Tracy Walker said he had other offers on the table and didn’t have to come back to the Detroit Lions. Walker experienced a total of 17 wins and 46 losses over four seasons with the Lions, and he debated his football future for the first time since joining the league. Now was the first chance in his young NFL career to find another team closer to a winning culture and also cash in to provide for his family.
Ultimately, a combination of many factors pulled him back to Detroit. There was the new coaching staff—specifically defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn and defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant—who had earned so much of his respect in just one year. There was the fact that Detroit had become his new “home.” And there was, as he put it, “unfinished business.”
That unfinished business Walker alluded to is finishing what this franchise started last year: a full cultural and identity makeover. While the team technically took a step back last year, going from 5-11 in 2020 to 3-13-1 last season, Walker saw the foundation being built by the new regime and wants to see it through to get the 70-year stench off this franchise.
“We ended up the end of the season on a positive note, so that’s the unfinished business I’m talking about,” Walker said. “Everybody just always doubts the Lions and I hate that. I hate seeing people think we’re not accounted for or better yet, not going to be a winning organization because of past history when each year, each team is different. This is a new team.”
Of course, to any Lions fan, these are familiar words. Every home-grown player believes they’re going to be part of the era that turns around football in Detroit. They’ll try to convince the media that this time is different. This group of players is different. This regime is different. You just have to be patient.
So what makes Walker so confident that this will be the era of Lions football that finally breaks the mold?
“My coaching staff. I believe in them,” Walker said. “I believe in these guys. That had a huge role in me wanting to come back. I believe in everything these guys stand for and what they’re all about. We’re all on the same agenda. We all want to win. I been here four years. I’m tired of losing in Detroit. Coaches feel the same. They’re tired of seeing Detroit being a laughing stock in the NFL.
“That’s the confidence right there. I see where things can be at and we’re only a couple plays away. That’s been proven. Yeah, I feel like we’re on the come up. I ain’t going to sit here and act like I’m a genie or anything but I’m very confident in what we’re bringing this year. Now we just got to go out there and continue to build on it and put it together.”
The words may sound familiar, but there is a noticeable change in the aura around Detroit. Dan Campbell was able to keep spirits high despite a 0-10-1 start to the season. The Lions’ 3-3 finish down the stretch—despite an incredibly young and beaten up roster—proved to be just enough taste for winning to keep confidence high in the staff both internally and externally.
Two days into the legal tampering period of free agency, the Lions have earned some well-reasoned criticism for moving at a measured pace. Detroit’s defense, which finished in the bottom five of just about every statistical category, including 31st in points allowed, has yet to add a single new piece. Detroit has, instead, focused on bringing back last year’s contributors, re-signing Walker, Charles Harris, and Alex Anzalone, to name a few.
Walker, however, isn’t discouraged by this. Instead, he sees the value in developing from within.
“I see those same young guys that you’re talking about being developed and coming back and being better each and every week,” Walker said. “At the end of the day, that gives you confidence in itself, knowing that guys are coming in ready to work each and every day and coming in trying to get better and constantly improving.”
The Lions likely aren’t done yet adding to the roster, as the new league officially begins at 4 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Starting then, teams will be able to talk directly with players, contracts with free agents will become official, and we may see a new wave of players headed to new destinations.