Dysfunction junction: How the Detroit Lions function

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 23: Levine Toilolo #87 of the Detroit Lions enters the field before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on December 23, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 23: Levine Toilolo #87 of the Detroit Lions enters the field before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field on December 23, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

When it comes to the Detroit Lions, the obstacles that must be overcome seem insurmountable. Winning is the only cure for their ills.

The biggest issue facing this Detroit Lions team is trying to change the franchise into a winner. This organization associates itself with lower class of the NFL because of its many flaws.

On Monday, host Colin Cowherd of “The Herd with Colin Cowherd” interviewed former Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (02-25-19). Colin started off with a fun little exercise:

"“I’ll name a team. I’ll just name an NFL franchise. And you tell me if the word ‘dysfunctional’ is one of the two or three words that you think of.”"

Then Colin started running through various teams – you know where this is headed, right? – and Houshmandzadeh replied to each:

"“Buffalo? Yes. Miami? Yes. Okay, I’m gonna get my list, hold on. Cincinnati? Yes. Cleveland? Yes. Jacksonville? Yes. Detroit? Yes. L.A. Chargers? No. Okay, Jets? Yes. Washington? Yes. Oakland? Yes. Okay, so, this is my point. Tampa Bay? Yes, but I think that will change now that [head coach Bruce] Arians is there.”"

The only surprise would have been if the Detroit Lions were not included in this run down of NFL dreck. But what Houshmandzadeh said next really applied well to this Detroit team:

"“But when you say dysfunction … It’s the teams that aren’t winning. And, so, when you don’t win, things are going to come out. People are going to be upset. Stories are going to leak out that – maybe a coach that’s unhappy with how things are going. Tell somebody else. Tells his buddy in the media. Teams that are successful and are doing a good job, there’s nothing to be upset about. There should be no dysfunction at all.”"

Last year, the complaining about wind sprints and outside practices speak directly to the dysfunction that permeates this Detroit Lions franchise. Someone is always upset about something.

Even Matt Patricia’s complaints about a slouching media member during a press conference is an example of dysfunction. It’s a small thing, but it shouldn’t happen. And he came from the best organization in the history of professional football – the New England Patriots.

The problem with this fractured franchise is that it isn’t appealing for players to come here. That hurts in the free agency market, but it also hurts in trying to keep your best assets long-term.


Look at the way defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh acted about bolting from the Detroit Lions for the Miami Dolphins back in 2015. Yes, the Miami money was slightly better, but the reality is Suh’s statistical numbers probably would have been superior in Detroit.

The defense here in Detroit was built around Suh. Everything was about maximizing his impact on the field. Honestly, had Suh signed with Detroit, it is likely he’d still be a Lion this upcoming season – as the team would not have cut him, despite a ludicrous contract.

Don’t get me wrong, that offer to Suh was a nightmare scenario. Him bolting for Miami was a blessing for the Detroit Lions. And his loss in this past Super Bowl still puts a smile on my face.

Yes, that last part comes from a place of anger and hurt, but that’s what happens when great players want nothing to do with your city. Even when Suh was still on the team, it was clear he had no intention of extending his time in Detroit – despite four Pro Bowls and three All-Pro designations in just five seasons.

Those kinds of honors usually means a guy wants to stick around and keep working towards winning a title. But with the Detroit Lions, it is hard to blame Suh for believing that title would never come. But he got no title with the L.A. Rams either. I know, I just did it again.

If you can’t see the point about Ndamukong, how about the early retirements of running back Barry Sanders and wide receiver Calvin Johnson? Two guys that were elite at their positions. But both retired at the age of 30, despite several good years still ahead of them on the playing field.

If general manager Bob Quinn and head coach Matt Patricia can’t get the dysfunction out of this franchise, the Detroit Lions are doomed to keep failing. But this one thing is very difficult to change.

This is a big reason why there is an argument for drafting quarterback Kyler Murray. Perhaps an impact player at the most important position on the field could change the Detroit Lions fate. And honestly, Murray might not be great. But it would be a shame to watch him be excellent for another franchise.

Even if Quinn and Patricia are the right guys for the job, how long can they stay on the job? Dysfunction breeds failure, firings, and missed opportunities.

Next. Detroit Lions: The best draft picks of the past decade. dark

Every move now through the end of the 2019 season will determine whether or not the dysfunction is beginning to dissipate. And if the dysfunction doesn’t vanish this season, it will just reset itself with new people in charge – and the vicious cycle repeats.