Forget the three win season in 2021. Forget the 1-6 start, too. The Detroit Lions are for real. They didn’t wind up making the playoffs and I know that sucks, but this team is about to be a team that regularly makes playoffs, and hopefully does a lot more than that.
IT’s funny how it all works out. I know I just said to forget the 1-6 start, but so many times during that stretch we heard Lions coach Dan Campbell tell the media after a loss that the Lions are so close. It got to a point where it was something that was held against him on multiple occasions by some Lions fans. I know myself that I took to Twitter and proclaimed that Dan Campbell had to stop saying that.
The Lions have to stop taking about how close they are.— Mike Payton (@POD_Payton) October 30, 2022
To be fair, how many time have we heard that? How many times were we told to take solace that the team was playing “competitive football” and it was only a matter of time before those close losses turned into close wins, and that turned into decisive wins?
But I was wrong and Dan Campbell was right. The Lions are close. They aren’t just close to winning games, they’re close to becoming a team that can be a perennial playoff team and maybe even, dare I say, Super Bowl contenders.
Take a look at all that the Lions did in year two of what was supposed to be a massive overhaul of a rebuild. The Lions beat multiple playoff teams both at home (Vikings, Jaguars) and on the road (Giants)—and they beat those teams decisively. They picked up some signature wins and they picked up wins against the teams they were supposed to pick up wins against (Bears). They also finished with a 5-1 record in the division.
That’s just the stuff they did in the win column. The other big thing they did this season was draft well and then watch those rookies turn into great players and long-term starters. They also progressed last year’s rookies too. This team showed that they have their pillars in place. They have the guys they want to build around. Amon-Ra St. Brown and Aidan Hutchinson are not just foundational pieces, they’re potential superstars.
But many of those accomplishments are to be expected of good franchise. What you probably didn’t expect is that the Lions would find that their quarterback of the future is already on the team. Jared Goff went out and had the best season of his career in 2022. Even when the Lions were having trouble, Goff was still playing better than expected. He really turned it on in the final three months of the season, though.
Solving that problem means the Lions don’t have to make the very risky move of trying to find their quarterback of the future in the draft. That can be a painful process that often takes several swings to accomplish and can set franchises back several years if mistakes are made.
What do the Lions do from here? The sky could be the limit. The Lions are entering free agency with some money, a great culture, and a good reputation around the league. If you don’t think that free agents around the league have looked at the fun and success that the Lions had this season and said “I want to be there,” you’re crazy. Detroit could be a free agent destination for maybe the first time ever this March. That’s what Dan Campbell is expecting.
“I think word gets around and I think, yeah, this is a place you would like to be,” Campbell said on Monday. “No matter who you are. I think free agents would like to be here I think moving forward. I believe that. I think we’re turning the corner on that and when you’re a team that’s trending the right way and you play football a certain way, I think that’s appealing.”
In the draft they find themselves in a great spot with the two first round picks (sixth overall and 18). Since they don’t need a quarterback, they can focus on finding more pieces for their defense by getting one of the draft’s better defenders. There’s a solid chance that the Lions could maybe squeak out of there with a Jalen Carter or a Will Anderson if quarterback-needy teams are looking to move up ahead of them. If not, there will be plenty of appealing options in the secondary.
The other question is can this team keep its coaches? Ben Johnson and Aaron Glenn have already scored interview requests. But will they wind up getting a gig? I have confidence that while both will be popular options to interview, there will likely be more popular options to hire. That might not go on forever if the Lions come out and have a big time season in 2023.
I ,for one, can’t wait to see what the future holds for this team. What I know now is that this team truly is close and Dan Campbell saw it all along.