After our divisional season review podcasts, we are now looking to the future and asking where each franchise goes from here. We put ourselves in the chair of being GM or the owner and going over what moves we would make in order to win a Superbowl, make the playoffs or just regain some pride…
Today we take a look at those Detroit Lions.
How Did Last Season Go?
First time HC, Matt Patricia came over from the Patriots as the latest Bill Belichick disciple to fly the safety of that nest and have a crack at standing on his own two feet.
It did not start well.
There was a lot of talk of Matty P’s boot camp style regime didn’t go down with the Lion’s player all that well to start off with. Who’d have thought that wealthy athletes, who are grown men, wouldn’t want to run laps and do push-ups in penance for not doing something to a coaches requirements..? Especially when it was leaked that Patricia was often late for his own meetings… Do as I say, not as I do, huh? I digress…
There was plenty of talk that stars didn’t buy in to the methods or the message and that Patricia trying to install the “Patriot Way” in Michigan was failing badly. Then later in the season he had them practicing outside in the deep snow… Could he have done more to piss them off?!
Anyway, on to the season… Was is any wonder that when opening night came the Jets walked all over the Lions on Monday night football, at Ford Field. Ouch. 6 days later out in San Francisco, same result, only positive this time is that it wasn’t a blow out.
Not a great start.
Then out of absolutely nowhere the Patricia got one over on the old master as the Patriots were defeated 10-26. Weird, although the Lions were off and running.
However like a lot of seasons in Detroit, the joy was short lived and the wins were sporadic.
The best run of form was 2 wins of the spin in weeks 5 and 7 (with an early bye week in between) against the Packers and Dolphins.
For the rest of the season there were only wins against the Panthers, the Cardinals and a shutout win over Green Bay to end the season.
In between there was the aforementioned snowy practice sessions, the trading of Golden Tate and even more losses.
So how did it go? Well, apart from sweeping the Packers, not to well. 6-10 and bottom of the North.
Weirdly, and weird is becoming the most prominent adjective here, 6 wins for a team and a head coach who was seemingly almost constantly in turmoil isn’t too bad.
Cap space: $35m
Draft picks (9): Round 1, 8th overall, Round 2 43rd overall, Round 3, 88th overall, Round 4, 111th overall, 5th Round 146th overall, Round 6, 184th & 204th overall, Round 7 224th & 229th overall.
The two main outgoings for the Lions are safety, Glover Quin who was a cap casualty that saves Detroit around $6.25m in cap space and the big one, pass rusher, Ziggy Ansah. Ansah played under the franchise tag this past year at a rate of around $17m, to do so again will cost the Lions just over $20m… A very steep price to pay for a player who is just coming off a 4 sack year and has only cracked 10 sacks twice in his career. I simply don’t see that happening for a player who will be aged 30 when the 2019 season starts.
Aside from Quin and Ansah, I don’t see the Lions having to replace too many starters or even important players. LeGarrette Blount and Luke Willson are the only “starters” that need replacing on offense and the only defensive players of note who are UFA’s are Marcus Cooper and Eli Harold and neither are starters.
The rest of the players who are out on contract are depth guys who are pretty easily replaceable or could easily be brought back on short term deals.
I know I said in the previous section that Detroit doesn’t need to replace that many starters but one this they certainly do need to do is get better players.
I look through their depth chart they have replacement level guys starting all over their team; Kerry Hyder, Devon Kennard, Christian Jones, Miles Killebrew… get those guys off the field and playing replacement level snaps. Unless you want to win 3-7 games per year…
So who should Detroit bring in to help them stay competitive in the ultra competitive NFC North?
I’d start on the offensive line and maybe bring in a young but cheap interior lineman to compete take the left guard spot and move Frank Ragnow to center; the guy I’d look to is Ryan Groy. Groy isn’t a big name by any means but Buffalo fans will tell you he’s a solid player and he also has the versatility to play center too if they want to keep Ragnow at left guard. This means you get an upgrade of Graham Glasgow and you can eject Kenny Wiggins.
Next up, switching over to the other line… Let’s get to the big news! Patricia wasted no time in bringing in Trey Flowers from New England once free agency opened up. Flowers will help stop the run as well as rush the pass and maybe in that order too, the order that I feel Patricia prioritises in his team and his edge defenders. The other way that Flowers helps is that he’ll be an ally of Patricia in the locker room and help install the culture he wants in Detroit.
