I thought Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell was being dumb, but maybe he’s a genius

Detroit Free Press

There are those moments, those special moments, when someone with the Detroit Lions says or does something so stupid it stops you in your tracks.

Marty Mornhinweg taking the wind in overtime at Chicago, losing and then getting fired five games later.

Jim Schwartz saying, “Don’t say I’m scared, because we ain’t,” after calling a failed fake punt in Pittsburgh, then getting fired six games later.

Bob Quinn saying 9-7 was “not nearly good enough” as a reason for firing Jim Caldwell.

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Some might call these the moments that “Lion-ize” fans, those pour souls who can’t help themselves for caring about this team because they inherited a genetic weakness from their Michigander ancestors. Being yoked to the Lions is like an animal having a vestigial body part — something that no longer serves any purpose, like the human tailbone, an ostrich’s wings or the part of Matt Millen’s brain that made draft choices.

It sounded like Dan Campbell added one more of these moments to the Lion-ized ledger recently when he said he didn’t believe an NFL team needs to have an elite quarterback for long-term success.

“No, I don’t think you need that,” the Lions coach told reporters. “I think that those guys like that are obviously, they’re special. And they certainly can give you a better chance. But no, I don’t believe you have to have one of those guys to have sustained success.”

In full disclosure, I was not present when Campbell said this. If I were, I’d still have a welt on my forehead from face-palming myself.

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You don’t need an elite QB? Did you hear that, New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs? Y’all can just go ahead and return those Super Bowl trophies and cut Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes whenever you want.

I figured Campbell might be employing an epic smokescreen to make the rest of the NFL think the Lions have no intention of drafting a quarterback with the No. 2 overall pick. But to what purpose? If anything, teams with high picks usually imply they might draft a quarterback just to drive up the asking price in a trade.

Was Campbell really being this dumb and clumsy about draft strategy?

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If there’s one team in the NFL that should fully understand the value of attaining an elite quarterback, it should be the team that parted ways with Matthew Stafford only to see the Rams immediately and seamlessly plug him into a championship team in need of its final missing piece.

Is Stafford elite? That’s another column, if not several columns (or a series of books that includes “Volume 6: Matthew Stafford and the Half-Blood Picks”).

If nothing else, the term “elite” is problematic. So is “sustained success.” You probably can’t get two NFL coaches to agree on their definitions. I imagine right now an “Avengers: Endgame” battle royale is taking place in the comment section arguing both terms.

Then it struck me. We have no idea how Campbell defines “sustained success.” It could mean anything. A winning record, consecutive Super Bowl titles, making the playoffs every other year. Who knows?

But what if there’s a chance Campbell’s definition of sustained success is modest and reasonable?

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Look, every NFL fan wants sustained success for their team. But I think most fans think of sustained success being what the Patriots and Packers and Steelers and Seahawks seem to conjure year after year.

That, however, is not sustained success. That is wild success.

And it takes elite, Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks such as Brady, Mahomes, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger or Russell Wilson to get there. And how easy is it to find those quarterbacks? Only Mahomes was a top-10 pick, and barely, which means few teams understood the ability and value of these players. And that means their teams got lucky.

So what if the Lions and their fans forget about creating the next great dynasty? What if they settle for, you know, just being pretty good fairly often?

What if the Lions try to be like the Tennessee Titans, who’ve won two division titles and made the playoffs four out of the past five years with non-elite quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota?

What if the Lions try to be like the Cincinnati Bengals? No, not the current Bengals, coming off a Super Bowl appearance. The old Bengals under Marvin Lewis, who never won a playoff game but made the playoffs six times in a seven-season span and won four division titles with Andy Dalton.

And if you want a shot at a championship without an elite quarterback, well, the Lions should know about that, too. At this point, it’s pretty obvious Jared Goff is not an elite QB — yet he was surrounded with enough help in Los Angeles to win two division titles and get the Rams to the title game.

Then something else struck me. And no, it wasn’t my palm against my face. But this thought was more jarring and even scarier.

What if there’s a chance Campbell is the genius I’ve been waiting for who would one day come along and dispel the myths and deflate the hype about the quarterback and have the guts to deemphasize the position’s importance?

Let’s face it. When the 199th player selected in a given draft becomes the greatest quarterback in the history of the game — and even then, it takes a catastrophic injury to the star No. 1 overall pick for him to even get a chance — it’s clear no one really knows what they’re doing in the NFL draft.

And the scariest thought of them all? What if the Lions finally know what they’re doing?

Contact Carlos Monarrez at cmonarrez@freepress.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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