Everyone once in a while I’ll see a tweet or a comment that has nothing to do with the Detroit Lions but it gets me thinking about them. That happened today when I saw the following from Matt Miller, Bleacher Report’s lead NFL Draft writer:
Had one agent tell me this week, “We don’t want to go to Cleveland. No one does. They aren’t building to win.”
— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) February 28, 2012
Most (all?) Lions fans have to be pleased with the progress the team has made since completing the league’s first and only 0-16 season in history. Improving doesn’t necessarily equal “building to win” but the Lions are doing more than just improving. It might sounds silly but I had a moment this morning where I stopped and said, “yeah, the Lions are building to win”. That couldn’t have been said just a couple years ago but it is true today, here’s why.
1. They have their quarterback
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league these days. You either have your guy or you need to get him – there is no treading water when it comes to the quarterback position. The argument that Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson are Super Bowl winning quarterbacks is a decade old and no longer carries any weight.
The Lions held the first overall pick in 2009, targeted their quarterback and went all-in with him. Matthew Stafford’s 2011 season showed that the team got it right and now they have the requisite piece for becoming a contending team for the next decade. Building to win requires something to build upon. That foundation is the quarterback in today’s NFL and the Lions have him in place.
2. They have a plan and they’re sticking with it
The front office and coaching staff works in concert towards attaining a common vision. They’ll go against the “experts” say they should do in the draft and they won’t splurge on a free agent as a temporary fix. It’s all about infusing the organization with talent to improve in the short-term without sacrificing the future.
Tom Lewand has said many times that the offseason headlines are they easiest to get but they aren’t the type the Lions are after. The Lions do what makes sense for them, regardless of outside opinion or public pressure.
3. They have consistency where it counts
Matt Millen’s time in Detroit was marked by a lack of cohesion. Head coaches came and went and it seemed the organization was always grasping for the latest trend whether it be the west coast offense or the Tampa-2 defense. The messages coming from the Lions’ training facility was filled more with cliches than any semblance of a firm direction (“the bar is high” and “pad level”, anyone?).
Now, the Lions have stable coaching staff preaching a consistent message that allows for year-to-year growth in the system rather than starting anew every two or three years. It starts with Jim Schwartz and continues with Gunther Cunningham and Scott Linehan. That kind of stability and consistency has certainly aided in the development of Matthew Stafford. What he was able to learn and observe while injured was still relevant for when he stepped back on the field healthy this past season. Consistency also allows the team to more accurately identify needs for the next year instead of trying to keep up with a moving target. The Lions know where they want to go and how they want to get there.