk their jobs on a pick that might not even pay dividends for them? Despite his struggles, Jeff Okudah was easily the right pick at the time. Not only could he contribute right away, but he actually had fewer concerns entering the draft. Corner was a serious need for the Lions, and Okudah gave them the best chance at correcting that. The Chiefs could justify taking the risk on Mahomes. Andy Reid was cemented as a successful coach in Kansas City, and general manager John Dorsey’s eventual firing came from poor communication, not talent acquisition.
Imagine if the Lions had Herbert or Tagovailoa on their roster instead of Okudah. I can practically guarantee that the Lions would still be 3-5 or even worse. People would be livid at Quinn and Patricia for spending such a valuable draft asset on a quarterback that is not even starting. The Eagles spent a second round pick of Jalen Hurts, a perplexing move that would haunt any team not in the pitiful NFC East. The Packers drafted Jordan Love with their first round pick, an equally confusing decision that is justified by a great coaching staff in Green Bay.
The Lions do not have the benefit of great coaching to make up for mediocre starters or a weak division in which they could cruise to the title. Would Stafford have been replaced by Herbert or Tagovailoa by now? Possibly. Would that even make a difference for this team? Doubtful. The limiting factor of this Lions team is the coaching, and coupled with minimal offseason training for Okudah, he has hardly been in a position to succeed.
The Lions rebuild is going to happen sooner or later, but drafting a quarterback in 2020 was never a realistic option for this front office.