People outside of Michigan aren’t as versed on the Detroit Lions as the people who live here. That never seems more apparent than when you ask football fans to tell you about the Lions and one of their responses has something to do with the team making two of the greatest players of all time retire early. For the longest time in the NFL, Detroit has been the place where you don’t stay too long or you come to finish up your career.
Former Lions wide receiver Nate Burleson once told a story on “Good Morning Football” of a cornerback who once told him Detroit is where “careers come to die.”
That’s something that seemed like it was never going to change. Sure there were the occasional players like Matthew Stafford who would publicly say that they wanted to stay in Detroit—even though he would eventually leave—but you would rarely hear about players wanting to come to Detroit and then wanting to stay there.
That has changed in 2023, and it’s changed to a degree that’s never really been seen before. Players like John Cominsky and Isaiah Buggs have taken to their social media pages and tagged the Lions in their posts about how they want to return to the team. Cominsky went as far as asking Lions fans to tag the team in the comments of his post to get his point across. Jamaal Williams stated in a post season interview that he would like to return and receiver DJ Chark said about the same.
Then on Tuesday Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson dropped a bomb on everyone in the NFL when he took himself out of the running to be an NFL head coach in 2023 so that he could opt in to staying with the Lions.
Johnson was perhaps the most sought-after Lions coordinator in the history of the franchise. Sure Aaron Glenn and Tyrell Austin had scored interviews before, but Johnson was the favorite to land two different jobs on Tuesday. Reports said he had the lead for the Panthers job, and on Wednesday, he was about to take the next big step by traveling for an in-person interview. He turned that all down because, according to a report, “he feels Detroit is building something special and wants to see it through.”
The belief that the Lions are building something special shouldn’t go unnoticed. It’s something that’s widely believed in this team’s locker room. The reason they’re building something special is because, and yes, I’m going to bring this word up again, the Lions culture.
It seems so special because its something that I can honestly say I’ve never felt about the Lions. I’ve seen an amazing culture with the Red Wings, I’ve seen it with the Pistons and I even saw it with the Tigers in that magical 2006 season, but the Lions have long been the team without an identity. They’ve long been the team with a bad (or no) culture. The closest we’ve seen with the Lions was probably 2014, but several players like Ndamukong Suh immediately left when they came up short in the postseason that year.
For the Lions to go from what they were just three years ago when Richard Sherman opted to not sign with the Lions due to concerns with the team’s culture to where they are now where every incoming free agent mentions the team’s culture as the reason they decided to come here is insane.
I know that Lions general manager Brad Holmes said that the Lions are planning to not deviate too much from their previous free agency strategy, but they might have to because players might be having their agents call Detroit to inquire about their interest in them. Not only do the Lions have a culture that has their own employees clawing to get back, but they have a system that has already revived several players’ careers. They turned Jamaal Williams into a 1,000-yard rusher. They turned Charles Harris from bust to contributor. John Cominsky went from afterthought to a key member of Detroit’s defensive rotation.
If the Lions do decide to try to shoot their shot with some of the bigger free agents in the class, the team’s recent success coupled with players’ and coaches’ desire to stay in town is only going to help the Lions in their negotiations. The fact that they have more money than they’ve had in a while will help too.
We’ve heard many times that the Lions are trying to build something special. T.J. Lang said it about the Lions multiple times during his time on the roster back during the Matt Patricia era. It seems that for the first time ever, that’s not just a throwaway line that nobody believes. It’s the real deal. This Lions team truly is onto something special.