Detroit Lions’ disappointment in free agency puts a lot of pressure on their NFL draft

Detroit Free Press

Last month, I saw something at the Detroit Lions’ headquarters I thought I would never see again: the resurrection of Bob Quinn’s draft plan.

Yes, the fired general manager who brought us such spectacular swings and misses on players like Teez Tabor and Jahlani Tavai somehow convinced his replacement to take another swing at one of his biggest whiffs: Jarrad Davis.

I couldn’t believe it.

I sat in the front row of the Allen Park media center listening to the 2017 No. 21 overall pick who became a constant liability in coverage during his four years with the Lions, had his fifth-year rookie option declined, then flamed out in one injury riddled season with the New York Jets. I listened to Davis talk about finding balance in his life and how much he missed Detroit and how great of a fit he was going to be in his return.

Was this really happening?

How did Holmes decide Davis was going to be his own, personal rehabilitation project? Did Holmes inherit Quinn’s old desk and find some petrified gummy bears, a dead Tamagotchi and this predraft sticky note: “J.D., good kid, hard worker, faster than Teez, next best player after Myles Garrett and Patrick Mahomes, buy more gummy bears on way home.”

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Was this really the best Holmes and the Lions could do to bolster a terrible linebacking corps? They mostly re-signed their own guys, like Alex Anzalone and Josh Woods, while letting one of their best linebackers — Davis’ buddy and his draft classmate Jalen Reeves-Maybin — leave in free agency.

For the record, I always liked Davis. He’s a good guy and a hard worker who’s committed to the game. One of my most endearing memories of the Lions is of watching him and Reeves-Maybin play a one-on-one basketball game as rookies in the locker room … with an invisible ball and invisible basket.

As much as I like Davis, I wouldn’t sign him, and he’s emblematic of the disappointing season the Lions had in free agency. The only notable player they added was receiver DJ Chark, who signed only a one-year deal for  $10 million. You might want to hold off on buying that Lions Chark jersey for another year.

[ Ex-NFL GM: Lions should consider Derek Stingley, Ikem Ekwonu if Hutchinson gone ]

So why mention free agency with the 2022 NFL draft a week away?

Because the draft really starts with free agency. Roster holes that aren’t filled in free agency have to be addressed in the draft.

That means the underwhelming work the Lions did in free agency to improve the roster that produced  three wins last season has placed an extraordinary burden on their draft next week. Yes, it helps that they have eight picks, including three of the first 34 selections. That means they can miss a few times and still have a decent chance of finding good players who will contribute at some point. But a good draft, no matter how many picks a team has, isn’t guaranteed.

Holmes said he and coach Dan Campbell want to build through the draft. Yes, of course, who doesn’t? But they couldn’t sign any significant free agent to a long-term deal to hurry the process along? They couldn’t entice premier receiver and Detroit native Allen Robinson to come home and prove there’s faith in their vision outside of Allen Park? Or pull a judo move on the Patriots and steal cornerback J.C. Jackson to bolster this awful secondary?

The problem with building through the draft is that it requires excellent drafting skills. Something Holmes hasn’t proved he has after just one year. Penei Sewell will probably be the best player Holmes drafted in 2021, but his best pick was Amon-Ra St. Brown, a fourth-rounder he was brow-beaten into taking by annoying people like me who were clamoring to give poor Jared Goff some help.

The other problem with building through the draft is that it requires a GM to be smarter and luckier than 31 other dudes in the league. Mahomes was the 10th pick in 2017, putting to shame the nine GMs who passed on him  that year. Tom Brady was the 199th pick in the 2000 draft, which means a lot of people missed a lot of times in that draft.

Holmes likes to talk about his process and trusting in it. Look, I think anyone should have conviction in what they’re doing. But a first-time GM touting an entirely unproven process is concerning. It’s like going to a restaurant and having a newly promoted sous chef show you a list of ingredients and an elaborate recipe and then asking you to trust the dish that’s going to emerge from the oven in three or four years will be amazing.

Sorry, but when the new chef is asking you to take another taste of the fish that was already going bad two years ago, maybe his process needs a little refining — and our palates need some cleansing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to buy gummy bears before the draft starts.

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

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