Coming into the 2009 NFL Draft, the Detroit Lions were coming off the first season in NFL history in which a team finished 0-16. Because of this, they were blessed with the number one selection in the draft. In the late hours of April 24th, 2009, less than 24 hours before the draft was to get underway, the Lions agreed to terms with Matthew Stafford to announce him as the number one pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and their new franchise quarterback.
Since that point, it has been a good run for Stafford. He compiled all the stats to be considered elite including a season with over 5,000 yards passing, a season in which every game he completed over 60% of his passes and countless fourth-quarter comebacks. Unfortunately, he did not find a ton of success in the win column. Zero division titles and zero playoff wins in only three appearances in 12 seasons. Arguments rage on for days on if it was his fault or the team’s fault but, in the end, wins are wins and losses are losses, no matter who is at fault and that will weigh on anyone. This led to him requesting a trade from the Detroit Lions so that he can continue his career elsewhere as the Lions prepare for another massive shift organizationally.
A CULTURE SHIFT
The Lions have been known as a place of losing. They have a term branded after them with most of the fan base “Same Old Lions” which is a moniker used for them after they blow a big lead in the fourth quarter or get robbed by an awful call from referees because of some things with this team just do not change. They are striving hard to change that this offseason. The Lions brought in Chris Spielman who was with the team during a small run of success in the mid-to-late 1990s, to be “the football guy” in the front office and change the team’s ways and they are off to a red hot start of getting that in the right direction. The hiring of Brad Holmes to fill the General Manager role was the start. He brings a strong background of college scouting from the Los Angeles Rams including an innovative scouting process that they teased a lot post-hiring. The hiring of Dan Campbell was the next step. Someone who is not just a football mind to come in and call plays and try to win games. They brought in Campbell due to his innate ability to get players to play hard every play and play for the right reasons. Together Holmes and Campbell will build the Lions into a team that will embody the city of Detroit: grit, passion and a blue-collar work ethic every single day.
A CLEAN HOUSE
The previous regime in Detroit attempted to mock the New England Patriots. They would attempt to beat the Patriots to drafting players, they would trade for Patriots and sign former Patriots. That system fits with one coach and one team: Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes will need to gut the roster, specifically the defense, to get the right players in place and that is going to take some time. On the offensive side of the football, Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Danny Amendola are all pending free agents which leaves their top receiver currently under contract Quintez Cephus.
Oh, they only have a current cap space of $12.8 million and only five draft picks in this year's draft. You can fully expect a ton of cuts this offseason as they try to speed this up as quickly as possible. The trade of Stafford will clear some cap space and should return some decently high draft capital that will work nicely at rebuilding the Detroit Lions and will point to how much they can accomplish in free agency and what they will need to target in the draft.
A NEW HEARTBEAT
With all the change, all of the losing in the past, and all the hurt there is that comes with trading a player as loved in the city of Detroit as Mattew Stafford is, you need to find a way to re-energize the team, the city and the fan base. Nothing is a guarantee, and you aren’t guaranteed to find it right away but you have to take a chance. That chance they take very well could be quarterback Zach Wilson from BYU. A dynamite arm talent who burst onto the scene in 2020 completing a ridiculous 73.5% of his passes with 33 touchdowns. Looking at it closer, his career path is strikingly similar to Matthew Stafford.
Both had a struggling start to their careers as freshman quarterbacks, showed some flashes and struggled again in their sophomore seasons and then broke out their junior years to be considered one of the top quarterbacks in their draft classes. Zach Wilson has the arm talent, the mobility and does not turn the ball over. In his college career, he has 56 touchdowns to just 16 interceptions. He could reignite this franchise and kick start something great for the Detroit Lions. Teamed up with D’Andre Swift, who Dan Campbell said he is very excited to get into open space and lined up on linebackers. Teamed up with TJ Hockenson running down the middle of the field or running across the middle of the field would immediately create a high potent offense worth watching every week.
It’s a scary time being a Lions fan. A lot of change and a lot of unknowns are headed in the coming months. With only one playoff win ever and no division titles since 1992, it is extremely reasonable to be hesitant and nervous about what the future holds. However, there is a sense of renewed energy with the hiring of Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell. The right pieces are being added around them on the coaching staff and with front office hires to build a support staff around Holmes and Campbell. They are out to build a winner and to build a winning culture and to steal a quote from Dan Campbell’s press conference “We’re going to put Motown back on the map” as they set out to accomplish something no one has brought the Detroit Lions since 1957: A Championship.
Buckle up Detroit and enjoy the ride. This is going to be fun.