Allen Park — It’s been a little less than a year since the Detroit Lions hired Brad Holmes, and the team’s general manager can’t believe how quickly the time has passed.
And while he’s not happy about the three wins — whether he’ll ever admit that was the expected outcome is another matter entirely — Holmes is pleased with the foundation he and coach Dan Campbell have been able to lay down in the initial stages of the franchise’s reconstruction.
“It’s hard to practice the patience, at times, to stick with the plan, but it’s a multi-year plan, it’s for sustained success, and I believe we did lay the foundation,” Holmes said Tuesday, during his season wrap-up press conference.
Holmes’ hope for the future is tied to three things, with Campbell and their working relationship leading the way.
“Dan’s just been phenomenal,” Holmes aid. “I can’t say enough great things about him, the rest of this staff. So many great things I can say about Dan, but I’ll just sum it up: He’s got an it-factor that you either have it or you don’t and he has that. He’s been a joy to work with.
“…Dan and I are cut from the same cloth, in terms of when adversity hits,” Holmes said. “We didn’t have to talk about it, we immediately were both encouraged the next week. It’d be a tough loss on Sunday. Monday morning I’m seeing Dan, and the first thing is — I’m driving into work saying, ‘Man, I can’t wait to get started for this week’ — and then I see Dan and Dan’s like, ‘We’re about to score 30 points this week.’ That’s just how we are, and it was a testament to everybody in the building.”
From a personnel standpoint, Holmes came away thrilled with the team’s commitment to developing its young talent. Like any good general manager, he always had a list of veteran players at the ready whenever injuries hit, but instead of picking up the phone, Holmes opted to use those opportunities to develop a young player.
And in the case of a guy like cornerback Jerry Jacobs, that playing time reveals someone who has the potential to be a piece of the foundation. Or with wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown, it allows them to accelerate their development through on-field experience that can’t be simulated in practice.
“Dan and my vision, our plan on player development and how we view it and how we’re not scared to let young guys play,” Holmes said. “We’re just not. I think I’ve said it to you guys before, you just can’t be on the driving range all day. You’ve gotta go out there and play. That’s what we do.”
That development led to notable improvements down the stretch. And after failing to secure a win through the first 11 games, the Lions managed to win three of their final six, knocking off a pair of playoff teams in the process.
Now it’s time to build on the concrete that’s been poured. And that’s the third source of Holmes’ optimism, knowing he has the resources to be more aggressive in his second offseason, starting with free agency.
“Everything will be better than it was at this time last year,” Holmes said. “Free agency will be better. We’ll have a little more resources at our disposal.”
In his first offseason, Holmes had clear limitations due to the cap situation he inherited, which was further complicated by the dead money that came attached with trading quarterback Matthew Stafford. That led to the Lions signing a bunch of one-year deals, primarily with bargain-bin free agents.
That’s not that the Lions didn’t believe in the players they added last offseason, but they had to shop for damaged goods, guys coming off injuries or bad schematic fits at their previous spots. And in that batch of players, they found some solid production and a couple of true gems, such as edge rusher Charles Harris.
Holmes made it clear that the team will continue looking for the same football character when they go shopping with those extra resources this offseason, but with the understanding they can target a higher caliber of talent with longer-term offers.
“We’re still going to find guys that fit,” Holmes said. ‘Regardless of however much resources we have, we’re still going to find guys that truly fit what we’re about. You bring up the guys that have chips on their shoulders, things to prove. Well a lot of times experiences shape people, often, and we’re a gritty group.”
On top of that, the Lions are selling something different, something more appealing this offseason.
“Hopefully, the word has spread about what we’re building here,” Holmes said. “I think it’s evident, the culture we have in place. I’m not sure it’s a selling point, but hopefully that’s evident, that everybody is going to see that, and that word is going to be around about what we’re all about. I think it’s evident about how hard we play and we’re a gritty group that played really, really hard. We have an outstanding culture here and hopefully that bodes well for us.”
And all that will transition into the draft, where the Lions have some premium resources, starting with two first-rounders, potential five selections in the first two days — depending on the compensatory selection they receiver for losing wide receiver Kenny Golladay in free agency — and the No. 2 overall choice.
So as Holmes embarks on this second offseason, he can’t help but be excited for what’s next.
“It was very cool to see how hard these guys played,” Holmes said. “When things got bleak late, late in the year, practices and games, I think that was a true testament for what we’re about as an organization and our leadership. Again, can’t say enough. It’s a gritty group, and I’m excited about what’s coming up.”