While the Detroit Lions love this offseason is great, can they just … be average first?

Detroit Free Press

They are building a new entrance to the Detroit Lions facility at Allen Park.

Workers were buzzing around the parking lot on Tuesday morning, apparently building a new security checkpoint. It won’t win any games, and it won’t help them get to the playoffs. But the entrance is bound to look better, and it’s going to be more secure.

That seems a fitting metaphor to start any discussion about this team as it starts a mandatory minicamp. The Lions will look better this year and the foundation will be more secure because I believe in this front office, I believe in this coaching staff and I really like some of the pieces they added.

In short, they are bound to look better.

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But is this a playoff team?

Oh goodness, no. Pump the brakes, folks.

The Lions will take a step forward this year — and might even climb to the level of being interesting — but maybe not for the reasons you might think.

This team will be better because, well, the Lions have never been this bad. In the fabled history of this underachieving, mediocrity-embracing, Charlie Brown whiffing at the football franchise, the Lions have never sucked this bad. They have finished last in the NFC North for four straight years.

Do you know how many times that has happened in the underwhelming history of this franchise? No matter the name of their division or how many teams were in it?


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Do you know how 2021 was identical to 2020 for the Lions? In both seasons, the Lions ended the year with a minus-142 point differential. That’s the third-worst two-year span in franchise history. You would have to be ridiculously incompetent — I’m talking, Quinn-Patricia level of incompetence — to continue to be this bad.

The Lions will improve because GM Brad Holmes and coach Dan Campbell are far more competent than the wrecking crew they replaced. Incremental improvement — like going from bad to interesting, if not just OK — seems like a far more realistic situation than jumping all the way to really good in one magical leap.

Let’s try to keep some perspective here. I realize this is the silly season of the NFL calendar, when memories fade and draft excitement and hope overtakes logic — hey, the Lions haven’t lost in more than 150 days, woo-hoo! There is a buzz about the Lions because people are high on hope and fantasy — also because, well, there is little else to get excited about in the Detroit sports scene.

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But keep this in mind: Last year, the Lions had one of the worst defenses in the NFL. It was ranked 31st in points, 28th against the run, 29th in yards and 30th in forcing turnovers.

So did they rip apart the defense and start over? Nope. Depending on rotations and what defense they are playing, they added just a handful of new potential starters, including defensive end Aidan Hutchinson, strong safety DeShon Elliott and defensive back Mike Hughes. Yes, you could also consider Romeo Okwara and Jeff Okudah as new additions, considering they played so few games last year.

But most of the defense is returning. That suggests potential incremental improvement, not an expected monumental surge up the NFL power rankings. Most of the defensive improvement will come from coaching and experience. Don’t get me wrong. I understand the logic. That’s how you build something over time: Bring in talent, coach them up and grow together as a team.

“I told (defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn) this morning, sitting in there in the defensive room … we’re just to a little different level,” Campbell said. “We’re at a higher level now, we’re kind of beyond some of the remedial things than what we had to do last year.”

Of course they are at a higher level. It’s hard to get much lower than they were in 2021.

This franchise won’t be fixed in one offseason. So the Lions are focusing on the basics in this minicamp.

Which makes perfect sense.

“We’re looking to eliminate mental errors, that’s the big thing, that’s the focus for our guys,” Campbell said Tuesday.

Yes, that’s a fine place to start.

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The real source of encouragement is on offense, starting with the offensive line. Center Frank Ragnow played just four games last year and tackle Taylor Decker played nine. Just getting them back is a huge plus.

The Lions have far more weapons, especially with a wide receiver group that features Jameson Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown and D.J. Chark. Add in a healthy T.J. Hockenson, who played just 12 games last year, as well as a healthy (hopefully) D’Andre Swift, who missed four games, and this team should be able to score more.

But it’s unclear when Williams will be healthy enough to play.

So what should be the expectation for the Lions? Steady improvement would work.

Green Bay still has Aaron Rodgers. And the Lions still have holes. You don’t have a minus-142 point differential without some nauseating problems.

Just finishing out of the basement — for the first time in five years — will be a noticeable improvement.

And going from remedial to not so dang sucky would be a start.

Of course, they will probably win just enough to miss out on a quarterback.

Because. The Lions.

Contact Jeff Seidel: jseidel@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @seideljeff.

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