Detroit Lions finally embrace truth: NFL draft was the beginning of much-needed rebuild

Detroit Free Press

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A few weeks ago, I was watching ESPN and an analyst said something like: “NFL teams tell the truth twice a year — once during free agency and once during the draft.”

All the rest is smoke and mirrors, outright lies or clever spin.

In other words: Judge their actions, not what they say.

So what have the Detroit Lions told us this offseason by what they have done?

This organization has finally faced the truth that former general manager Bob Quinn left this roster in shambles; this rebuild is going to take years; and there is no mandate to win now.

The Quinn/Patricia disaster was obvious for more than a year but not to Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp. After she fired Quinn in late November, she made a curious statement. “You know, 10 days ago, we looked like we had a good chance to be playoff-bound and both of those games were extremely disappointing,” she said.

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Yes, back in mid November, she was thinking playoffs.

Five months later, she has a new regime and has embraced a full rebuild. She was in the Lions’ draft room, hugging people after they took offensive tackle Penei Sewell in the first round.

“That is unbelievable,” she said in a moment recorded on video.

Clearly, she has fully bought in to this new regime, this new approach, and that’s a remarkable transformation. If you study how the Lions are building this team — grabbing foundation pieces instead of plugging holes with quick fixes — it is clear that Ford Hamp has given this new regime time to build this team.

In this draft, the Lions bolstered their offensive and defensive lines, grabbed a long versatile cornerback, drafted a physical slot receiver known for winning catchable balls and traded up to get a tackling machine at linebacker.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: No more ‘Same Old’ for Lions; try ‘Big and Bold’ instead

You can argue if they made the right picks — or even addressed the needs in the right order. It didn’t go down as I would have preferred. But they filled some needs. This team is nastier, more explosive and tougher.

But it’s still nowhere near being competitive.

The mess that never happened

Hours before this draft on Thursday, word broke that quarterback Aaron Rodgers wants out of Green Bay.

The Packers’ front office has totally botched how it has handled this future Hall of Famer, ticking him off after trading up to draft his replacement in 2020.

Now, consider how this new Lions regime handled the Matthew Stafford situation. When Stafford said he wanted out, the Lions quickly flipped him for the Rams’ first-round draft picks in 2022 and 2023, a third-round pick this year, and quarterback Jared Goff — a tremendous haul.

[ Penei Sewell: ‘You live this life once and I’m going to make it count’ ]

It was a tricky, delicate situation, trading the face of the franchise, but it came off as clean and classy from both the Lions and Stafford.

Meanwhile, Packers situation has turned into a real-life Jeopardy answer — who is stuck between a rock and hard place? 

The Lions nailed it, the Packers botched it; and that’s pretty impressive for this new front office.

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Detroit Lions’ Brad Holmes describes what team achieved in his first NFL draft as GM

Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes speaks to the media after the 2021 NFL draft on Saturday, May 1, 2021, in Allen Park.

Detroit Lions, Detroit Free Press

Goff is here for a while

In the hours after the Stafford trade, Goff seemed like an afterthought.

But it is clear that he is the quarterback for the next few years. The Lions had an opportunity to draft Justin Fields or Mac Jones.

But they didn’t and that says everything.

Then again, the Lions didn’t do Goff any favors by getting him many weapons. They let Kenny Golladay go to free agency and didn’t draft one of the premier receivers.

MORE FROM SEIDEL: Why Brad Holmes’ chance to forge new Lions era truly begins with NFL draft

Right now, the Lions top two receivers are Breshad Perriman and Tyrell Williams. Neither is much of a threat. Perriman has played 66 games in the NFL and has scored just 14 touchdowns, averaging about two catches per game. And Williams has averaged about 40 catches and five touchdowns over the last four seasons.

The Lions waited until the fourth round to get another receiver, selecting Amon-Ra St. Brown. He is a tough, physical slot receiver — I’m seriously excited about his potential — but it’s not likely that he will become the team’s No.1 receiver.

So don’t expect Goff to have a huge year.

On the flip side, the Lions should be able to run ball, which should open up the play action passing game.

Follow the money

How the Lions spent money says everything.

Holmes decided not to franchise tag Golladay, which would have cost about $16 million. By comparison, that is about $1 million less than the combined cap hit of the Rams’ entire wide receiving group.

He traded a 2023 seventh-round pick for Rams defensive tackle Michael Brockers, and then gave him a $24 million contract extension through 2022.

He extended the contract of Romeo Okwara with a cap-friendly deal that essentially ties him to Detroit for two years.

But Holmes did spend on the offensive line. He gave a contract extension to Frank Ragnow, one of the league’s top young interior offensive linemen, exercising a fifth year option. Ragnow will make $12.657 million in 2022.

Then, Holmes drafted Sewell. As the Lions front office celebrated in the draft room, coach Dan Campbell spoke to Sewell on the phone.

“We are fired up, my friend,” Campbell said. “You are gonna change the culture for us. We want to build this thing around guys like you. You come in and play just like you’ve been playing. You come in to compete, man. You be just as nasty and dirty as you have been. And you are going to help us turn this thing around. We are gonna be winners man. You are the building block, you hear me? We are fired up, man.”

Then, Holmes drafted two of the top five defensive tackles in the draft. Those two players are everything the Lions want: strong, athletic, explosive and nasty.

Embracing the nasty

We have seen a long string of general managers and coaches fail in Detroit. But this new regime just pulled off an impressive offseason. The hugs were real. And the actions spoke volumes.

They are thinking long term, not short-term fixes. They are starting this rebuild by trying to change the culture, bringing in a whole bunch of nasty.

That’s a good thing on a football field.

As second-round pick Levi Onwuzurike might say, this just might (expletive) work.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff. To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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