What if the Detroit Lions had aimed for the Moon in 1994?
By Robert Jones
The Detroit Lions signed what they expected to be their franchise quarterback in 1994. What if they had pursued Warren Moon instead?
General manager Brad Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell are preparing for the start of free agency. With the right offseason moves the Detroit Lions could take a big step forward in 2022. With the wrong ones, they could set themselves back.
In the past, the Lions have made some horrible offseason mistakes. The quarterback position stands out. Outside of the 12 seasons Matthew Stafford was in the fold, this is a franchise that has forever had quarterback issues. There were times they could have gotten an elite quarterback, like in the 1983 draft (Jim Kelly was taken with the next pick in the first round, and as we know Dan Marino was still available), but they chose not to.
There have been the countless situations where they tried filling that void with draft choices that didn’t pan out (Chuck Long, Andre Ware, Joey Harrington) or veteran signings like Joe Ferguson, Jeff Garcia and Daunte Culpepper.
During the 1994 offseason, there was a quarterback many felt could be a franchise quarterback and was hotly sought after after a seven-game run as a starter in 1993. However ironically, the Lions and the Minnesota Vikings were the two finalists for his services.
In the end, the Lions “won” and signed that free agent. The Vikings, on the rebound, traded for a veteran quarterback who had already proven himself to be among the best in the league.
The free-agent sensation the Lions signed was of course Scott Mitchell. The Vikings then made a deal for future Hall of Famer Warren Moon.
What if the Lions had pursued Warren Moon more aggressively?
For those who didn’t live through the Mitchell era, it proved to be just another “same old Lions” mistake. In 1995, Mitchell had numbers that were as good as any quarterback in the league (4,338 yards, 32 touchdowns and only 12 interceptions). He led Detroit to the playoffs, where he reverted back to form and threw four interceptions against the Eagles as the Lions were destroyed 58-37.
Mitchell played two games in the 1998 season, then he was gone with a 27-30 regular season record as the Lions’ starter. Moon was gone from Minnesota after the 1996 season.
History has clearly shown signing Mitchell was a mistake. But I’ve always wondered what would have happened if Minnesota had won the bidding war for Mitchell, and the Lions had turned to Moon.
In two of the three years Moon was in Minnesota, they made the playoffs. The Vikings boasted a prolific passing game with an older quarterback long before Tom Brady and Drew Brees made it fashionable.
So if the Lions had instead ended up with Moon, would it have changed their history at all? At the time Detroit had one of the best wide receiver trios in the league–Herman Moore, Brett Perriman, and Johnnie Morton. Oh, and some guy named Barry Sanders was one of the best running backs in the league.
It’s hard not to think the Lions would have had one of the best offenses, if not the best, in the NFL during that time. The defense was serviceable, albeit with some holes, but a high-powered offense would’ve helped.
Today, the Lions are preparing for free agency as they hope to take a big step forward in their rebuild. Holmes and Campbell will need to balance good choices with sound economics. Choices that will hopefully build a bright future, rather than becoming another bad footnote in Lions’ history.