Will another losing season spur the Detroit Lions to clean house?

Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

In a worst case scenario situation, would the Detroit Lions brass tolerate another losing season under Matt Patrica? If not, would they opt to clean house?

At this point in the offseason, much of the focus is on how every NFL team has improved over the past few months. With a 0-0 record, every franchise has a chance to win the championship. But longtime fans of the Detroit Lions know better than most that things rarely unfold the way you hope.

Certainly, the Lions’ performance from just last season is a perfect example of that. Despite putting up three winning seasons in four years, head coach Jim Caldwell was promptly shown the door after the 2017 season. And the keys of a 9-7 franchise were handed to a two-time Super Bowl-winning defensive coordinator in Matt Patricia.

The former New England Patriots DC was supposed to get the Motor City over the playoff hump. Instead, there were issues from the jump. Patricia’s old school approach to practices upset some veterans on the squad and there were early concerns that the first-time head coach could lose the locker room. But because of his pedigree, it appeared most believed Patricia deserved the benefit of the doubt. Especially if his methods led to “W’s” come the regular season.

Unfortunately for Patrica, his regular season debut at Ford Field was an embarrassing Week One 48-17 blowout to a lowly New York Jets team (who would win just four games all season) with a rookie quarterback under center.

The Lions would bounce back to post impressive wins against the Patriots in Week Three, the Green Bay Packers in Week Five and the Miami Dolphins in Week Seven. Still, Detroit ended the season a disappointing 6-10, their worst record since 2012.

Entering Patricia’s second year in Detroit, would the Lions’ brass be patient enough to tolerate yet another losing season? Here’s what Frank Schwab of Yahoo Sports wrote recently about what would be the nightmare scenario for the Lions organization in 2019.

"“Lions owner Martha Ford is getting a reputation as someone who won’t be patient with mediocrity. Jim Caldwell’s back-to-back 9-7 seasons weren’t considered good enough; he was fired. Given all the negative vibes around Matt Patricia’s first season, would Detroit give him a third season if the Lions have double-digit losses again? If there’s as much grumbling about his style this season and the team doesn’t show any progress, the Lions might be starting over again.”"

It seems improbable that the Lions would post a similar or even worse record than they did in 2018 after all the changes they made over the offseason. But again, Lions’ fans know better than most that things often don’t go to plan.

Let’s say the Lions finished 5-11 or worse in 2018. Both general manager Bob Quinn and Patrica inked five-year contracts last season, so they are essentially tied to the hip. Although I could still see a scenario where Quinn outlasts his coach based on the job he’s done during his tenure in Detroit.

Maybe the more intriguing question is what happens to quarterback Matthew Stafford if there is a sudden regime change? The 31-year old has a massive $29.5 million salary cap hit in 2018. And that jumps to $31.5 million in 2020. The Miami Dolphins were reportedly interested in trading for Stafford, although that was before they traded for Josh Rosen. Perhaps a similar opportunity would arise if the Lions placed Stafford on the block in an attempt to rebuild from the top.

If the Lions did clean house after another losing season, they’d likely have a high draft pick the following year. If that selection was high enough, say in the top three, perhaps moving on from Stafford and the coaching staff would be easier if the new head coach knew he’d be able to draft his own franchise quarterback immediately. Perhaps Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa? Again, worst case scenario here.

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The reality is the Detroit Lions doubled-down on Matt Patrica this offseason, bringing in players via free agency and the draft that perfectly fit his philosophy. I believe that sort of investment shows the Lions are willing to stick with him for more than two seasons regardless of record. Because of Patrica’s championship pedigree, he’ll continue to get the benefit of the doubt in Detroit.