And whereas after the team’s NFC Championship loss, coach Dan Campbell warned that the journey back to the Conference Championship would not be guaranteed and could be twice as hard, Holmes came out with an entirely different message to fans.
“It’s only going to get better, okay. We’re only going to get better,” Holmes said. “I don’t want anybody to think that this was a one-shot, Cinderella magical journey that just happened. No, it’s real. This is exactly what was supposed to happen. I understand that based on history from what’s happened in the past—I understand you have a season like this, it’s easy to feel like this was kind of a one-shot, magical, lucky cute story—which I’m tired of hearing. It was none of that.”
Holmes exuded a ton of confidence during his third-ever end-of-season conference. In fact, early in his press conference, he essentially called out a few media members for doubting along the way. He reflected back on the 2021 NFL Draft, his first.
“When you look back at those picks, those picks were not welcomed by many in this room,” Holmes said. “Dave (Birkett), you wanted us to pick a quarterback. You didn’t want us to pick Penei Sewell. People didn’t want us to wait until the fourth round to draft a wide receiver. People didn’t want to wait on a Derrick Barnes to develop.”
The Lions general manager didn’t do this to embarrass or pull receipts on members of the media. He insisted he wasn’t trying to play “I told you so” to the media—although, at times, it certainly felt that way. But he clearly wanted to inform fans—and anyone listening—that he’s extremely confident in his process, particularly as it pertains to the long-term health of the franchise.
“Every move that me and Dan make, it has been made to sustain what we are building. Every single move,” Holmes said. “And I’ll say every single move we make and every single move we do not make is to sustain what we have been building. It’s real.
“Look, it’s all to normalize what we’re doing. This is to normalize it. This is an effort to normalize it. Places Dan has been, it was normalized. Places I’ve been, it’s normalized. That’s why we’re here.”
Obviously, now that the team is good and filled with more talent, Holmes’ job changes—some would say more difficult. His first, impressive draft class is now eligible for new contracts and big raises that will challenge Holmes to balance the budget in a new way. Detroit will have to draft well with fewer resources—no longer having any capital from the Matthew Stafford trade and now picking toward the end of each round rather than at the front.
But Holmes clearly isn’t intimidated by the changes ahead. In fact, he’s confident that he’s already proven he can adjust accordingly. His first draft class—inarguably his best to date—only featured one extra pick from the Stafford trade (a compensatory third-round pick). Holmes managed to find All-Pro receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown in the fourth round and starters Alim McNeill and Ifeatu Melifonwu late on Day 2. And if the budget gets tight due to extensions of internal players, Holmes pointed to 2021, when they signed players like Kalif Raymond and Alex Anzalone with relatively little budget.
“We’ll still continue to pick football players and the guys for us,” Holmes said. “Really, it doesn’t change. Will it be different? Yes, it will be different, and maybe not be as many high-priced external adds, but that’s not required right now. So we’ll just keep sticking to our plan and go as normal. I think it’s proven that it’s worked so far for us.”
One thing that will help the Lions sustain this success is the return of both offensive coordinator Ben Johnson and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn. Holmes agreed their return gives them a better shot at continuing the team’s success.
“It’s everything. Continuity is everything,” Holmes said. “They’re great coaches. They’re great coaches, they’re very smart, they’re great leaders, they’re developers, they’re teachers, and they fit here. (We’re) fortunate. I’m glad that they’re back, I know that we’re a better team with that continuity.”