GM Holmes committed to established free-agency approach as Lions morph into contenders

Detroit News

Allen Park — Brad Holmes’ background as a college scouting director told you much of what you needed to know about how the Detroit Lions wanted to rebuild their roster when they hired him as general manager two years ago.

But the draft cannot be any team’s lone avenue in roster construction. There are obviously trades and waiver claims, but the other primary component is free agency. And through two rounds, a pair of themes have emerged as Holmes’ modus operandi.

First, when it comes to priorities, Holmes has focused foremost on re-signing his own players. There’s less risk in committing resources to players when you know exactly what you’re going to get, both in terms of production and football character.

Secondly, when going outside the building for help, Holmes has preferred low-risk prove-it deals. Almost every contract he’s handed out to a player from another team has been of the one-year variety, with many of those targets having something obvious to prove, whether coming off injury, having fallen short of expectations, or never really getting a true opportunity to show what they can do.

And if they do end up proving it, they shift from bucket two to bucket one, earning the ability to re-sign with the Lions as a now-known commodity.

So far, the strategy has worked well for Holmes. He’s found some gems in guys like Kalif Raymond and DeShon Elliott. And when things haven’t worked out, like they did with receivers Tyrell Williams and Breshad Perriman in 2021, the team moves on with no lingering salary cap ramifications.

But as the Lions round the corner of their rebuild, transitioning into playoff contenders, it raises the question of whether Holmes’ free-agency approach needs to evolve, as well. Will he need to go outside of his established approach and be prepared to swing for the fences for a top talent in an effort to get the team over the hump?

In his opinion, no, a deviation from the path and plan isn’t what is required for the franchise to take the next step forward.

“No, it really doesn’t,” Holmes said, when asked if his free-agency approach will need to change. “We’re always going to be very strategic and selective with our approach. Regardless of how many resources you have, how much money you can spend, we always are very selective and strategic with how we go about free agency, and that’s upcoming (unrestricted free agents) that are on our team, as well as external adds. It’s always going to be the same approach.”

The Lions currently have 18 players who are set to become unrestricted free agents in March, and the safe bet is several will be back next year. Linebacker Alex Anzalone, who led the team in defensive snaps and set a career-high in tackles; defensive end John Cominksy, who joined the Lions off waivers and had the second-most QB pressures on the roster; and Isaiah Buggs, a pre-training camp addition who played a career-high 755 snaps and stabilized the interior of the team’s defensive line, are all top candidates to return with new deals. Running back Jamaal Williams, wide receiver DJ Chark and top special teams performers like Josh Woods and C.J. Moore are also strong options to be back.

More: Lions, John Cominsky look to extend successful pairing this offseason

“Yeah, I mean those guys had good years and look, as long as they’re fits for our culture and what we’re trying to build and where we’re going, yeah absolutely,” Holmes said. “… I pretty much met with all — me and (assistant general manager) Ray Agnew — met with all of our guys that are coming up on expiring deals and majority of them, they expressed interest in wanting to come back. But I don’t ignore the reality of there’s other elements of that business that we’re going to have to deal with.

“But it was cool to hear because those guys believe in what we’re doing and they believe it’s the right way,” Holmes continued. “They like how they’re treated, they can be themselves and it was just cool to hear that they think that we’re doing it the right way. Yeah, we’ll just see how it goes, but hopefully we can get a lot of those guys back.”

But even though he hasn’t done it before, Holmes won’t rule out spending big on an outside option. He kept going back to the idea that fit matters more than cost. But he also made one thing clear in his postseason press conference Tuesday: No addition would trump the development of young talent, which remains the heart of the roster-building process under his watchful eye.

“One thing that is very prevalent, that is high priority, is player development in this building,” Holmes said. “That will never be a shortcoming around here. Wo when we talk about stunting a guy’s growth, that usually doesn’t happen around here. So, regardless of what we do in free agency, I think our young guys will still take the upward trajectory.”

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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