From Johnson to Boldin: Recapping the Lions’ Off-season

Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) before the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) before the game between the St. Louis Rams and the Detroit Lions during the first half at the Edward Jones Dome. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports /
Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn speaks to the media during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports /

Tuesday’s signing of Anquan Boldin caps a busy off-season.

New Lions general manager, Bob Quinn, has dealt with some big changes in his first off-season running an NFL franchise. From losing the team’s best player with the retirement of Calvin Johnson, deciding Coach Caldwell’s fate, and drafting six offensive or defensive linemen in the draft, Quinn’s fingerprints are all over this team as we head into training camp.

Key Acquisitions:

  • Receiver Marvin Jones signs a 5-year deal.
  • 1st-round Draft pick – Offensive tackle Taylor Decker.
  • 2nd-round Draft pick – Defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson.
  • Safety Rafael Bush signs a 1-year deal.
  • Receiver Anquan Boldin signs a 1-year deal.
  • Offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz signs a 1-year deal.
  • Running back Stevan Ridley signs a 1-year deal.
  • 3rd-round Draft pick – Center/guard Graham Glasgow.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin (81) signed with Detroit on Monday. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

With yesterday’s signing of receiver Anquan Boldin, the Lions continue to add depth to their talented receiver pool. No one single player was going to replace “Megatron” so Quinn signed lots of smaller pieces to collectively fill the void. Marvin Jones has the makings of a great number-two option.  Boldin gives experience, leadership, and impressive production — with 789 yards — for someone in their mid-30’s. Plus, Jeremy Kerley should be a good 4th option for Matthew Stafford. I like Quinn’s approach of not wasting a high draft pick on Johnson’s replacement, but still acquiring a young starter and a couple of low-risk, high reward free agents.

Taylor Decker, a first-round pick out of Ohio State, has no chance of winning rookie of the year, but will be a key player next season. Especially if he ends up as the starting left tackle, as he appears on track to be. This will kick Riley Reiff over to right tackle, where most believe he is better suited to play. A’Shawn Robinson was by all accounts a steal in the 2nd-round of the draft and is a much-needed upgrade for the Lions’ defensive line. Glasgow gives them a potential starting center and Schwartz — a quality backup who can start if needed. Rafael Bush should be the favorite to start at strong safety unless Tavon Wilson or Miles Killebrew can push him for the spot.

Key Losses:

  • Receiver Calvin Johnson retires
  • Running back Joique Bell released.
  • Safety Isa Abdul-Quddus signs with Dolphins.
  • Safety James Ihedigbo released.
  • Linebacker Stephen Tulloch released.
  • Corner Rashean Mathis’ retires
  • Defensive end Jason Jones signs with Dolphins.
Former Detroit Lions strong safety Isa Abdul-Quddus (42) left for Miami. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports /

Johnson’s retirement is easily the most significant of these losses. However, Detroit lost some veteran leadership at four other starting spots in Ihedigbo, Tulloch, Bell and Mathis. It will be no easy to feat to replace all of them on this young Lions team, but most of their departures were  expected. Abdul-Quddus got big money and Lions let him go to Miami. But it certainly won’t have the effect of another overpaid Suh-perstar, who shall remain nameless, leaving for the Dolphins. Still, Abdul-Quddus was a quality backup that played well in Teryl Austin’s defense. Ihedigbo had lost a step and was somewhat of a liability in pass-coverage. Tahir Whitehead had essentially taken Stephen Tulloch’s job already, but nonetheless, Tulloch was a quality player here for a number of years and was great to the Detroit community. He too had lost a step in coverage, but will surely be missed.

The Lions are also taking a chance in the run game by releasing starter Joique Bell. It appears that Ameer Abdullah is who the team wants to feature as the primary halfback and Bell didn’t seem to be himself last season. I wouldn’t rule out a possible return if an injury occurs. Bell definitely looked better down the stretch last season, once he got healthier. Rashean Mathis was a steady and smart corner, even as his physical skills began to erode. Darius Slay has blossomed into one of the best young corners in the league, but the team doesn’t have another experienced, outside corner to pair him with.


Former Detroit Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis (31) is announced before the game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports /

The offensive line is extremely young and inexperienced. After last year’s showing, it is hard to imagine they could be much worse, but lines need time go grow and build chemistry together. The Lions cold have three potential new starters along the offensive line. Another big concern, in my opinion, is Rashean Mathis’ retirement. Somebody will have to step up out of the Lions’ young group of DB’s that includes Quandre Diggs, Nevin Lawson and Alex Carter.

The pass-rush does seem to have slightly more talent, but Jason Jones was an underrated part of what has been a pretty good defensive line during his time in Detroit. Devin Taylor improved enough, finishing with 7 sacks, that the Lions shouldn’t be overly concerned about Jones’ departure. Calvin Johnson is the biggest loss of all, but I’m less concerned because of the recent acquisitions the Lions have made at wide receiver, which you can read about in Jeff’s column about the WR depth chart.  Matthew Stafford has many concerned without his 6-foot-5, Hall-of-Fame, security blanket to bail him out. Time will tell since we’ve never really seen Stafford without Johnson for an extended period of time. He has a chance to prove some people wrong, or right, depending on where you stand on Stafford’s ability.

Overall Summary:

The Lions had a pretty average off-season. They didn’t make any major splashes. They lost maybe the second-best Lion ever, but they took a different approach in the draft and free agency. They added depth at pretty much every position, even quarterback. So while they certainly have added some good young talent, they have a taken a big risk on the offensive line. Decker, Glasgow and Joe Dahl could be great players in due time, but it’s tough to predict how rookie lineman will fair. Drafting A’Shawn Robinson was my favorite move of the entire off-season. I think he’s an instant rotational guy who will develop into a quality defensive tackle. Like always, this team will go as far as Matthew Stafford’s arm can take them.