The Detroit Lions are close. I know that’s a statement that was hated not long ago when the team was 1-6 and looked like they were closer to a regime change than a title, but it’s true now. This team is ready to compete and compete for big things.
With free agency less than a week away, it feels like the Lions are standing at a crossroads and there are multiples ways to go. After the NFL Combine, I find myself a little concerned that they might go the wrong way.
Okay, everyone calm down. This team and its front office have been doing things the right way when it comes to building through the draft and building a great coaching staff. There are absolutely no complaints there. This team is on the right track, and I certainly understand if you’re willing to just trust whatever they do.
My concern, however, is that the Lions might be a little too conservative when it comes to free agency. We saw a lot of that conservatism last year when the Lions opted to not bring in a whole lot of talent via free agency. Last year it was understandable, though. The Lions didn’t have a ton of money, they weren’t expected to compete, and they were still trying to find out their identity on both sides of the ball.
Things are different now. The Lions do have money and they do have an identity. That’s why it’s so strange that the Lions have been so publicly adamant that they’re not about to take any swings in free agency.
Let’s be clear, the team has not come out and said verbatim that they won’t take swings. But... they’ve come pretty darn close. Here’s general manager Brad Holmes stating that the Lions don’t plan to change their free agent strategy:
“We’re always going to be very strategic and selective with our approach. Regardless of how many resources you have, how much money you can spend, we’re always are very selective and strategic with how we go about free agency.”
Coach Dan Campbell was far more direct, saying they shouldn’t be focused on the cream of the crop in free agency:
“We don’t need to acquire these high-level, you’re paying the most for these guys because they’re rated the No. 1 guy in free agency at that position. We just need to get better. Let’s just get better at areas we need to get better at and focus on that. I think that’s always been the focus.”
I understand the idea behind all this. Free agency is not an easy thing to master. Every year a team gives a player big money and then watch that same player regress immediately. The Giants bringing in Kenny Golladay is a perfect example of how things can go wrong when you try to sign a player. It’s a risk.
Still, it’s time for the Lions to take that risk and take it now. Here’s the thing, for so long the Lions have been the laughing stock of the league. They’ve been the team where free agents don’t want to go. There was once a belief that Detroit was where your career goes to die. That’s not the case anymore.
The Lions’ culture is that of a winning team, a fun place to play, and a destination where players can realize their full potential. Just ask players like Charles Harris, John Cominsky and Jamaal Williams, whose stocks immediately rose from the ashes upon landing in Detroit in free agency.
Detroit is starting to be known for their good coaching. Everyone saw all this on “Hard Knocks” and they saw it turn into tangible results with the Lions’ 8-2 finish. Detroit is now a destination. The Lions should not waste that. This is the time to capitalize on this newfound interest by bringing in the best players that they can bring in.
I understand the want to build through the draft and I support it, but the Lions should not head down the same road that the Steelers and Packers have headed down. They’ve been able to build perennial playoff teams, but their conservatism in free agency is a big reason they’ve plateaued and failed to get over the championship route. Sure, we in Detroit would all love the consistency of a Steelers or Packers franchise, but the ultimate goal should be championships, not playoff appearances.
I fear that this is the route the Lions are going to go for the long run. Not just this year. They want to be the team that’s able to draft well and have the money to bring those players back. I fear that, because that’s essentially what Brad Holmes continues to say.
The goal here should be to get to a point where you can do both. The Lions are already good at drafting, now it’s time to get good at acquiring players through free agency. Take those swings while you’ve got the money and the interest.