It’s an entirely new regime and culture in Allen Park this offseason, but whether that translates to more success remains to be seen. What even is success? How is that judged? What is the meaning of life? The Lions have me feeling very existential… Anyways, the wacky antics of new head coach Dan Campbell have been the talk of the league this offseason. Some have praised the new fun-loving atmosphere and believe that in an increasingly player-driven league it will result in a stronger culture. Others have ridiculed the behavior and see potential problems with discipline and respect. Whatever your stance, we will all ultimately judge his regime on one thing: winning games. That is what makes the Lions so interesting this offseason. Will their new front office and coaching staff show immediate improvement with a roster that has a lot of the same pieces? What kind of timeline should we expect on this rebuild? What kind of potential does the team have this year, and what are their goals? I’ll address these questions briefly below.
How will a roster that was largely disappointing last year, especially on defense, look in the upcoming season? There have been some positive additions to the team for sure, but it’s hard to argue that the roster has not worsened when you appear to have taken several steps back at the QB position. New signal-caller Jared Goff will be behind a strong O-line, but will be throwing to an almost entirely untested WR room. Expect a big year from TJ Hockenson, but this is a team that will need to rely heavily on the ground game and winning time of possession. Last year’s defensive scheme was so atrocious that it’s almost impossible to judge the abilities of individual players, but it’s hard to imagine that things could get much worse. This will be a key year to give some struggling players last chances, develop young talent, and see who will be the players to rebuild the team around. Jeff Okudah stands out as a player that desperately needs to improve on a disappointing first year. I’ve argued since he was drafted that it will always be nearly impossible for a CB to live up to a 3rd overall draft position, but he must become a solid starter for that selection to be seen as anything other than the cherry on top of the debacle that was the Quinn/Patricia era. I expect to see better coaching this season, a few players who emerge as real NFL-level talent, and a clearer picture of our actual strengths and weaknesses heading into the following offseason. It’s impossible to overstate how terrible the previous regime was, and how difficult it will be for the new management to evaluate players. The themes of this season will be testing and discovery.
Granted that this is a very difficult rebuild, how long should we as fans expect this to take. Patience will be key, but if the new front office continues to make promising moves it might not need to be a 10 year “Tigers Rebuild” (aka spinning our wheels for a decade and never making a bold move, but I digress). I think this year will most likely be entirely developmental and experimental. I know, I know, I said that we should judge the staff on wins and losses, but this year is an exception. Throw out the record, how is the roster improving week-to-week? Have the players bought into the new culture and coaches? Are there noticeable and tangible improvements? Is the team contending and keeping games close? If those questions are answered convincingly then we can begin to raise expectations. Will Jared Goff surprise us and take control of the starting job, or will he make it clear that we’re taking a QB in the first round next year. I believe the latter is more likely, but either way we would hopefully have our QB of the future in place starting next year. If all goes well I think the timeline could look like a top 3 pick in year 1, somewhere around .500 year 2, and contend for a playoff spot in year 3.
That leads into the final question, what should we expect this year? I tipped my hand already with the top 3 pick prediction, but I believe the most likely outcome is 4-6 wins, 4th in the NFC North, and a high draft pick. What is the best and worst case scenario? That’s a difficult question to answer, because winning games might actually be the worst case scenario if you are looking to draft a QB next year. I’ll word it this way: what is the ceiling and floor for this team when it comes to wins and losses? I’ll let you be the judge of which is better long-term. The floor is 0-1 wins. Potentially the first ever 17 loss team (We did it again!). The roster looked that bad last year, and after losing Stafford and overhauling the coaching staff it’s a real possibility. I already gave my most likely outcome as 4-6 wins with some signs of improvement during the year. The absolute ceiling for this year? 7-8 wins and the fans get to have some fun conversations about how many games back we are from the wild card. I think this is unlikely, but if Goff plays well, the run game and O-line control the ball and are efficient, and the defense takes a step forward with a new scheme, I won’t rule it out.
In conclusion, this will be a very interesting year. How do the fun personalities compare to the strict “Patriot-Way” culture of previous years? What direction will we be going with our QB at the end of the year? Did we take a step forward, and what does that mean for the timeline of the rebuild? We’ll be finding out soon, and I’m excited to finally get some football and some much-needed answers. These aren’t your same old Lions, now we find out if that’s a good thing. Can’t be any worse.
-The Man In the Michigan Hat
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