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Mailbag: Will the Detroit Lions ever be successful under the Fords?

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NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Detroit Lions Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Last week’s PODcast went long as we debated the top 10 wide receivers for the 2020 NFL season. Because of that, our mailbag segment was cut short and a lot of your questions went unanswered.

I want to make up for that by answering them in written form—something I’ve been meaning to do every week anyway. So, sorry for the delay in answering some of these questions, but let’s get into it.

From Singledigit

Tell the truth: do you honestly think the only thing that will ever turn this franchise around is a change in ownership?

And if you don’t? How?

I mean … really.

But I’m guessing you won’t go there.

Come on, Singledigit. You have been around me long enough to know that I have no hesitation to criticize this organization when they make mistakes. I have no problem “going there.”

That being said, we get some variation of this question just about every week, and I typically ignore it. Personally, I think it’s a way overly simplistic explanation for Detroit’s failures over the past 60+ years, so I dismiss it.

But let me give this question a fair answer. I do think it’s possible for this franchise to turn it around under Ford ownership, and I’ll explain why.

First, let me dive into the things this organization has clearly messed up because of the Fords. William Clay Ford obviously didn’t have a knack for NFL ownership. He relied too much on his own instincts, trusted people who had no reason to be trusted for far too long, and never really seemed to have a talented football mind in his ear. Whether it was his choices in general managers, coaches or other administrators, the Lions clearly never had the right people in the right places under his watch.

Additionally, the equipment and conditions at Lions’ facilities were ignored for way longer than they should’ve. Hell, until 2018, the facility was still designed to use VHS tapes for film meetings.

Finally, the Lions alienated some of their best players, and that falls directly on ownership. The hiring of family friend Rod Wood as team president can be directly traced to the fallout with Calvin Johnson. That hurts the legacy of the team, but must also have some sort of impact on potential free agents. If the Lions can’t get it right with one of the best players in NFL history, how are they going to treat their non-Hall of Fame Players?

But I’ve seen a clear difference operations since Martha Firestone Ford has taken over (aside from the Wood hire). The biggest example of that is the firing of Jim Caldwell. It would’ve been the easiest thing in the world to keep Caldwell around. Back-to-back 9-7 seasons is a big accomplishment for this franchise (sad, but true), and Caldwell was a guy that was adored by players, fellow coaches and just about everyone in the organization. You have to think that if William Clay Ford gave Matt Millen more than seven years, he likely would’ve given Caldwell at least a fifth.

Make no mistake, that was a difficult move for the Fords to make, but a sign they are truly committed to building more than a mediocre team and a cash cow. Obviously, the choice in head coach hasn’t worked out since, but it’s clear she has raised the bar in Detroit.

Additionally, the Fords shelled out money to upgrade the team facility and the stadium. That, to me, shows this ownership actually cares about the success of the team—if that wasn’t already clear from Martha Ford attending 90+ degree days of training camp and traveling to each home and away game.

Finally, Martha Ford has stayed out of the way when it comes to football decisions. She has used the resources available to her (i.e. hiring Ernie Accorsi to help with the GM hire), instead of relying on her own instincts.

There are three qualities I’m looking for in an NFL owner: a desire to win/spend on the team, self-awareness to know their own limits (i.e. get out of the way of football decisions), and the desire to keep the team in their hometown. In her six years of ownership, Martha Ford has displayed all three of those qualities, so I do believe the franchise is in capable hands.

I have no crystal ball, so I can’t guarantee you the Fords will one day own a championship team, but I’ve seen enough change from previous ownership to believe it’s certainly possible.

This obviously became a big topic this week, as both Lions coordinators were asked if the team has made preparations for a potential locker room. Their answers were basically, “How could we?” And that’s the truth.

Whether the Lions are more prepared than other teams likely depends on where they’re hit. If it’s the offensive or defensive line, they’re probably in a fair amount of trouble. If it’s the secondary or the running backs, they may be able to weather the storm a bit.

Overall, this question is really just asking if the Lions have adequate depth. You’d like to think now that we’re in Year 3 of the Patricia era that they’d have some legitimate depth—and they likely are in a better position than they have been—but I would say Detroit’s depth is probably still average at best compared to the rest of the league.

From IsTHIStheyearLions?

Outside of Michigan

Where is the largest Lions fan base located? Or what other state has the most POD contributors? (might be the easier question)

The easiest way I can answer this is list the top five states in terms of site traffic for our site since April.

  1. Michigan (46.3%)
  2. Illinois (7.4%)
  3. California (4.0%)
  4. Florida (3.8%)
  5. Ohio (3.8%)

Absolutely, they do. Almost any Friday in the Lions locker room (the most relaxed day from both media and players), you’ll hear players chittering about Saturday’s lineup of games or Thursday’s results.

NFL players are obviously a lot more relaxed about the rivalries and don’t “hate” players from their rival schools. I think there’s a sense of brothership from everyone in the NFL because they’ve all “made it.”

But I can’t tell you how many times I heard a guy like Quandre Diggs trying to defend his lowly Texas Longhorns. Or Golden Tate giving it to the local media after Notre Dame beat Michigan.

It’d have to be the 2011 season. I know this shows my age, and I’d miss out on true accomplishments like the 1950s championships, but who really wants to watch 1950s football? The novelty of it would wear off after the 40th rushing attempt in a game. 1950s football would undoubtedly be extremely boring if watched today.

So give me the 2011 season. Give me that 5-0 start, that Jahvid Best “Monday Night Football” 88-yard touchdown, the Jim Harbaugh handshake, the utter dismantling of Tim Tebow, and the first playoff appearance in over 10 years. Oh, right, and one of those crazy Dallas Cowboys comeback games, too.

Presumably because you haven’t seen “Community,” “Black Mirror,” “Breaking Bad,” “Ozark,” “BoJack Horseman,” “Better Call Saul,” “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson,” “Dirty Money,” “Stranger Things,” and “Billy on the Street.”

(Note: I have not seen “Peaky Blinders,” so I’m being a complete hypocrite.)