The Detroit Lions blew a 17 point halftime lead to lose to the San Francisco 49ers, and in the aftermath, everybody is looking for a scapegoat.
Some have targeted Josh Reynolds for a couple bad dropped passes, or Cam Sutton and Kindle Vildor for coverage issues on defense. Dan Campbell's decision making has also come under fire given he gambled on a pair of key fourth downs, electing not to try long-ish field goals.
The debate over Campbell's decision making showcases an important offseason issue for the Lions. Due to roster construction, Campbell likely felt he didn't have a better option than to take a chance on fourth down because of a lack of confidence in his kicker.
All season, the Lions flirted with trouble given distance limitations for Riley Patterson and Michael Badgley. Unfortunately, it surfaced with the Super Bowl on the line. Badgley didn't miss a kick in the playoffs, but that's deceiving. Outside a clutch 54-yard kick indoors against the Los Angeles Rams, it was obvious the Lions were trying to hide him in big spots.
If the Lions had a kicker with a more reliable long distance leg, the choice could have been simple for Campbell. Badgley, however, is only a 50 percent career kicker outdoors from 45-49 yards.
Looking at the last fourth down attempt, which would have been a 48-yard field goal attempt instead, Badgley's track record is a bit worse.
With that information, it's easy to see why Campbell leaned on his offense. He likely felt the odds of that decision paying off were higher than chancing it with Badgley.
The Lions have struggled to find consistency at kicker, and it's not been a great priority during the rebuild. But it's time for that to change, and general manager Brad Holmes surely knows it.
Ka'imi Fairbairn is a strong free agent option to fix Lions kicker issue
The last time the Lions tried to draft a kicker, the experiment failed with Nate Freese lasting only three games in 2014. There's risk selecting an unestablished guy, so the best move really looks like the free agent market.
Fortunately, there will be some options there. Including Ka'imi Fairbairn. He has spent the last seven seasons with the Houston Texans, with five playoff games on his resume.
Perhaps most importantly, Fairbairn doesn't come with distance limitations, having made 29 kicks from 50 yards or longer in his career during the regular season (on 40 attempts). He's also a solid 41-52 from 40-49 yards, the key distance that plagued the Lions in the NFC title game. In total, Fairbairn has made 87.1 percent of his field goals.
Paying Fairbairn would allow the Lions to maximize what they can get out of their kicker, and foster more confidence to try longer field goals in key spots. It could help the Lions be a more complete team, and not force Campbell's aggressive decision making into a constant spotlight.