| The Detroit News
Now that the Detroit Lions have hired Brad Holmes as the franchise’s new general manager, he’ll have only a couple months to get situated and chart a path for the franchise going forward.
Here are five critical decisions he’ll face before the 2021 season:
What to do at QB
Among the fan base, there are two clearly defined camps regarding Matthew Stafford’s future.
The majority, understanding the historical difficulty the franchise had in landing a top-tier quarterback, would prefer to stick with the status quo and move forward with No. 9 as the guy.
The other side believe Stafford’s tenure has run its course and it’s time to move on. The cap consequences of parting ways is palatable and there should be a quality option available when the Lions are on the clock in the upcoming draft.
The compromise, obviously, is the Lions both keep Stafford and draft an presumptive heir, similar to what the Chiefs and Ravens did in recent years with Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson.
Regardless, this is unquestionably a career crossroads for Stafford, who has repeatedly said he wants to stay, and win, in Detroit, but has also noted he’ll be discussing his future with his family this offseason. He’s likely surveying what the team’s new leadership structure means for him and will be consulted about whether he wants to remain a Lion.
How Holmes navigates this decision will set the course of his tenure.
What the GM does with Stafford will signal whether the Lions are going to attempt to retool or rebuild, with the latter being the more challenging course.
Should they stay or should they go?
The Lions have not one, but two impending free agents who will be coveted in the open market this March.
A year after leading the NFL in touchdown receptions, wide receiver Kenny Golladay was trending toward a contract that would pay him approximately $20 million annually. Maybe he still sees something in that range, but there are multiple factors now working against him, namely his recent durability issues. He missed 11 games this past season, including the final nine with a hip flexor strain.
Golladay showed his dominance during the five games he did play, but he’s entering a market that is flooded with top-tier receiving talent, including Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, T.Y. Hilton, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Corey Davis. Additionally, the salary cap is expected to decrease significantly because of the economic impact of COVID-19, giving teams less to spend.
Plus, it’s not just Golladay the Lions should be worried about losing. Defensive end Romeo Okwara, coming off a breakout season where he tallied 10.0 sacks and more than 60 quarterback pressures, also figures to be a hot commodity.
At 25 years old, Okwara is just entering his physical prime, and has unteachable length to go with his rapidly developing set of pass-rush moves. Given his schematic versatility, he’s put himself in position to command a deal that could exceed $10 million per season, particularly give the league’s thirst for disruptive edge rushers.
If Holmes is interested in keeping either, or both, he’s going to face a challenge finding the cap space. That’s always a fluid situation, but entering the offseason, the Lions are butting up against projections with their current commitments.
That makes using the franchise tag problematic, given it carries a massive, one-year cap ramifications. The better option will be long-term deals, where the first-year impact on the cap can be significantly reduced.
Turning over the hapless defense
The 2020 defense was the worst in franchise history, allowing more yards and points than any previous incarnation. And those failures weren’t from a lack of investment. The team paid good money to bring in free-agent pieces such as Trey Flowers, Jamie Collins, Justin Coleman and Desmond Trufant, while using early round draft picks on Jarrad Davis, Jahlani Tavai, Jeff Okudah, Tracy Walker and Will Harris.
Of that group, all but Davis are under contract for next season. Obviously, the incoming coach and defensive coordinator will work collaboratively with Holmes regarding which pieces can be salvaged, but a comprehensive overhaul of the unit can be reasonably anticipated.
The question becomes, how far will Holmes go with his first-year changes?
Financially, the Lions won’t be able to do much with Flowers or Collins. The dead money remaining on their deals exceeds their 2021 cap figure. Basically, cutting them costs more than keeping them. And Okudah is obviously going no where.
The others, they’re all fair game. Coleman and Trufant, for example, each have a total $12 million in dead money remaining, but letting them go could save $4.9 million and $6.2 million respectively. The Lions could also create more than $10 million in space by parting with Christian Jones, Danny Shelton and Nick Williams, three more free-agent signings by former GM Bob Quinn.
Of course, each player cut will need to be replaced. That must be factored into the equation. Detroit’s defense should look drastically different in 2021, it’s just a matter of how aggressive Holmes chooses to be.
With the No. 7 pick, the Lions select …
The most valuable asset Holmes inherited is the top-10 pick the Lions earned for finishing 5-11 last season.
Holmes isn’t unfamiliar with drafting early. In his role as college scouting director of the Rams, the team had top-10 picks from 2014-16, selecting offensive tackle Greg Robinson, quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley.
But for the past four years, the Rams haven’t had a first-round draft pick. So this will be something of a change of pace for Detroit’s new GM.
One thing to note heading into the draft is the Lions only hold five selections, previously trading their sixth- and seventh-round choices. That’s hardly devastating. Those could easily be recouped by trading down a handful of slots anywhere in the first three rounds. Honestly, it’s something you probably should expect, given the Lions’ need for a fresh injection of talent.
Back to the No. 7 pick, it’s an opportunity to land a game-changer. Among early projections, that could be a quarterback, one of the draft’s top receivers or a defender such as Penn State linebacker Micah Parsons, which could jumpstart that unit’s overhaul.
A misfire at the top of the draft wouldn’t break Holmes, just like taking Greg Robinson No. 2 overall in 2014 didn’t prevent the Rams from reaching the Super Bowl five years later. Still, hitting on his first choice would build quick confidence in his abilities as the right choice to lead this franchise.
Building a staff
Clearly, Holmes won’t be going at this alone. He’ll need to build a front office around him that will help evaluate college and pro talent, as well as negotiate contracts. Undoubtedly, there will be holdovers, including much of the college scouting staff, but he’ll need to quickly identify who will be running his pro and college personnel departments.
After firing Quinn, the Lions retained his his top four personnel executives, including Lance Newmark and Rob Lohman. Both have previously survived changes at the top of the organization, while continuing to climb the ranks. It’s to be determined whether they stick as part of Holmes’ staff or he’ll go in a different direction with one or both positions.
Mike Disner, the team’s vice president of football operations, joined the organization in 2019. He’s the team’s lead contract negotiator and well-respected around the league. He’s also played a role in the team’s coaching and general manager searches and is almost certain to remain on staff.
Inevitably, likely after the draft, Holmes will inject some new faces into Detroit’s scouting staff. Given he’s spent his entire career with the Rams, it will interesting to see where he’s built relationships outside that building when he pulls together his staffing choices.