Way back in December, before the Detroit Lions traded Matthew Stafford, the belief among most Lions fans was that it was time for the Lions to draft a new quarterback in 2021. Even if it was a guy that the Lions planned to just sit on the bench for a while to develop, it seemed like the right time to do it.
After the Stafford trade, that idea turned into “Jared Goff is just a bridge and the Lions will definitely be drafting their quarterback of the future with the seventh overall pick in the draft.” Just perusing Lions Twitter any day of the week will show you that Lions fans have their hearts set on Justin Fields or Trey Lance. There’s even some Mac Jones fans out there. You get the idea that there’s going to be some upset fans if the Lions go any other way.
Well, get ready to be upset. Some reading of the tea leaves suggest the Lions have no intention of drafting a quarterback in the first round. Maybe not at all. Let’s unpack.
Chris Spielman went on 97.1 The Ticket last week and talked about a plethora of things. What most took away from that interview was Sheila Ford Hamp sitting in on meetings, but this comment was much more telling.
Chris Spielman on 97.1 talking free agency vs. draft: You can't buy a locker room. Better to build though the draft, add pieces in FA when foundation is built through the draft.— Justin Rogers (@Justin_Rogers) February 23, 2021
It sure sounds like we can expect the Lions to be super quiet in free agency. It’s an interesting approach for a team with a gaping hole in their receiving corps and the worst defense in the league. But it’s the way the Lions plan to build, and it may be the only way they can even do it this year given their financial situation.
And if Detroit isn’t filling holes in free agency, they’ll have to do in the draft. For 2021, quarterback is not one of those needs that must be filled. The Lions have a quarterback with starting experience in the regular season and the playoffs in Jared Goff already. Getting another quarterback when you have holes to fill and don’t plan to use money to fill those holes is unnecessary. The Lions are going to need to use those draft picks to fill those holes.
This is going to be a long process for the Lions. There’s things that need to be fixed and judging by some of the other comments made by Chris Spielman, the Lions are going to build in a modern way. From the outside in. The Lions are poised to spend resources early on players that farther away from the ball. Quarterback isn’t high on the priority list in this spectrum.
New Lions head coach Dan Campbell was even clearer than Spielman in a recent conversation with the Detroit News’ Justin Rogers.
Campbell pointed to the Kansas City Chiefs as a prime example of how building a team around a quarterback may be necessary before finding that quarterback. Using Alex Smith as an example of a bridge quarterback, Campbell said the Chiefs smartly built around him before eventually finding Patrick Mahomes.
“They’re starting to build this nucleus and it’s like they go the playoffs and ah, it doesn’t work out. Then, all of sudden, this young gunslinger out of Texas Tech (Patrick Mahomes) shows up and they move up to get him and now look what’s happened,” Campbell said.
It’s not hard to connect dots here. The Lions have their bridge quarterback in Jared Goff and they’ll wait until their nucleus is in place before trying to find their Mahomes. Campbell tried to say that quarterback isn’t off the table, but he certainly sounded like someone prepared to pass on one this April.
“It doesn’t mean we’re not going to draft a quarterback early,” Campbell said. ”What I do think is let’s build this team first. Let’s build the nucleus and the foundation of this team first and get some roots in the ground. And once you get the roots in the ground and let it grow a little bit, we’ll find the right guy at the helm.”
The Lions are in the perfect position for this scenario with Jared Goff. They’ve got a guy that can be a fine bridge quarterback for the next two years. Goff’s contract is big, but with the Rams covering the dead money, the Lions can cut Goff loose after 2022. On the other side, Goff is still only 26 years old and there’s speculation that we haven’t seen his best yet due to numerous factors including coaching.
With all this in mind, it’s really hard to see the Lions taking a quarterback in any round come April. That doesn’t mean they won’t find a backup somehow. Chase Daniel doesn’t seem like he’s long for this roster. Perhaps they keep David Blough. Maybe the Lions go out and get a guy like Tyrod Taylor who is familiar with Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.
Of course, there’s always the small chance that Campbell and Spielman are corralling the media for an elaborate smoke screen. Perhaps the Lions are going as far out of their way as possible to trick some other team into thinking they won’t take a quarterback. It seems incredibly unlikely with Goff on the roster. But yes, it’s possible that the Lions are lying.
Hopefully they aren’t. Frankly the Lions going in this new route is what's best for the team. The Lions need to build in a new way and drafting a quarterback at seven or at all gets in the way of that.