Matt Patricia’s Detroit Lions are in a familiar position. For the third straight season, they entered a game around the trade deadline with a .500 record, having shown enough in recent weeks to convince fans they could compete for the playoffs with a late season run. In all three years, playoff hopes were quickly shattered after an embarrassing loss.
In 2018, it was the Seattle Seahawks dashing the hopes of a 3-3 Lions team coming off of back-to-back wins—and having just acquired a new star in their defensive front in Damon Harrison Sr. In 2019, a 2-2-1 team had just taken the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs the distance and only lost to the Green Bay Packers after a controversial late penalty. Then they were hammered by the Minnesota Vikings.
In both years, Detroit would never have a winning record at any point after that game. Both years saw the team deal away a fan favorite, with wide receiver Golden Tate being sent away in 2018 and safety Quandre Diggs shown the door the following year.
Now the Lions are in the same spot. They entered Week 8 at 3-3, with a real chance to contend for an NFC wild card spot. Instead, they had a meltdown. Detroit was hammered 41-21 and looked like they did not even belong on the same field as their opponents. While they still CAN make the playoffs, anyone betting on them to do so should also start looking for bridge salesmen. Defensive end Everson Griffen is on his way into the lineup, but he is not the savior that will turn this team around on his own.
So, what now?
If Detroit is to follow the same path they followed in previous years, then expect someone to be traded away before Tuesday’s trade deadline. Marvin Jones Jr. is a popular name, as the receiver is set to enter free agency at the end of the season and has seen his usage drop in 2020. Kenny Golladay could potentially be on the move as well: other teams have already inquired to his availability, and Detroit may want to move their most valuable asset before he potentially walks in free agency at the end of the year. Don’t sleep on a potential Matthew Stafford trade either, which still is a slight possibility with so many other teams needing quarterbacks at the moment.
But where would that even leave the team?
The Lions still look a long way from competing, and more holes are going to open on the roster in the near future. Wide receiver is the strongest position on the roster at the moment, but Quintez Cephus is the only player on contract for next year. Stafford is not getting younger, and he may only have a year or two left in Detroit.
Even the talent-barren defense may lose whatever it has. Duron Harmon—who has been great for the team since being acquired in a trade last March—is a free agent this offseason. Will the team be willing to give a long-term deal to a player that will be 30 years old? Two stand out draftees in Da’Shawn Hand and Tracy Walker will be entering contract years in 2021, and giving long-term extensions to players who have had their own troubles in their short careers thus far is a risky proposition. Romeo Okwara, the team’s best pass rusher so far this year, will likely be looking for an extension this offseason as well.
Jeff Okudah, Trey Flowers and Jamie Collins Sr. are the only significant pieces that are near guaranteed to be in Detroit after 2021 (and the latter two could be released by the team in 2022). All of this to say: there is no foundation here. Whatever Matt Patricia has built in his three years as the Lions coach may already be slipping away.
This leaves two paths for this organization to take if they want to escape mediocrity. They could hold onto Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn and allow them to rebuild again. Figure out what key pieces get extended and who is shown the door. It is hard to have much faith in the duo, though, as they got this team into this mess in the first place.
Letting go of the two and replacing them is the other option. Start over entirely from scratch with a new general manager, new head coach and an entirely new philosophy. Doing this would likely mean building from the ground up, requiring a roster overhaul as well. This becomes easy with the amount of players the team can easily get rid of in the coming years. It also means at least one more year before the team can even think about playoffs, though, and there is always a chance they choose the wrong people to lead the team and end up right back in the same place they are in now.
Either way, the Lions rebuild has failed, and it is already time to start thinking about the next one.