This week, the stuff Patricia was writing down was different.
There’s nothing on defending outside-zone runs, or how efficient Matthew Stafford might be off play action, or how Detroit plans to take advantage of the new injured-reserve rules that the league passed this week. Instead, Patricia’s taken stock of what his players have been telling him in light of George Floyd’s killing, how they’ve been hurting and healing, how their different backgrounds affect how the last week has hit them and, really, how they’ve gone deep into who they are.
This time around, Patricia is not adding to what he already knows. In some ways, he’s starting from scratch. As a coach who prides himself on his know-how and his attention to detail, it’s a different spot to be in, requiring that he let go—and make himself vulnerable, and let others in the room, some the guys he’s charged with leading, take command.
“That’s the whole point, you gotta walk in there and you gotta listen,” Patricia said late Tuesday night. “The hardest thing for me, as a person, how I’m wired, when things happen in the world, whatever it is, instantly I go into this mode, I try to grind through it. OK, how do we fix this? What can we do? The hardest thing for me is to ever walk into a meeting and say, ‘I don’t understand and I don’t have the answers on this. What do we do?’
“That’s the truth. You walk in there and say, ‘Fellas, listen, I love you and I’m here for you. But I’m here to listen right now, and just know that I have your back. And I support you and I’m here for you because I love you. But I really think I gotta listen.’”
So that’s what Patricia’s been doing this week.
It’s time for the mailbag. I’ll be getting to your questions on …
• Teams at an advantage and disadvantage given the 2020 circumstances.
• George Kittle’s contract situation.
• Kyler Murray’s prospects for 2020.
• Sean McVay’s future.
But we’re starting with what everyone’s been talking about over the last week—with a look at how one NFL team has been doing that.
This week’s been a bad one in our country by any measure, and there’s really no road map for anyone on how to handle it. So that’s made the Lions like everyone else—working through everything as it comes, and adjusting as they go.
For Patricia himself, it was Thursday night when a text came in asking him to take a look at a video of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressing his knee into the neck of Floyd and killing him, which is just the latest high-profile example of police brutality against black people. It hit the Lions coach like it did a lot of people.
“Honestly, I was just disgusted, angry, sad, depressed,” Patricia said. “The range of emotion, you watch the video, someone being murdered and you’re like … I didn’t even know how to process it. And the range of emotion I know I felt in watching that was only one-tenth of a fraction of a minute percent of what my players must’ve been feeling. So when I got up on Friday, I didn’t sleep much. I’d been grinding on stuff all night, it was just, ‘This isn’t right.’”
So that day, Patricia wrapped the team portion of the Lions’ meetings by speaking from the heart, sharing his own personal feelings on Floyd’s killing, telling the players he had their back and—particularly with a player on the roster who lives in Minneapolis—saying he hoped they could stay safe.
Before they’d meet again, as we all know now, plenty came to change. A mix of peaceful protests, violent riots and everything in between broke out from coast to coast.
When Monday came, the Lions adjusted accordingly. The coaches had been preparing to open Phase III of their offseason program on June 1, which is when installation on both sides of the ball was set to begin. But it didn’t take long after the staff meeting got going that morning for everyone to know that wasn’t going to happen Monday, and it might not happen for a while.
Patricia started that call by opening the floor to the nearly 30 staffers in there, and quickly a session that is normally run almost exclusively by the head coach and his coordinators belonged to everyone. Quality-control coaches, strength coaches and support staff said their piece, some were moved to tears, and the agreement was reached that the Lions would just have one big team meeting later that day.
That call had more than 120 people on it. There was, by design, no structure. Anyone who wanted to talk could and, similar to the staff meeting, players from the top of the roster all the way down to the undrafted rookies spoke. Personal stories from childhood, high school, and college—and even one from just last week—were told to highlight experiences that players have had and how they relate to what’s going on in our country.
“It was just about listening and making sure we tried to get on and open it up for conversation, real conversation, truthful conversation, honest conversation, heartfelt conversation,” Patricia said. “And really, honestly, credit to my players for leading that. They’re the ones that really were able to get it to where it became so powerful.”
