The Detroit Lions spent the vast majority of their resources on defense in this week’s NFL draft, which was the clearest indication yet what they think about Jared Goff at quarterback.
The Lions used six of their eight draft picks on defensive players, including the no-brainer No. 2 overall selection of Michigan football edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.
Hutchinson should have a significant impact on a defense that has struggled to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks for four years running, and Brad Holmes tripled down on his investment in the pass rush by taking Kentucky’s Josh Paschal in Round 2 and Jackson State’s James “Da Problem” Houston in Round 6.
But Holmes’ fearless trade up for Alabama receiver Jameson Williams in the first round was the most significant and maybe most important move of his 15-month tenure as GM.
No matter what you think of the trade, whether you doubt the merits of moving up for a receiver returning from a torn ACL or love a deal that netted the Lions one of the top 15 talents in the draft and was a big analytical win for the franchise — I’m in the second camp, for the record — it sets Goff up for a no-excuses sort of season, which in turn should give the Lions clarity in the next step of their rebuild.
The Lions have one of the best offensive lines in football, a group I would conservatively rank among the NFL’s 10 best heading into the season, assuming Frank Ragnow and Taylor Decker return healthy. They have a Pro Bowl tight end in T.J. Hockenson, an emerging slot weapon in Amon-Ra St. Brown, a potential future No. 1 receiver in Williams (plus another speedy downfield threat in DJ Chark), and a capable group of running backs led by D’Andre Swift.
Goff played well in the second half of last season after struggling to start the year, and while the Lions have never fully committed to him as their quarterback of the future, they also have made it clear they believe he can be successful when surrounded by the right talent.
That talent is in place now, which means the 2022 season will be a make-or-break year for Goff.
Holmes brushed aside that notion in his post-draft news conference Saturday, but one way or another Goff’s play this fall should bring clarity to the Lions’ quarterback situation.
Goff has three years left on his contract, but the Lions can get out of the deal with limited salary cap implications after this season.
“I don’t want to say no excuses, but I do think the more weapons and the better resources that you surround your quarterback with, I think it’s just better and it helps them out more,” Holmes said. “You can say that for any quarterback. We obviously will have more (talent around him) coming into this year.”
Goff got off to a rough beginning last season in his first year in Detroit.
He lost his first nine starts. He seemed reluctant to push the ball downfield at times. And that reaffirmed, in the eyes of most observers, that he was a bridge quarterback to better times.
But Goff played decidedly better football in his final six starts, when he led the Lions to a 3-2-1 record while playing with a better supporting cast. The Lions got Decker back from a preseason finger injury around that time, added Josh Reynolds (one of Goff’s old targets with the Los Angeles Rams) to their receiving corps, and made a change in offensive play-caller, demoting Anthony Lynn and giving Ben Johnson more control of the passing game.
NFL Network analyst Charles Davis told the Free Press this week that the Lions would be wise to give Goff another year before cutting bait.
This year’s class at quarterback was among the weakest in recent memory, so there was no ready-made starter for the Lions to pick at No. 2. More importantly, Davis said, Goff has more to give.
“I think next year we’re going to look and see again, but he needs to be surrounded with better players (than he was last season),” Davis said. “I mean, he went to a Super Bowl with a darn good team and he wasn’t bad that year. I didn’t think that he was being brought along for the ride. He was a big part of it. So people are going to judge him off that, but then you got to judge him and say, ‘Well, with this guy, it’s not the same.’ That Rams offense is not the same as this Lions offense, so let’s see how they build up and go from there.”
Goff had success in L.A. in an offense flush with talent. Todd Gurley was the best running back in the NFL at the time, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks were a dynamic tandem at receiver, and Sean McVay was — and remains — one of the best play-callers in the game.
This year’s Lions offense is not as talented as that Rams bunch, nor is their young but ascending defense, and Johnson has to prove himself in his new role as offensive coordinator.
Still, if Goff can have success with a Lions team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017, he could earn himself a real chance to stick at quarterback.
If he can’t, Holmes’ mission next spring should be clear: Do everything possible to land a quarterback with championship potential.
“I really admire and appreciate what (Goff) did with what he worked with last year,” Holmes said Saturday. “So I wouldn’t say it’s no excuses, but we just expect him to be set up for success, which Dan (Campbell) and I said that’s what we’re going to do for Jared.”