When the Detroit Pistons hired current GM Troy Weaver after the 2019 season, he quickly gained the moniker of “The Grim Weaver” after he started releasing or trading away players until the longest-tenured player on the roster was a guy that was in his second year in the league. The Pistons were moving guys nobody thought would get moved, and so far it appears to have turned out pretty well for them. Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell may be about to do the very same thing with the Detroit Lions.
Sure they’re not going to cut this team down to the bone like Weaver did with the Pistons, but it seems they may be about to show Lions fans that all’s fair when it comes to love and rebuilding a football team.
After the Lions 26-20 preseason loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Saturday, Campbell has a very telling quote that could put some potential future moves into perspective.
Dan Campbell after tonight's game: "There's some guys that maybe were counted out that have a chance of making this team. And then there's some ones that maybe everybody thought was gonna make it and they're not gonna make it. ...— Chris Burke (@ChrisBurkeNFL) August 22, 2021
There’s the obvious guys like Jared Goff, D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson, Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, Penei Sewell, Jeff Okudah, Jamaal Williams and maybe a handful of others that are obviously safe from the upcoming roster cuts. But, outside of them, no one’s job should be safe, and with final cuts coming soon, there may be some names that pop up that shock you.
Think about some of the guys on this team. How about any of these receivers? Take, for example, Breshad Perriman. There were high hopes he’d find himself in Detroit and so far it’s looking like that’s sadly not going to be a reality. Meanwhile guys like Amon-Ra St. Brown and Tom Kennedy have shown they’re capable of doing what Perriman can and more.
Another name to watch Nickell Robey-Coleman. The former Rams corner has history with Brad Holmes in Los Angeles and has started games for every team he’s played for. But with the emergence of undrafted rookie A.J. Parker, Robey-Coleman, who many thought would start for the Lions, is an easy cut for a team potentially looking to give their young guys a run at more playing time.
The Lions are going through a rebuild, and they’re at the very beginning of it. This gives the team the opportunity to see what they really have. Some of the roster moves they make in the next couple weeks may seem wild and unconventional, but if the team develops their talent in 2021, no one will remember those bold cuts in a year or two.
We know this team isn’t going to be good in 2021. Any semblance of hope that they will should have been properly dashed in the first two preseason games of the year. Even if a handful of the starters haven’t even played yet or haven’t played any significant amount of time.
So why waste time with guys like Perriman or maybe even Nick Williams? They’re not going add any wins to the column, at least not any meaningful wins to this franchise. Now is the time build upon the youth of this team, and they Lions have a lot of that. The guys who have impressed the most in the preseason are guys some assumed would be buried on the depth chart or placed on a the practice squad. Guys like Craig Reynolds and Tom Kennedy have shown they could play actual roles in 2021. Why not throw these guys out into real NFL situations during the regular season and test their mettle?
In the end, the Lions might find that there was a more-than-capable player buried on the depth chart. Giving rookies like Derrick Barnes, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill way more playing time than they would have normally received will make them a lot more prepared for 2022 when the Lions have extra first round picks and more money to spend. They can build around a young core of guys instead of players who have already proved they’re not game-changers in Detroit.
There is a considerable risk to this approach. If you throw a first or second year player into the fire and they struggle, you could potentially hinder their confidence. And if you choose to part way with some veterans, who do these young players have to look up to? For the latter concern, it seems fair to believe these guys can look to the coaching staff for mentors. It’s full of former successful NFL player. As for confidence, that seems like a risk that teams are taking no matter what. Players will have to step up no matter how many snaps they get right away. This is the NFL. You have to jump into the deep end at some point.
The Lions need to get to 80 players on Tuesday and then down to the standard 53-man roster on the August 31. Between now and then, things could be getting very interesting in Detroit.