In the staff meeting and the team meeting, there was a diversity of race, age, and regional and socioeconomic backgrounds that allowed everyone to bring something.
“Certainly, for someone like myself, who’s lived and grown up in the Northeast, I really have to listen to those guys that have grown up in the South or other areas of the country,” Patricia said. “Not that it’s any better or any worse, it’s more just in where people grow up, learning what they go through, and I think that’s part of it. Even guys of different ages, who’ve grown up in different parts of the country, it’s eye-opening, it’s enlightening, it’s all stuff you want to learn from.”
On Tuesday morning, the coaches met through Zoom again, and it was unanimous from coach to coach, as a few verbalized: There’s no way I can go back into that meeting today and talk football. Many, Patricia included, had gone back and talked about the experience with their families, and had more to add as a result. The conversation had to keep going.
But the Lions staff did want to make the day feel a little different, so the coaches started with a larger team meeting, then went to offense/defense, then to position groups, to give different people the chance to share their own feelings, and allow a forum for guys who may have been more comfortable talking in smaller groups.
And, just as clear to Patricia and his staff as it had been that they needed to devote Monday and Tuesday to this discussion, was the fact that the dialogue needs to keep going from here.
“I think for us, what we hope, and how we gotta hold each other accountable, is to make sure that we are continuing the conversation, and we are setting up time to do that, and we’re trying to come up with ideas to follow through outside our building to have the conversation,” Patricia said. “It’s amazing when you get a group of men together, and you start to listen, and you get to the point where you feel comfortable talking through it.
“And listening to some thoughts and ideas, I think that’s when you gotta make sure you follow through. You gotta try. And they’re not all gonna work. But if a couple of them work, and you make change, you connect. … We gotta try, and we gotta stick with it and we gotta persevere through that. And we talk a lot about leadership and the team driving that leadership. And I think that’s important for us to make sure that it’s an everyday thing.”
Wednesday’s an off day for the Lions. The players will be back on Thursday, and the coaches will meet in the morning before they get together with the team to discuss how to go forward, and when to start working football back in.
On that front, Patricia plans to involve the players, and trusts that they’ll let him know when the time is right to do it.
“When everyone’s ready to talk and move in that direction of football, we’ll move when the team wants to move,” Patricia said. “I think the one thing to understand there—we won’t move away from the conversation. It’s just, at some point, you’re having the conversation and then you’re also working on what we do, which is football.”
So Patricia’s taking notes on both fronts now, trying to learn as best he can, with the very real acknowledgment that he knows a lot more about one subject than the other. And he also knows that if he just listens to the guys he’s usually addressing, he could learn a lot to make up the difference.
From 24601 (@jasonpcarter): What teams have the biggest advantage and biggest disadvantage if the fall season is without fans?
So this is actually an interesting question, and I want to answer it in two ways—one as pertains to the altered offseason, and another to the idea of empty stadiums.
And on the altered offseason, I think we have to learn from 2011. I don’t think it was a mistake that coming out of the lockout, the two Super Bowl teams had entrenched coaches and quarterbacks (the Giants and Patriots), and it certainly stands to reason that teams with stability on both counts would have an edge. The Chiefs, Eagles, Texans, Vikings, Saints, Falcons, Seahawks, Rams and 49ers are among those who can say they check both boxes.
By that logic, you’d say first-year coaches would have issues. But the evidence from nine years ago shows that five of the eight teams that went through coaching changes in 2011 finished .500 or better. What tied those five together? It’s actually interesting. The two that made it to the playoffs (Denver, San Francisco) had guys with previous head coaching experience (John Fox, Jim Harbaugh). Two more were promoted after being interim coaches in 2010 (Hue Jackson, Jason Garrett). The fifth was an internal promotion (Mike Munchak).
That would indicate that having experience either in charge or with the team you’re working for helps—and Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy, Washington coach Ron Rivera and Panthers coach Matt Rhule all fit in that category. That leaves Giants coach Joe Judge and Browns coach Kevin Stefanski with more of an uphill climb.
