Detroit Lions GM Brad Holmes deserves a victory lap for his ‘aggressively smart’ tactics

Detroit Free Press

Take a victory lap, Brad Holmes.

You deserve it.

Not only are the Detroit Lions coming off a 9-8 record, their first winning season since 2017.

Not only did Holmes, the Lions general manager, put together a fantastic 2022 draft class that produced immediately.

Not only did he trade the Lions’ top tight end and the offense didn’t miss a beat.

Not only has he put together a young team while accumulating draft capital.

The Lions are in a great position to get even better quickly — and yes, this is all such new territory for this team.

“I think you could make a case that we’re ahead of schedule, but again, we don’t really dive into that really that much,” Holmes said at a season-ending news conference on Tuesday afternoon. “I mean, obviously we look at it, we talked about it, just like I said earlier in this talk. We got to look at our plans at 1-6. Is our plan working or not? But along that 1-6, those dark times, we saw enough where it’s like, ‘Yes, no, the plan is working. We just need to get that one win, exactly what Dan was saying the whole time.’ We just got to get the one win, keep rolling and we end up doing that.”

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Holmes entered the media room in Allen Park on Tuesday wearing a black sweatshirt with the word “Grit” emblazed across the front, as if the message hasn’t been hammered home enough. He looked comfortable and confident, like a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. By winning eight of their last 10 games, the Lions gave Holmes validation that the plan is indeed working.

And now, he’s running a team with soaring expectations. The bar has been raised. There is no reason why the Lions can’t fight for the playoffs next season. The focus should be on winning the NFC North and getting home-field advantage. And once you are in the playoffs, anything is possible.

“I think we’re right at the cusp there,” Holmes said. “We made the improvement from three wins last year to being right on the cusp of possibly going into the playoffs, so yeah, I mean, that would be the next step is to get into the playoffs. And when you get in there, when you get into that dance, anything can happen.”

Holmes thanked everybody from the pro player personnel workers to the groundskeepers. But maybe that’s a reflection of how this entire organization is working now. Disfunction has been replaced with cohesion and collaboration.

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Method to the madness

How do you win on the field? It starts with the folks behind the scenes. And you need them working together.

It appears that’s what the Lions have now under Holmes.

But he has also made some decisions — being “aggressively smart” in his words — that have positioned this organization for potential future success.

The first major thing Holmes did was trade Matthew Stafford. He used last year’s Rams first-round pick to trade for Jameson Williams. You had to figure this year’s Rams pick would be in the high 20s. But after the Rams suffered all kinds of injuries, that pick is now No. 6. That’s amazing fortune for the Lions, not so much for the Rams, like buying a coach ticket and getting upgraded to a first class.

Of course, you’ll take it — and order a free drink.

Then, there is the quarterback situation.

When the Lions got Jared Goff in the Stafford deal, most, including me, thought he was a throw in. A place holder. But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

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Goff has proved to be one of the most important pieces in this entire puzzle.

“He captained the ship of a top-three offense, and I want to say he was top-10 statistically in most of the passing categories,” Holmes said. “And again, you know how we approach the draft like we’re never going to turn down a good football player, so if there’s a football player we really love, we’re going to make sure every stone is unturned. But I do think that Jared has proven to everybody that he is the starting quarterback for us.”

That has given Holmes all kinds of flexibility going into this draft.

Goff is under contract for the next two seasons. And Holmes has several options:

1. Draft a quarterback and have him learn under Goff for the next two seasons;

2. Extend Goff right now to create savings over several years;

3. Wait until after next season to extend him.

Now, you can make reasonable arguments for all three moves.

I’ve seen enough from Goff in the last two months to say: Keep him. Don’t draft a quarterback with either of your first-round picks. Go defense, instead. But I wouldn’t mind if Holmes drafted a quarterback on Day 2 or 3. Lots of teams take a flyer on somebody.

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One caveat: If one of the top quarterbacks falls for some reason, and you love him, take him.

But that brings up the thing I love the most about this situation: Holmes has given himself flexibility. If he loves a quarterback at No. 6 — and he’s available — he can take him.

It’s set up perfectly. They have a quarterback, and they have options to take another. That seems ideal to me.

It’s set up perfectly.

“I think it’s a lot easier to get worse at quarterback than to get better at quarterback, in this league,” Holmes said.

In the trenches

Holmes has built this team from the inside out, devoting tremendous capital to the offensive and defensive lines.

Both of those groups look incredibly solid now, especially with the emergence of someone like James Houston.

But now, entering the third year, Holmes has a better sense of what this team needs.

For starters, the Lions need help in the secondary, either through free agency or the draft.

Heck, maybe even both.

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“It’s pretty obvious that we’re going to have to utilize some resources to try and improve that defense,” Holmes said.

So that’s the plan.

A plan that, for once, makes sense.

Best of all, there is proof in the one place that matters — the win column — that it’s working.

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

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

To read his recent columns, go to freep.com/sports/jeff-seidel.

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