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Culture and continuity: The Detroit Lions’ Way

Forget the Patriot Way, this is the Lions’ Way.

Detroit Lions Training Camp Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

Now that craziness of free agency has subsided a little, I think now is a good time for reflection. It’s time to think about what the Detroit Lions have done during free agency and why they did those things.

I’ve had over a week to think about it and it really comes down to the two Cs. If you’re a fan of Jim Ross, I’m not talking about “cash and creative.” Although, I’m sure the latter played a part. I’m talking about culture and continuity. Those two words look like they’re going to be a huge part of what this franchise does going forward. It’s the “do your job” of the Lions way, in my opinion. Let’s break down the two Cs and talk about how they could impact the Lions future.

Culture

I have personally talked about this until I was blue in the face. Seriously, I passed out and woke up inside a Sam’s Club with a sign that said “culture matters” on it. It’s kind of a big deal, if you ask me.

It’s also a big deal to the players the Lions have either brought in or retained thus far. DJ Chark spoke about how he could see the Lions’ culture while in a very toxic situation in Jacksonville. He even turned down options that would have given him a little more long-term stability be a part of the Lions culture. Charles Harris said he came back because of the culture. Josh Reynolds and Tracy Walker said about the same.

A good culture goes a long way. I hate to beat a dead horse, but we’ve seen how bad things can be with a bad culture and how free agents like Richard Sherman turned down the opportunity to be a Lion because of it. So it’s a big deal that the Lions have their culture turned around so fast.

What is the Lions’ culture? It’s a little bit of everything. The Lions are a team coached by a bunch of former players who didn’t play that long ago. So players can come here and expect to be coached by people who have an understanding of the game and the day-to-day grind that even some of the best coaches could never fully get. They know what it’s like to be on the field, they know what it’s like to be a pro athlete and they know what it’s like to get treated the right way and the wrong way.

Another thing that really sticks out to me is what happened after the Lions’ first win of the season in the locker room. Dan Campbell talks about how proud he is of his team. It wasn’t just “good job’ or “we made some good play,” it was “I’m proud of you.” Then when the team broke down afterwards, they didn’t say “Lions on three,” they said “family.”

This team isn’t operating as just a football team, they’re operating like a family. They’re there for each other and they care about each other. That kind of stuff shows when you’re looking at an 0-10 team that’s fighting their hearts out every single week despite not winning a game. It seems like there have been some Lions teams with winning records that didn’t fight as hard as this team did in 2021. And it’s at least partially because Campbell cares about this team like he would his own family.

Continuity

I know there have been some complaints about the Lions returning a bunch of players from a three-win team. I don’t see it that way. What I do see is that every player the Lions brought back improved their play in 2021. The thing about improvement is that it doesn’t just stop. These are all relatively young players who still have more steps they can take to be better, and they have the coaching staff who can help them unlock those steps.

Kalif Raymond had a huge year, and his hard-working attitude is already starting to rub off on other players. Harris turned around his career in Detroit and was rewarded with a nice payday. Walker enjoyed his best year to date, and his leadership in a young secondary room was too important to let walk.

These players are also fully invested in the culture, the coaching staff, and the direction of this team. They can help make sure that’s contagious for the new players coming in. It would have been easy to bring in new players, but the Lions don’t want to just replace players. They want their players to have growth. Development is key.

The other part of continuity is simple. The Lions went through very little turnover from their coaching staff after the 2021 season, especially any big turnover. Yes the Lions have a new offensive coordinator, but at least it’s one that was already on the coaching staff.

I know this group has only been here for one season, but it means a lot for a team that has had five head coaches, six different offensive coordinators and five different defensive coordinators in the last 10 years. Bob Quinn went through three different DCs in just four years. Bringing back mostly the same squad is a big deal.

By prioritizing culture and continuity, the Lions can properly build their team while keeping all the same parts in position and giving said parts the opportunity to grow and develop.