As for what teams will be at the biggest advantage and disadvantage if stadiums were empty, I think that’s a fascinating question. I think the disadvantage is probably with the teams that generally have the strongest advantage due to crowd noise (New Orleans, Seattle and Kansas City). The advantage? To me, it’d be teams that play in the bitter cold or at altitude—Green Bay, Chicago, Buffalo, New England, Denver, etc.
Why? Well, as I see it, it sucks to be in the cold, or to have trouble breathing. To be doing it in an empty stadium, especially if you fall behind, would probably make it a lot worse. Yeah, the crowds in those places can create an advantage. But I do believe they bring energy to both teams, and without that, but with nasty elements thrown in, I think being on the road could be a pretty miserable environment.
From Dorian (@Dorian59909906): Are NFL owners (a lot, a few or half of them) willing to have a full 16-game season without fans?
Dorian, if it comes to that, they all are. But I don’t think a single one of them believes it will, and I’ll take it a step further and say teams have gotten comfortable with the idea that there are likely to be some inequities from one place to the next in 2020.
And they’re getting comfortable with it for an exceedingly simple reason—it’s in everyone’s best interest this year to protect the bottom line, and there’s a damn good chance there’ll be differences state-to-state in what’s allowed and what’s not as far as crowd size goes. The 2021 salary cap (and probably cap figures after that too) will be impacted by losses in local revenue, so it behooves everyone financially to get the game going as close to normal as possible in as many cities as possible.
Could that mean that you have, say, 12,000 fans at a Lions or Giants game on the same November weekend that the Chiefs fill Arrowhead? Yes, it could. Even the league doesn’t know if things will look like that when we get there. But everyone is preparing for it.
From G_T_3 (@G_T_III): What will Kittle’s deal be worth? $15M/year?
GT, George Kittle’s situation is fascinating. He’s the best skill player on a Super Bowl team, but plays a position that lags badly behind others in how it’s compensated. The top receiver in the NFL makes $22 million per year, the top running back $16 million and the highest-paid tight end is barely cracking eight figures annually.
A big part of that is the franchise tag number, which is a result of the market lagging so far behind at the position, which leads to a chicken-and-egg argument. How does that work functionally? Well, let’s say, for argument’s sake, the tag number for tight ends is $11 million in 2021 (it was $10.61 million this year). That means the Niners could hang on to Kittle this year at $2.13 million, next year at $11 million and in 2021 at $13.2 million.
Add that up, and the Niners could, on paper, keep Kittle at an average of $8.78 million per year through seasons in which he’ll turn 27, 28 and 29. Because of that, Kittle’s camp has to find another way to exert leverage. Which is usually done by holding out, but the new CBA has stricter rules around that.
As all that indicates, this is a tricky one and, no, a deal doesn’t look close. It’s in some ways similar to the situation the Rams were in with Todd Gurley, but in the very least that one had a previous outlier to go off in Adrian Peterson’s last Vikings deal. This one doesn’t even have that. So buckle up. There could be some bumps ahead.
From Tyler Schmidt (@teachgeek90): How warm is Sean McVay’s seat heading into this season? Is it playoffs or bust?
Tyler, I’m going to tell you that I think the Rams could go 0-16 (I don’t think that’s happening) and McVay would probably survive—as he should. Those all over him for last year seem to have completely lost sight of where the franchise was before he arrived at 30 years old. Here’s a refresher: From 2004-16, the team went 8-8, 6-10, 8-8, 3-13, 2-14, 1-15, 7-9, 2-14, 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and 4-12. And that low point for McVay was 9-7.
And really, what happened in 2019, if you want to parse the difference between that season and 2017/2018, was more about the roster than anything else. Todd Gurley broke down. Brandin Cooks’s concussion situation worsened. The offensive line crumbled after losing John Sullivan and Rodger Saffold. The defense underwent some pretty significant transition in the secondary. And, again, the team was still on the doorstep of the postseason.
Now, I’m not denying that the Rams have a lot of work to do. That line will have to be better. Jared Goff will have to be as well, because with the quarterback off his rookie deal the team will have to be built differently. The gamble that McVay took in moving from Wade Phillips to Brandon Staley will have to pay off. And beyond all that, the team is going to have to work with a roster that’s become top-heavy and needs draft picks to hit.
