With one game remaining on their schedule, the Detroit Lions have won just two—and a half—games to kickstart their latest rebuild. And sure, yeah, there have been a handful of games where this Lions team has been totally blown out by the competition. But in his first season as head coach, Dan Campbell has done more than enough to help even the most skeptical Lions fan see that this team is headed in the right direction.
The Ringer’s Kevin Clark wrote at length about how NFL teams have a serious problem in hiring the right head coaches and general managers for the job. Near the end of his piece, Clark shares what seems to be something anecdotal, but happened to resonate with someone who just watched this season of Lions football.
“A few months ago, I ran into an owner of a successful NFL team at a league event,” says Clark. “We got to chatting and he mentioned that he was starting to believe the only sustainable competitive advantage in football was culture. Everything else can be replicated or figured out; culture cannot because it’s freaking hard to build.”
Earlier in the article, Clark talks about how NFL teams often overcorrect when bringing in a new executive or head coach to replace the one on the way out, and that couldn’t be any truer about the Lions when they chose the culture-oriented Campbell to replace the disciplinarian Matt Patricia.
What Campbell—along with general manager Brad Holmes—have implemented and accomplished in Detroit during their first season is nothing short of impressive for that very reason: the culture in Detroit has changed for the best. The Lions are one of those NFL teams whose overcorrection was calculated, measured, and very much successful in year one.
This is just the beginning of the Detroit Lions rebuild, but after one season, it’s well underway, and it’s clear players will play for Campbell and his incredibly talented group of coaches. Now it’s a matter of getting the right players through those doors in Allen Park.
Recently, Steve Wyche of NFL Network was on the “Dukes and Bell” show, 92.9 The Game Atlanta. According to Wyche, Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Calvin Ridley could be looking for a “fresh start” from his team—and the team, reportedly, feels the same way.
Asked if Calvin Ridley’s future with the Falcons is in jeopardy @wyche89 tells @MikeBellATL & @putemupcdukes “I’d think so. The fact that he and the team have been so quiet and he hasn’t surfaced, it appears like both sides could be looking for a fresh start.” #dirtybirds— DukesandBell929 (@DukesandBell929) January 4, 2022
The language from Wyche here is pretty loose and is predicated on the old adage that silence can be deafening. There isn’t any part of his report that speaks definitively about the situation between Ridley, the Falcons, or even where Ridley is at in getting himself back to the best possible version of himself now and for the future.
During Week 8 of the 2021 season, Ridley announced on Twitter that he was stepping away from football to focus on his mental wellbeing, and he remained away from the Atlanta Falcons for the remainder of the season on the non-football related injury reserve list. With the news of him and the team each considering fresh starts, the market for a player of Ridley’s caliber will be full of suitors, but the Detroit Lions have the draft capital—and the need—to bring the talented wideout into the fold.
Ridley, the Falcons’ 2018 first-round pick, has been a productive player for Atlanta since he first stepped on the field. In his rookie season, Ridley caught 64 passes for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns—good for sixth in the NFL—and he followed that up with an impressive sophomore campaign—63 catches, 866 yards, and seven touchdowns. His third year in the league saw him breakout as one of the top receivers in the league. Among receivers with at least 50 percent of 193 snaps in 2020, Ridley ranked first in average depth of target (15.4 yards), fifth in yards per route run (2.44), and fifth in yards per reception (15.3).
Detroit has a breakout player in rookie receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, but take a look around the NFL, the haves separate themselves from the have nots at the wide receiver position. St. Brown is absolutely a piece to the winning formula in the NFL, but if Holmes and Campbell jumped at an opportunity to add Ridley, the Lions could instantly turn a position group still very much a work-in-progress into a solidified position of strength and depth if the team returns Josh Reynolds and Quintez Cephus gets healthy.
For a player like Ridley potentially looking for a fresh start, this Lions team could offer the opportunity to join a team currently feeling good about its own reboot that’s off the ground and running. As mentioned, Detroit has draft capital which includes the Los Angeles Rams’ next two first-round picks in 2022 and 2023. The most comparable deal in recent memory is the price the Cleveland Browns had to pay for Odell Beckham Jr. during the 2019 offseason—a 2019 first-round pick (13th overall), a 2019 third-round pick (95th overall), and safety Jabrill Peppers. Now, Beckham Jr. had five 1,000-plus-yard receiving seasons and three Pro Bowl selections to his name by the time he was traded just before the age of 27—his profile and accomplishments were a notch above where Ridley’s currently situated. Also, something to keep in mind, Beckham Jr. had signed a five-year, $90 million contract seven months before he was dealt to Cleveland while Ridley has just the fifth-year option of his rookie contract remaining on his current deal (worth $11 million guaranteed). It feels like the Rams' first-round selection this year could be a solid foundation to start negotiations and put the Lions in pole position amongst other suitors.
Some might view that as a cost too rich for the Lions to pay for a receiver who has stepped away from the game of football to get himself right mentally, and out of sync with the assumed timeline for Detroit to be a competitive football team, but if Ridley wants to play, we know he’s a player—and a damn good one, too. Detroit needs players like Calvin Ridley to take the next step in their rebuild, and maybe Ridley needs a team and culture just like the one being built in Detroit to get that chance to start over.