Detroit Lions general manager Brad Holmes and assistant general manager Ray Agnew met with the media on Friday to discuss the latest roster cuts and the 2023 NFL season ahead. The two talked for nearly 30 minutes about their comfort level with where the roster is, their process in getting there, and the high expectations for the four months ahead.
Here are my seven biggest takeaways from the Friday morning press conference.
Roster cuts weren’t as hard as the Lions expected
Holmes said that while he expected roster cuts to be more difficult than normal—seeing as the roster is undoubtedly getting better—he was actually surprised with how easy they came this year.
“Before we got started in camp, I was thinking like, we’re going to have a lot of tough decisions and we did, but actually, when it all came down to it, it wasn’t quite as many as I thought it was going to be,” Holmes said. “Which was a credit to a lot of people and, most importantly, a credit to the players.”
That’s not a shot at overall depth to the team, but rather a statement of how some players elevated themselves to a point where the Lions knew they couldn’t cut them. As for the players they did cut, only two (Germain Ifedi and Starling Thomas) ended up landing on another team’s 53-man roster. Although three (Christian Covington, Ryan Swoboda, and Parker Romo) have been signed to another team’s practice squad.
Brad Holmes is pretty darn confident in the roster right now
Holmes was asked straight up where his confidence level is when it comes to this roster being able to win the NFC North this year. The Lions general manager didn’t mince words.
Holmes noted that this team went through a lot of trials and tribulations for the first couple of years to get here. But they stuck to the plan, continued to build assets through the draft and free agency, and stayed patient with the process.
Now that they’re in the spotlight after their 8-2 finish to the season last year, they’re embracing the expectations.
“We’re not scared of the expectations,” Holmes said. “The expectations are earned through, I think, what we’ve built and what we’ve done up to this point, in terms of how we finished the end of the season and through our player acquisition process. But now, we’ve got to just prove them right.”
Holmes believes K Riley Patterson will weather a tough preseason game
Despite Patterson’s late struggles in the preseason and the Lions’ reported interest in getting involved in the trade market for kickers, Holmes reiterated his confidence in the veteran kicker. Specifically, he believes Patterson has the right temperament to shrug off poor performances and deliver in crunch time.
“What I know about Riley is he’s got a very low heart rate when it comes to game time,” Holmes said. “His confidence is high, so I’m not too concerned because I know who he is as a person, so hope for the best. You kind of saw the kick in Carolina where it was probably a little bit outside of his range of kind of what he normally is, but within his range, I mean just look at the data on him in games and in critical situations, he’s been pretty good, so I feel good about it.”
The Lions defense is brimming with talent
The Lions’ initial 53-man roster had 29 defenders to just 21 players on offense. While that has slid back to a 28-to-22 ratio, Holmes noted that their decision-making there simply had to do with the massive amount of talent there.
“It really left us with tremendous depth on the defensive side of the ball,” Holmes said. ”Obviously, I’m sure you’ve all seen the numbers, it’s pretty heavy over there, but with that kind of depth on the defensive side of ball, I do believe that that’s how you put yourself in best position to sustain over the long haul during the course of the season.”
Holmes also said getting second-year defender Josh Paschal and third-year defensive tackle Levi Onwuzurike back from injury is giving the team an extra boost.
“Paschal’s having a full offseason. I mean he’s just screaming all camp,” Holmes said. “Then Levi Onwuzurike, there was never a question about ability about Levi. It was just getting healthy and he’s been healthy and he’s been screaming all camp.”
Brian Branch’s early impression is not a surprise
Brian Branch has been one of the most impressive players at camp. And while Branch was the fourth player the Lions took in the draft in April—trading up to select him 45th overall—Holmes said that his early success in camp is not surprising. They knew he had that potential after taking on such a big role at Alabama.
“You’re talking about a kid that played at a high level for one of the more historic programs in college football under an elite head coach in Nick Saban,” Holmes said. “And just the complexity on defense and to play that starting nickel position, that’s a lot of demands mentally and physically, but it’s not a surprise, really.
Lions’ late-round draft pick success is not blind luck
Key to the Lions’ roster acquisition has been their ability to hit on late draft picks. Amon-Ra St. Brown, Derrick Barnes, Malcolm Rodriguez, and James Houston were all taken on Day 3 of the draft. In fact, outside of Jermar Jefferson—who was waived with an injury designation earlier this week—every single Lions pick from the past three drafts remains on the team.
“When it gets into the late rounds, sixth, seventh rounders, those picks aren’t just throw-away picks or picks just throwing a dart,” Holmes said. “I mean that’s a concentrated, intentional pick on those guys.”
The same goes for undrafted signings, Holmes said. Detroit has even managed to get some contributors after draft night. Jerry Jacobs has become a starting-capable talent. Brock Wright is a well-rounded player and is currently Detroit’s TE2. And this year cornerback Steven Gilmore made the final 53-man roster... which wasn’t a surprise to Holmes.
“It’s a very detailed, sound, thorough process that we put into that, and so to find a Steven Gilmore to come in and make the plays and really, it wasn’t a surprise to us,” Holmes said. “Having Gilmore make plays like that. He did that his whole time at Marshall, but to put it together in camp.”
Lions left Jameson Williams with a full rehab plan
Williams’ suspension officially began at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday, and until the end of Week 3, the Lions' second-year receiver cannot be at the facility or be in contact with the team. Unfortunately, that includes the Lions’ medical staff. So Williams, who is recovering from a hamstring injury, must rehab away from the facility.
But Holmes noted that prior to the suspension, both Williams and the team hammered out a game plan for the next three weeks.
“Well, had good communication with Jameson and his agent before the deadline, so obviously can’t have any contact with him, but they have a good plan in place for him while he’s recovering from his injury,” Holmes said. “And that six-week suspension sounds daunting when you say that, but after three weeks, he’s going to be allowed to come back in the building and we can kind of re-acclimate him there.”
You can watch the entire press conference below: