Dan Campbell touts Detroit Lions' patchwork approach to free agency: 'It gives us options'

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The Detroit Lions did not make any major moves in free agency, but the incremental gains they made — on the field and in the locker room — should set them up nicely to make a bigger splash in the future.

That is Dan Campbell’s hope, at least, after the Lions signed nine players in the first wave of free agency, added quarterback Jared Goff and defensive tackle Michael Brockers via trade, and re-signed defensive end Romeo Okwara.

Eight of the Lions’ nine new additions signed one-year contracts, and only Brockers, on a renegotiated contract, received more than $5 million guaranteed.

Lions coach Dan Campbell walks through the Allen Park headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.
Lions coach Dan Campbell walks through the Allen Park headquarters on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021.

“Probably the best thing about all of these guys we’ve signed is I think they’ve all got something to prove,” Campbell said Monday. “And they’ve got a little bit of chip on their shoulder, whether it’s 'I’m coming off an injury' or 'they were trying to reduce my salary' or 'I’m a guy that they didn’t want anymore' or 'I’m a guy that they think is washed up.' Man, all these guys have something to prove, and, man, so do we.”

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The Lions are in the midst of overhauling nearly the entire football side of their organization after three consecutive losing seasons and 30 years without a playoff victory.

Campbell replaced Matt Patricia as head coach, Brad Holmes took over for Bob Quinn as general manager and Goff will start at quarterback this fall in place of Matthew Stafford.

Expectations for Year One of the new regime are low, but Campbell said he is “fired up” about the moves the Lions made this offseason.

Along with Goff and Brockers, the Lions have added running back Jamaal Williams, tight end Josh Hill, quarterback Tim Boyle, receivers Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Kalif Raymond and Damion Ratley, linebacker Alex Anzalone and kicker Randy Bullock in free agency.

They also re-signed linebacker Jalen Reeves-Maybin and long snapper Don Muhlbach to one-year deals.

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Goff was deemed expendable by the Los Angeles Rams two years after taking the team to a Super Bowl. Brockers declined a pay cut to stay in L.A. Tyrell Williams missed last season with a shoulder injury. And most of the Lions’ other free agents were not pursued to re-sign by their old teams.

“We don’t look at this year as we don’t feel like we’ve got a free pass now,” Campbell said. “We’re not going into this saying, ‘Well, we’re a little deficient in this area and this area.’ No, man. We’re going to add what we think we can to be competitive and then our job is to find a way to win games.”

New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone waits for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to take the snap at Ford Field, Oct. 4, 2020.
New Orleans Saints linebacker Alex Anzalone waits for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to take the snap at Ford Field, Oct. 4, 2020.

That will not be easy for a Lions team that went 5-11 last season, has the powerhouse Green Bay Packers in their own division and bid farewell to a host of starters including Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Justin Coleman and Danny Shelton.

Campbell has acknowledged previously the Lions’ real window for opportunity is a year or more down the road, and he said Monday the Lions’ recent moves were made, in part, with that time frame in mind.

“Everything we said at the beginning is how do we bring in the guys that can help us as players, but help us with the culture as well?” Campbell said. “But also, the right mix of the type of player that we bring in. These guys have not affected our future, but yet they bring in kind of a tone. They set a tone for us and we feel like they bring the ability to give us competition with what we already have on this roster.

“I thought it was important that we brought in guys that, there again, we somehow have a relationship with or we know somewhat intimately, cause you know what those guys are about. And you grade the tape and, yep, they can still do it. They have these (skills), there’s a role that they have. But I do feel like we’ve got the right mix of guys that are dynamic players, we got role players, we got leaders, we got – man, we got workhorses. So I just feel like it’s a good balance of people.”

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Campbell previously coached in New Orleans, where he worked with Hill and Anzalone, who the Lions have indicated will call plays on their defense this fall. Holmes was part of the front office that drafted Goff and Brockers in L.A. Receivers coach Antwaan Randle El spent one season with Perriman with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Senior personnel executive John Dorsey drafted Ratliff with the Cleveland Browns. And Holmes and Campbell said assistant general manager Ray Agnew and director of player personnel Lance Newmark were champions for the additions of Williams and Boyle, respectively.

Some of the Lions’ free agent additions cited Campbell as reason why they came to Detroit.

“A guy who has that much energy and is that excited and loves football that much, it’s going to be awesome to be around that energy every day,” Tyrell Williams said.

And Campbell said he is appreciative that some players took “a little bit of a leap of faith” to join a rebuilding team.

The likelihood is that most of those players won’t be in Detroit to experience the fruits of the rebuild, should it work. But Campbell said he considers the Lions’ moves this offseason a win for everyone involved.

“It’s opportunity,” he said. “Everybody understands where the salary cap’s at right now so look, if you’re a guy who is looking for a one-year deal anyway and then see what happens next year, this is as good a place as any just with the way we’re set up and where we’re trying to go and the depth of our roster, and so I think it’s been presented just like that.

“We’ve told everybody straight up, you come in here and you compete. You compete, you win a job then you start. If you start and you play pretty well, you’re probably taking even more reps than you would have, and then that production at the end of the year, nothing says we don’t re-sign you. Or, kudos to you, man. Somebody’s going to pay you a lot of money and you move on and we wish you well. But it gives us options, and so we haven’t promised anybody anything. We’ve just – it’s opportunity.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Why Detroit Lions 'don't feel like we've got a free pass' in 2021