I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Brad Holmes post-season press conference from Tuesday afternoon. Some of the comments that Holmes made had me thinking about how the Lions rebuild is going and where things are on the timeline. Right now it seems like there’s a chance that, at least by the front office perception, the Lions might be ahead of schedule.
Last February, before we knew anything about how this was going to work out, I pontificated about how the Lions rebuild timeline could go based off of how things went with the Los Angeles Rams while Brad Holmes was there and some of the John Dorsey-led teams as well.
What I found was, at least in the Rams case, there were multiple steps taken before the Rams were ready to really compete. The first was building a foundation. That’s figuring out who you want to be, what your culture and identity is, and who you want to initially build around. Once the Rams had those pieces in place, that’s when they started spending their money on player acquisitions. That’s when the Ndamukong Suh’s and Brandin Cooks started showing up. The Rams went to Super Bowl shortly thereafter.
I’m not saying the Lions are heading to the Super Bowl next year. Calm down. They won’t be ready yet. What I’m saying is that in the grand scheme of things, the Lions are in pretty good shape right now. Let’s take a look at the timeline.
Is there a foundation for the Lions? Yes, it appears that they have one. They successfully formed a culture and identity as a team that is scrappy and fights to the end. I think it’s safe to say that the Lions know who they want to be for the first time in a long time, maybe ever. They don’t want to be the Patriots and they don’t want to be the Rams or Saints either. They want to be the Detroit Lions with hints of the latter two teams. Culture and identity wise, they’re succeeding in doing that at this juncture.
As far as players to build around, I think it’s safe to think that the Lions have some of those guys as well. On offense, they have the D’Andre Swift, T.J. Hockenson, Jared Goff, the offensive line and Amon-Ra St. Brown. If they can keep Tracy Walker, they’ll have their defensive leader. Then there’s guys like Jerry Jacobs and Jalen Reeves-Maybin (if re-signed). These guys aren’t superstars, but they seem like the epitome of the type of player Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell love: hard working guys that fight and then fight some more.
The Lions also have their coach. The Rams had to wait a few years before they got their man in Sean McVay, the Lions found their guy right away. There’s going to be bumps and bruises along the way and maybe even a sophomore slump, but Campbell has changed things enough in Detroit to make me a believer that he’s their long-term guy and I have no reason to think otherwise at this point.
So what’s next? Well, I’ll Brad Holmes tell you that part.
“This is going to be the player acquisition phase.”
This right here is why there’s cause to think that the Lions are ahead of schedule on their rebuild. They’re already planning the player acquisition phase. Now this could easily mean that the Lions are planning to bring in players via the draft and free agency and that’s it. It might not mean much in the way of saying they will bring in big names.
I took this as the Lions could be planning to do a number of things to acquire talent this offseason. First and foremost, the Lions have money to spend in free agency this year and there’s a decent amount of players who could come in and make an immediate impact. Per Over The Cap, the Lions have a projected $33 million and change to spend in March. That number could change by the time free agency hits for a myriad of reasons. Chief among them is that the NFL’s salary cap isn’t officially set yet, the Lions still have to re-sign some guys, and they could create some cap space by letting players go. When it’s all said and done, the Lions should still have plenty of money to spend.
Things may not be limited to free agency and the draft for the Lions, though. Last February we talked with The Athletic’s Rams beat writer Jordan Rodrigue and she predicted that Brad Holmes would start trading draft picks by year three. There’s a chance he may wait to do that—if he does it at all—but if the Lions are ahead of schedule on the rebuild, perhaps that part of the timeline gets moved ahead, and the Lions decide to send some of their draft assets to other teams for starting caliber players.
While things are going well, there needs to be some finesse here. The Lions may be ahead of schedule, but they have to make sure they don’t get too ahead of themselves. Spending future assets on premier players may not be the play quite yet. They could still use a few more young, foundational pieces. Either way, if the Lions are planning to acquire players this offseason, this could be a really fun time to be a fan.