But the idea that McVay would be on the hot seat is crazy talk. The Rams would be insane to let him go, which is why that’s not even a thought out there.
From Max (@max_schein): What does Deandre Hopkins’s arrival do to Kliff and Kyler’s offense? What kind of crazy sets will we see? Is Kyler a dark horse MVP candidate?
Max, well, I do think if Kingsbury wants to go 10 personnel (four receivers) more often, then he most certainly has the horses to pull it off this year, with Hopkins joining Larry Fitzgerald, Christian Kirk, and three draft picks from 2019 at the position. Add the versatile Kenyan Drake to that equation, and there’ll be a ton of room for Kingsbury to cook up some pretty creative looks.
As for what Hopkins does for Murray, I think the idea of those two in the scramble drill has to be frightening for defensive coordinators, so you can start there—broken plays will be a problem for the Cardinals’ opponents, as if they weren’t already. Now, the flip side here is that Murray’s going to have to learn to throw to Hopkins, who doesn’t separate the way other elite receivers do, but can catch the ball in traffic better than anyone in pro football.
Deshaun Watson, you’ll remember, had a pretty longstanding relationship with Hopkins (both being Clemson guys), and that helped in that regard. It’s on Murray to build that kind of rapport with his new No. 1 receiver.
Could that mean winning the MVP? I’m not ruling it out. He has a lot of the factors that Carson Wentz, Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson had for their Year 2 breakouts (creative offensive coaches, a legit No. 1 skill player, investment in the tackle positions). That said, he plays in the NFC West, which won’t make it easy.
From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): Why didn't the Steelers do more to secure their backup QB position? Big Ben's longevity this year is hardly a guarantee.
Matt, it’s a fair question. Part of it was to continue to pour investment into a team that they believe is ready to compete for a title, with a defense that showed signs last year of getting back to the level Mike Tomlin’s groups played at in his early years in Pittsburgh. They spent their first-round pick this year to get Minkah Fitzpatrick for that defense. They spent second- and fourth-round picks (Chase Claypool, Anthony McFarland) to get Roethlisberger help. I get it, and I bet Aaron Rodgers wishes the Packers ran their offseason similarly.
But eventually, they’ll have to find the next guy, and I think we know now it won’t be Duck Hodges or Mason Rudolph. Which is why, if I’m them, I’m trying to convince Cam Newton to come aboard, even if it’s on a one-year deal. Get him in the pipeline. See how it works out. Maybe you have a decision to make after 2020 then?
I do understand why you wouldn’t do that, too. I don’t know that Ben and Cam would be a great personality match, and maybe that wouldn’t be great for the team. But to me, there’d be a lot of value in bringing a guy into the program with the potential to be a successor to your established quarterback, and I think there’d be value for Newton in going to a very stable place with the goal of re-establishing who he is as a player.
From FreakofNature (@mphoenix1603): Why has Everson Griffen not signed anywhere yet?
Freak, I think it’s a combination of off-field concerns stemming from his mental-health issues in 2018, and the fact that he’s 32. Bottom line, he’s the kind of guy a team is going to want to bring in and talk to, and put through a physical, before committing any sort of real money to him.
There’s been interest. And obviously it hasn’t been enough to generate a signing, but the guy managed eight sacks in 15 games, had 13 as recently as 2017 and brings a premium skill to the table. So whether it’s Cleveland, Seattle or somewhere else, I think he’ll find a home before we get to the season.
From $1money (@SOhlhaut): Who is the most slept-on 2020 squad?
Good question, money, and we’ll wrap it up there—give me the Las Vegas Raiders. That 2019 draft class should only get better, Jon Gruden has another option at quarterback now in Marcus Mariota, should he sour further on Derek Carr, and the team is very well-fortified along the lines of scrimmage, which is usually a key for teams that do take big, sudden leaps forward.
Should the Chiefs be worried in the AFC West? Maybe not. But I don’t think the 6-4 start last year was a mirage. The Raiders will be plenty competitive in 2020, and it wouldn’t shock me if they wind up with one of the AFC’s (remember) three wild cards.
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