Over the objection of many fans, Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia will return for 2020. How can they make the Detroit Lions legitimate playoff contenders?
Last Tuesday, the Detroit Lions announced that Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia will return for the 2020 season. Lions owner, Martha Firestone Ford, made a clear ultimatum that the 2019 season was unacceptable and will no longer be tolerated. Ford’s expectation for next season is for the team to be a playoff contender.
Former NFL head coach Dick Vermeil among others has weighed in on this matter. He believes the Lions would be making the biggest mistake to fire Patricia after two years as Vermeil himself lost in his first two seasons before eventually winning a Super Bowl. And he did so twice, once with the Philadelphia Eagles and then again years later with the St. Louis Rams.
There are other similar past examples of third-year coaching success after the first two years of losing seasons such as Bill Walsh (San Francisco 49ers), Pete Carroll (Seattle Seahawks), and Jimmy Johnson (Dallas Cowboys). More recently, San Francisco 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan and General Manager John Lynch were 10-22 in their first two seasons before finding success. The Niners are currently 11-3.
There is little doubt that this decision was made with consultation outside of the organization, as Ford did when she hired Quinn. So what might the fifth-year general manager and third-year head coach do differently to justify the Ford family’s faith in them? Here’s what Patricia told the Detroit News last Monday …
"“We obviously need to add some pieces, and we need to get better, and we need to improve, and hopefully stay a little bit more healthy than where we’re at right now.”"
It’s difficult to argue that this team hasn’t experienced more than their share of injuries. But Quinn and Patricia are accustomed to winning regardless. Look for them to approach 2020 aggressively.
Expect both defensive tackle Mike Daniels and offensive tackle Ricky Wagner to be gone, freeing up nearly $20 million in salary-cap space to re-sign guard Graham Glasgow and wide receiver Danny Amendola.
Extending contracts of wide receiver Kenny Golladay and All-Pro cornerback Darius Slay keep important valuable talent in place and finding more help on the offensive line can’t be ignored as safeguarding quarterback Matthew Stafford‘s health now becomes more obviously critical than ever.
But the main focus must be the defense, specifically the ability to pressure the quarterback. The fate of defensive tackle A’Shawn Robinson remains a mystery but a rotation of Damon Harrison, Da’Shawn Hand, Robinson, and two top draftees or free-agent acquisitions would be a significant and adequate upgrade.
The existing linebacker corps are all signed for 2020, and in the defensive backfield, only eighth-year cornerback Rashaan Melvin and safety Tavon Wilson await contract decisions. Melvin played pretty well early in the season but was slowed by injuries later.
Rookie cornerback Amani Oruwariye played well for a rookie as a replacement but does not yet seem to be ready to be a full-time starter. Wilson is likely to return as he was productive and seems comfortable in Patricia’s system.
The most telling sign of urgency would be if Quinn is willing to offer future high draft picks in order to land immediate help for the defense. Past moves like the Chicago Bears trading up to draft quarterback Mitch Trubisky then the blockbuster deal they made with the Oakland Raiders to land perennial All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack is such an example. While the Bears did well in 2018 with 12 wins their current 7-7 record doesn’t justify what they sacrificed to get them.
Quinn in his first four years has done nothing like this. However, the upcoming draft boasts no less than five defensive linemen that could possibly be day one starters. Draftek.com lists them in the top 17 on their Big Board. The Lions most certainly will be able to get one of them with their own first-round choice. But with injuries and the need for depth, it would be wise to trade up and try to grab another one.
Top-ranked rookies come comparatively cheap, especially when compared to veterans on the free-agent market. If Quinn feels pressure to improve quickly, he’ll sacrifice one or two 2021 picks for immediate results. With a good draft, Quinn can give Patricia the talent he needs now at a good price.
By sacrificing a couple of 2021 picks the general manager can then use his salary cap space to retain his better players and to find much-needed depth behind them. Once the needed talent is in place, the Lions must then do well enough to maintain a level of continuity.
Football is an extraordinarily complex game. It requires not only talent but players who have been together in the same coaching system for an extended time. Having 11 good athletes on the field at one time is ineffective if they are not working in close coordination with one another.
Changing head coaches every two to three years with different concepts will never achieve that, but hiring good assistant coaches to develop a player’s talent within a successful scheme does. Expect some changes to the assistant coaching staff.
It is good business to hire smart, young people and give them the time and space to figure things out. While Detroit Lions fans have been waiting for over 60 years for a team they can be proud of, it doesn’t change the wisdom of that philosophy. It’s unfair to dump this legacy on the shoulders of the current regime. Let’s hope that Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia are the smart guys that can justify it and finally make the fans suffering worth the wait.