The Lions would also need a more speedy rusher to replace Ansah and if they choose to attack that via free agency perhaps a bid for Alex Okafor or even Dante Fowler Jr. could be ahead.
The Lions also locked up deals for tight end Jesse James, slot corner Justin Coleman from Seattle and one time Patriot, Danny Amendola too. Again, all of whom have come in from successful franchises or in the case of Amendola have played for a successful team. This again helps the culture of the team.
Next up in free agency, I’d be looking at grabbing a free safety. Names that jump off the page as realistic options are guys such as Tre Boston or George Iloka. However if Detroit feel like throwing some money at the problem, they could try to bring Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix in or even Adrian Amos. Both of these guys are entering their prime years and will be wanting the relevant amount of compensation but would be major upgrades as a MOF defender.
After throwing money around in free agency, every team has to cultivate talent via the draft and a top 10 pick is a very valuable asset to have; what should Detroit do with the 8th overall pick? Well… I think they should see if anyone else wants it. Every draft is controlled by the selections of the quarterbacks and Detroit have their guy already. In 2019 there aren’t enough QB’s to go around both in free agency and the draft so there’s going to be a mad scramble for QB’s on draft night…
Let’s work through, the Cardinals, the 9ers, the Jets, the Raiders (we think), the Bucs all have their starters and the Giants have come out in support of Eli which leads us to the Jags at 7 who do need a QB, even with Nick Foles on board. So, if no team manages to trade up and get ahead of the Jags for a QB and then they take one, the stakes for teams like Miami and Washington go through the roof… These guys need to have a new QB come hell or high water. That makes the 8th overall pick extremely valuable. Trade back and you can get an extra pick or two and probably still manage to grab and defensive lineman, a tight end or a linebacker. For those positions they could be looking at Clelin Ferrell, T.J Hockenson or Mack Wilson in the first round or in the second, Charles Omenihu, Jace Sternberger or waiting on a linebacker like Kendall Joseph later in the draft. Detroit have the added flexibility of those extra 6th and 7th round picks which they could use to jump ahead and grab their preferred players in the later rounds.
Outlook For Next Year
So the Lions are evidently sticking with Patricia and giving him another shot but surely he will have to improve on 6 wins and improve on the locker room feeling towards him and his staff in order to be back for a third year.
If he is given a bit of freedom to get some deals done, I think Detroit have enough there already and some cap and draft flexibility to really improve on what they did last year.
What does make it a little more difficult is being in what could be the most competitive division in the entire league next year and also the fact that the NFC North is paired with the AFC West, another of football’s best divisions next year. The NFC East is the other division, which I personally think is pretty, meh… but then again so were the Lions last year. The Cardinals and the Bucs are the fellow basement dwellers on the calendar to round things out. So all in all pretty tough.
That said, I’m pretty optimistic for Detroit. I like their cornerstone players on offense; Stafford, Kerryon Johnson, Golladay, Ragnow, Taylor Decker and I also believe the defense will be better under Patricia in year 2…
So… neck on the line time… and now I’ve come to this point my confidence has drained. I think that’s down to the fact Detroit have a lot of work to do and have the most to do out of anyone in that division, coupled with a tough schedule.
Make some moves however, and this prediction will become a little more sunny but for now it’s a repeat performance, another 6-10 year.
I’m a big fan of Kenny Golladay for the coming fantasy season; because he’s still not that big of a name and doesn’t play in a big market, I feel he flies well under the fantasy radar but he should be considered in that second tier of wide receivers with the likes of Keenan Allen, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, T.Y Hilton and Juju Smith-Schuster. Golladay is going to be Detroit’s WR1 next year and there will be more balls to come his way over the full season since Golden Tate is gone. I’d have a solid round 2 pick with his name on it.
Kerryon Johnson is a nice RB2 that’ll be available in the mid rounds too; he’s the Lions’ first good running back in forever so he’ll be a workhorse for them.
Later on you can do worse than Marvin Jones as a touchdown heavy receiver and I still don’t mind Stafford as a streaming option or if you want to draft him late on and pick and choose your games with him alongside another QB you pick up off of waivers.
Outside of the obvious above there’s only really Theo Riddick worth mentioning as a PPR option but aside from that there’s not much more to mention until after draft day.