Lions part ways with Anthony Lynn, head into offseason optimistic with Detroit’s direction

Detroit News

Allen Park — A hurricane of change washed over the NFC North on Monday, with potentially the biggest upheaval yet to come, but the Detroit Lions enter the offseason on a relatively calm note, with uncharacteristic optimistim accompanying an all-too-familiar last-place finish.

The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings were the big newsmakers Monday, with those franchises relieving both their general managers and head coaches of their positions. In a next few weeks, those organizations will have new leadership and a new direction, both potentially entering rebuilds similar to the one the Lions started a year ago.

Green Bay, on the other hand, is prepping for the postseason as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, and as much as a Super Bowl contender as anyone else. But who knows what the future holds for quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who has been hinting at an impending divorce, or even the possibility of retirement, following the season.

That leaves the Lions, who despite winning three games, finished the season playing their best football as general manager Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell’s culture has seemingly begun to take hold.

“We’re in the Arctic Ocean, but we’re headed to the Caribbean,” Campbell said last week. “There’s a long way to go, but we’re heading there, I do know that. That’s what this year has been about and everything had to happen that’s happened this year to an extent, it really has.

“You had to go through some of these growing pains and it’s not been easy, but yet anything worth having or anything worth having success at, it takes a lot of work, hard work,” Campbell said. “It’s not going to just happen. And, it’s also what makes it that much sweeter that’s for sure.”

Detroit’s offseason won’t come without alterations. That started Monday with the expected departure of offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn. Campbell confirmed the news Monday morning.

“I just think it wasn’t a fit,” Campbell said. “You want it to be, but I think we just never found our groove or our rhythm, if you will. It’s hard to really pinpoint. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out the way you want.”

Other changes could still be coming to the coaching staff, but Campbell said he wants to continue to evaluate things for at least another week before making any decisions. But the one people will be most interested in will be whether he’ll continue to call the plays on offense.

Campbell said he likes where the team was heading offensively at year’s end, including a season-high 37 points in a win over Green Bay in the finale. Plus, he’s confident he would only continue to get better in a role that was new to him when he took the duties over from Lynn after Week 8. But Campbell also is concerned the added responsibilities with the offense will take away from his focus from both the defense and special teams.

A clear alternative is promoting tight end coach Ben Johnson to offensive coordinator. He’s been heavily involved with the passing game the second half of the season, earning praise from a number of coaches and players for his contributions to some of the team’s biggest play calls down the stretch.

“I will say this, I think Ben Johnson did a hell of a job for us,” Campbell said. “I will say that and kind of leave it of that.”

Beyond that, Campbell and Holmes face the standard slate of personnel decisions, starting with the evaluation of more than a dozen players set to be unrestricted free agents, as well as many more restricted and exclusive-rights free agents, where the Lions hold first rights of refusal before those players would hit the open market come March.

More: Wojo: Lions finish with flourish, but next trick must be more meaningful

“I felt like once we came out of the bye, we played a lot better football,” Campbell said. “I thought we complemented each other much better, offensively and defensively. To me, you could really see and feel progress. And I really felt like over probably the last five, six weeks, OK, we can get a true evaluation of our players. All of them, and where we’re at offensively, defensively, special teams. I didn’t always feel that way, particularly offensively, until a certain point. That was big for us.

And that all leads to the draft, where the Lions hold two first-round choices, including the No. 2 overall selection based on their dismal finish in the standings.

Those are the pieces to build upon the foundation being laid, to help Campbell navigate from the frigid waters of the NFC North’s basement back to the tropics of postseason and division title contention.

“Don’t get it twisted, three wins is brutal,” center Frank Ragnow said. “What did Dan say the other day? We’re in the Arctic. This is the Arctic, man. Three wins in the NFL is brutal. I don’t think guys, by any means, are happy with what we did this season. But I would also say looking at what we did this season, there are definitely thoughts of optimism. I think compared to years past, there definitely is, ‘OK, we can keep doing this.’ That’s really exciting.”

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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