Detroit Lions: Is this what a true culture change feels like?

Detroit Lions, 2021 NFL Draft (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Detroit Lions, 2021 NFL Draft (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

Four years ago, the motto surrounding the Detroit Lions was culture change. At the time, the Lions were coming off a second-consecutive 9-7 season under head coach Jim Caldwell.

When the Lions opted to replace Caldwell with former New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patrica in early 2018, that culture change was meant to take Detroit from regular-season success to playoff victories.

But in order to do so, Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn felt that had to rebuild a team that had posted three winning seasons and two playoff berths during Caldwell’s four-year run in Motown. And they made those changes under the banner of culture change.

Three years and several ex-Patriots signed later, and both Quinn and Patricia were fired last November after their failed New England Midwest experiment resulted in Detroit recording three-straight losing seasons. Once again, the Lions needed a culture change.

Enter in general manager Brad Holmes after a long-stint as the director of college scouting for the Los Angeles Rams. Enter in head coach Dan Campbell after a five-year run as a coaching assistant with the New Orleans Saints.

And after each was welcomed to Detroit, and the biting of kneecaps was introduced to the national sports lexicon, things certainly seemed different. But was the team better for it?

The Lions soon traded quarterback Matthew Stafford, receiving high draft picks and passer Jared Goff in exchange. Another trade resulted in Detroit welcoming veteran defensive tackle Michael Brockers to the interior of their offensive line.

But before this past week’s NFL draft, the other moves made by the Lions could be considered rather lackluster. The new regime went about the business of gutting the roster, allowing several veterans from last year’s team to leave via free agency or releasing them outright.

Those names no longer in Detroit include Pro Bowl wide receiver Kenny Golladay, cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman, guard Joe Dahl, defensive tackle Danny Shelton, wideout Marvin Jones Jr., kicker Matt Prater, linebacker Jarrad Davis, tight end Jesse James, safety Duron Harmon, and several others.

In their place, the Lions signed a ragtag team of relative unknowns. Players like wide receiver Tyrell Williams, linebacker Alex Anzalone, defensive end Charles Harris, cornerback Corn Elder, wideout Kalif Raymond, quarterback Tim Boyle, safety Dean Marlowe, and more. And nearly all of the team’s free-agent signings were inked to one-year deals.

Acquiring first-round selections in 2022 and 2023 in the Stafford trade combined with a roster of free agents ready to be completely turned over next offseason, the Lions clearly have their eyes set on the future. But that doesn’t seem to bode well for 2021, which is in line with the thinking that a true rebuild in Detroit will take more than a single season to accomplish.

But what about a culture change? Do we see evidence of that following the results of the draft? Here’s what longtime NFL writer Peter King wrote on Monday during his weekly NBC Sports’ Football Morning in America article about the Lions’ new spirit.

"“Different vibe around the kneecap-biters, no? Getting Penei Sewell with the seventh pick looks like great value. Then to hear him? Man, Sewell was fired up to be a Lion: ‘Yes sir! We in the D!’ No idea if the Lions will win big. But the spirit around this franchise is just different, with a bunch of guys who want to be there.”"

One glimpse of Detroit’s war room cam during the draft and I believe you can sense that difference too. After all, who wouldn’t want to play for a franchise that reacts like this and a general manager that screams like this when they draft a player? Definition: Culture change.

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Fans of the Detroit Lions have a reason to be excited. That’s due in large part to the individuals hired to man this front office and coaching staff who are simply excited to be here. While winning will ultimately decide if this electric atmosphere in Motown sticks, it’s hard not to feel the new vibe surrounding the Lions and not be excited for what they could accomplish in time. Unlike what happened in 2018, this might just be what the start of a true culture change that results in winning feels like.