I was talking to a friend about the Detroit Lions on Sunday morning. It’s a pretty standard for us to talk Lions and hear him voice concerns or share his positive thoughts. Then he said something that caught my attention and got the gears in my brain turning.
“Have you ever felt this comfortable with a Lions GM before?”
The answer has to be “no,” right? The Lions have had team building issues for years and years now. Take a look at Bob Quinn, for example. He drafted 42 players during his time with the Lions. Only 11 of them are still with the Lions and only four of the 42 draft picks that Quinn made have stayed with the Lions past their rookie deal. To be fair, eight of those 11 players were recently drafted and still have a chance to make it past their rookie deal. Although I would say that there’s a chance that some of those guys could be expendable after this season. To be fair again, this could happen to just about any GM in the league. Sometimes you just can’t hit in the draft.
So far that doesn’t seem to be a problem for current Lions GM Brad Holmes. It’s early but it’s looking like he’s hitting on just about every pick he’s made. So far, Holmes as made 15 draft picks and nearly all of them have started for the Lions and have made an impact.
The amazing thing about Holmes’ selections is that he’s hitting on every part of the draft. His top 10 picks of Aidan Hutchinson and Penei Sewell sure look the part already. In middle rounds, he’s gotten starting-level talent in Alim McNeill, Kerby Joseph, Josh Paschal, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Derrick Barnes. And he’s even been productive in his late Day 3 picks. Malcolm Rodriguez, James Mitchell and, most recently, James Houston have also made big impacts.
The Lions have so far drafted players that won’t just be on the team, but will be major parts of the team. St. Brown, Hutchinson, Sewell and Rodriguez have flashed elite abilities. The Lions can build their entire franchise around these guys. He’s brought what the Lions have been missing since the Martin Mayhew days: star talent.
Now that’s not to say that everything has been perfect. It hasn’t been. Second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike will miss the entirety of his second season with an injury—and it’s fair to wonder if he’ll ever provide meaningful snaps for Detroit. Josh Paschal spent the early part of the season on the injured list and after showing some promise when he finally did get to play, he got injured again. Jermar Jefferson didn’t make the 53-man roster in his second season, and the jury is still out on Ifeatu Melifonwu and Chase Lucas because we’ve seen so little of them. As excited as everyone is and should be about Jameson Williams, the jury is still out on him too.
Still, with everything we know, I think it’s entirely fair to think that Brad Holmes should be included in the NFL Executive of the Year conversation. Hear me out.
The draft picks playing so well is just a start. The Lions are the youngest team in the NFL and they’re very much a motley crew of misfit island toys when it comes to the older players. Still, the Lions continue to be one of the league's most exciting teams over the last two seasons.
On top of that, Holmes has done a pretty good job fixing the financial state of the team. I know it’s easy to point at both the Jared Goff and Michael Brockers contracts, but the Lions have been able to build in spite of both of them, and they have a chance to give themselves a great deal of cap space if they get out of both contracts this offseason. Also, he’s been a whiz with his trade acumen too—at least when it comes to trading draft picks. That Trinity Benson trade is still a head scratcher. Aside from that, there’s not a whole lot that Holmes isn’t doing right.
It’s not showing so much in the wins column, but anyone who truly knows football can see that the direction is trending upwards and that it has everything to do with the way this team is being built. It’s really what the award should be given out for, if you ask me.
I say this because the choices for who has received the award in the last 10 years looks really bad in hindsight. Ryan Pace got it in 2018 when the Bears went 12-4. The Bears went 8-8 in the next two seasons and Pace was fired. Reggie McKenzie got it in 2016 when the Raiders went 12-4. They never went back to the playoffs under his watch and he was fired in 2018. Former Panthers GM Dave Gettleman (2015 winner) and Colts GM Ryan Grigson (2012) both have similar stories.
I get the idea of why you would give the award to a GM that built a team up well enough to get to the playoffs. In reality, if the Lions don’t make the playoffs, there’s no way Holmes gets this award. I would totally understand it if that were the case too. If I had to guess who gets it today, I would guess that it goes to a another NFC North GM. Vikings GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah has to be the favorite right now or possibly Eagles GM Howie Roseman.
Still, Holmes should be in the conversation simply for being the guy who appears to be turning around a franchise that has always been a laughing stock. If the Lions do squeak into the playoffs this year, Holmes has to be really considered. If not in 2022, definitely in the future. The Lions may finally have themselves one of those GMs that a lot of fanbases wish their team had.