Memorial Day has passed and Summer is unofficially upon us. Baseball is in full swing, The NBA Has No Parity: Part III is about to start, and the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins just took the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals from the Nashville Predators in their first finals appearance, but none of those truly embody the season. No, Summer means one thing and one thing only. August is just around the corner and with it, the official end of the NFL offseason.
The NFL season is never really over with its 24/7/365 coverage but with free agency and the NFL draft in the rearview mirror and preseason on the horizon, we're entering the one month of the year the NFL really takes a back seat. It's the one stretch of the NFL offseason that actually feels like offseason. For a minute anyways.
With a minuscule breather, it's a good time to look at how Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions attacked the offseason and (hopefully) became a better team. There's no better (and more subjective) way to do so than by assigning completely arbitrary grades to the Lions offseason exploits based on little more than my burning hatred for Jim Caldwell and an unhealthy obsession with NFL draft strategy. Let's take it from the top.
Bob Quinn took a focused approach to free agency and clearly executed his plan to a tee. He came in looking to address some of the Lions major needs and then fill out depth with mid-level contracts. Mission accomplished.
I love the way Quinn attacked free agency, especially when his moves served dual purposes. Quinn was largely on the same page with my own list of should-be Lions free agent targets, highlighted by the acquisition of right tackle Ricky Wagner. The cost was prohibitive at over two million dollars per year higher than the next highest paid right tackle in the NFL but looked better in comparison to the deal incumbent Riley Reiff received from division rival Minnesota.
Stealing T.J. Lang from rival Green Bay secured a top tier guard for the Lions while weakening Aaron Rodgers supporting cast. Paul Worrilow, D.J. Hayden, Akeem Spence, and Cornelius Washington were all defensive pieces brought in on affordable contracts to add depth and even compete for heavy playing time. I appreciated Quinn's focus on an area like the offensive line that was upgradeable through free agency but likely would've offered little immediate improvement through the draft.
While the Lions certainly looked better coming out of free agency than entering, they weren't void of critique. Wagner and Lang came at hefty price tags with questionable backgrounds. Wagner has been inconsistent and struggled to run block at times. He's young but getting paid left tackle money, he'll need to produce at a Pro-Bowl level. Lang, while an upper-echelon guard, is coming off some nagging injuries and isn't getting any younger.
Quinn could've spent a little more attention on a historically bad defense, especially looking at the deal a linebacker like Zach Brown eventually had to settle for. A couple shrewd moves of that caliber could've really pushed this free agent class over the top. With deep defensive talent waiting in the draft, Quinn likely didn't feel pressed to action but I can't help but wonder if he did enough.
The Lions might've found value with potential backup quarterback Brad Kaaya in the sixth round. Oh, and Jarrad Davis will probably roam the Lions linebacking unit for years to come.
No, seriously, that's it. I have nothing else positive to say about the Lions draft. As well a free agency plan Quinn had, he manned possibly the worst draft room I've witnessed. When a sixth round third string quarterback is among your draft highlights – probably not a good sign. Kaaya is no Tom Brady.
The 2017 NFL draft was riddled with potential and expected excitement for Lions fans. The draft was loaded with talent at positions of need and played out better than I imagined. Until the Lions were on the clock.
Repeatedly, Quinn seemed incapable or unwilling to adjust throughout the draft, often reaching for prospects, passing on superior talent, ignoring a position of need, or even all three.
Davis will be a solid player for the Lions but was nowhere near the best player available for the Lions at 21. Teez Tabor was the reach of the draft and faces an incredibly steep path to NFL success. Not only was he nowhere near the best player at his own position on the board but Detroit likely could've landed him at the same spot an entire round later.
Quinn then wasted a third round pick on a luxury project receiver who will maybe compete for 4th string duties this season. There's not a position on the roster the Lions had less need at.
Remember that league worst defensive line Detroit put on the field last season? Quinn waited until the sixth round to “address” it.
This draft should be noted, remembered, and scorned for its missed opportunities. It could've produced 3-4 quality starters if approached differently. The Lions will be lucky to have one. Fans and media alike will likely overrate this draft based on the playing time it will receive over the next few seasons. That field time will be borne from a lack of depth rather than any great talent.
Teams like the Dallas Cowboys made out much better with less draft capital. The draft was little more than a futile endeavor of wasted opportunity and frustration. This grade is generous, in part based on the assumption that a surprise pans out. Regardless of the results, Quinn couldn't have done a much poorer job navigating the draft and maximizing resources.
Final Offseason Marks
An Obscure Direction
Bob Quinn brought some nice free agent talent to Detroit this offseason. Talent, that will make Detroit better now and over the next few years. Those contracts are far from bargains, however, and do little for the long-term health of the team.
His struggles in the draft may be felt while the Lions similarly struggle to get over the hump in the coming years as a solid but not quite good enough team that lacks playmakers and top flight talent. The kind of talent that elevates teams to contender status rarely hits free agency and instead must be found through careful evaluation.
The Detroit Lions became a better team this offseason. That's an important piece to the puzzle but despite all the Bob Quinn – New England Patriot ties, the Lions still inspire little confidence that they are trending towards becoming a team that can sustain Patriot-like success or even smaller runs of relevancy like the Baltimore Ravens.
That's a bigger piece of the puzzle and ultimately why Bob Quinn and the Detroit Lions have failed to impress this offseason. A couple flashy free agent acquisitions can't reverse 70 years of failure and there's plenty of reason to doubt Quinn's ability to get this team where it's never been. Only time will tell but short-term actions rarely build long-term foundations.
In a wide open NFC North, Detroit may contend but will they ever be ready to contend on the biggest stage?
It's quite simple really. Good teams – the kind of teams Detroit is trying to become, build through the draft. Sustained success comes from turning draft capital into talented players (whether by trade or drafting) and then supplementing the team through free agency. Playing free agency to perfection means next to nothing without a steady stream of draft talent. In a futile attempt to quantify this, I gave the draft a 70/30 split with free agency for weight.
Final Offseason Verdict