Detroit Lions face culture shock, not change

12/27/2018
DB+

Changing a culture can be a hard and strenuous process, not just for the person in charge of the culture change, but for those being asked to “buy in”. When there’s a difference of opinion and animosity presents itself, it normally leads to one thing:

Culture shock.

When the summer of 2018 happened, the Detroit Lions were in the midst of a culture change. Matt Patricia had been hired as the head coach and there were reports coming out of Allen Park, Michigan (where the Lions hold their training camps and practices) that the players in the locker room weren’t buying into his culture change.

I can only imagine how they felt moving on from a coach like Jim Caldwell, who seems to be well respected in the NFL but also in the locker room. His interactions with the media were less than thrilling, and at times irritating. Matt Patricia, meanwhile, has dropped “F bombs” in post-game interviews, has had former players accuse him of being late to meetings, and now there are veteran players wondering why teammates aren’t buying in.

The Lions started the season with a dreadful showing on Monday Night Football against the New York Jets. Close your eyes and picture it: a rookie quarterback making his first career start on the road, in a loud dome stadium with plenty of loyal fans that wear face paint, the nail-padded shoulder pads with a fake skeleton banging against the endzone wall on every crucial third-down. They get beat by that rookie quarterback, and their veteran quarterback, who is one of the highest-paid players in the league, came out completely flat and played one of the worst games of his career. Trust me, I don’t want to be reminded of Matthew Stafford’s four-interception game.

Fast forward the season to the final week. Here we are, the Lions have one game to go and only five wins on the season. They threw in the towel when they traded away their best offensive weapon in Golden Tate. That was a clear indication this isn’t about winning; this is business, and more importantly, this is change.

The Lions have been a laughingstock for what feels like centuries, but in reality it’s been decades. They have only one division win since 1993 and only three playoff appearances under Matthew Stafford. Love him or hate him, he’s the best quarterback the Lions have had. Is that saying a lot if it doesn’t translate to wins and championships? Absolutely not. If they can somehow keep Matthew Stafford upright and healthy for the next few years, they do have some type of window. Maybe the window is closed for others, but as long as they have him, they have a chance. It worries me that his back is bothering him now that he’s approached 30 years old, and I start wondering, “Are we seeing Tony Romo 2.0?” As long as he doesn’t fumble the snap on an extra point, we should be good, right?

Two of the best players in the franchise, Calvin Johnson and Barry Sanders, retired early. They were both just over the age of 30, and they retired because they were tired of the Same. Old. Lions. As people in Detroit say, SOL. It wasn’t that injuries were piling on, it was that the same thing happened every year with this franchise. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day. Bill Murray wakes up and every day is Groundhog Day. The same thing happens in Detroit. Every season passes and it’s the same thing. Top-5 picks, new ways to lose football games, and continuous solidification that they’re the worst franchise in NFL history.

Now that Bob Quinn and Matt Patricia have taken over, every move that is made will get linked back to the New England Patriots. In other words, “The Patriot Way.” Sorry folks, if there’s no Bill Belichick or Tom Brady, the so-called “Patriot Way” is going nowhere.

This changing of the culture that’s being led by Matt Patricia hasn’t worked so far, but maybe it can. Are the Lions going to make Matt Patricia a one-and-done coach? The Arizona Cardinals sound like they’re going to do it with Steve Wilks, so there’s always a chance the Lions could do that with Patricia, but Bob Quinn hired his own guy, so I doubt he’ll be gone.

Remember that Quinn was brought to Detroit and was basically forced to the hip of Jim Caldwell. Was Caldwell a failure? No, he was 36-28 during his four seasons with the Lions and was 18-14 in Quinns’ first two seasons as general manager. The Lions are now facing a potential 5-11 record and are currently projected to pick 5th overall in the 2019 NFL Draft. To make matters worse, NFL executives are predicting that the Detroit Lions will trade Matthew Stafford, and to be honest, how can they not go down the aisle and shop him around?

The quarterback class of the 2019 NFL Draft took a huge hit when Justin Herbert opted to return for his senior season rather than enter the Draft. It has pretty much left draft evaluators saying, “Dwayne Haskins or bust.” Teams like the Jacksonville Jaguars and New York Giants have been linked to wanting a new quarterback for most of the season. Either team could show interest in Stafford, and it could lead to some potential draft picks being dealt for the quarterback. Two other teams that could be in the mix are the Washington Redskins and the Cincinnati Bengals.

Let’s start with the Bengals and just be honest. If they continue to bring back Marvin Lewis, I have little hope that they move on from Andy Dalton. That marriage has failed and is destined for continuous failure. As for the Redskins, they’re interesting because they actually have a quarterback in Alex Smith who was playing well before he broke his leg, and now there’s a chance he doesn’t return to football because of it. You’d certainly have to think they’re in the market for a quarterback. Lastly, the Denver Broncos are another team who may be interested. John Elway has shown his ability to move players and picks before. To get a quarterback with actual talent, how does he say no? Whoever the team is, the interest for Matthew Stafford could be, and should be, real.

The Lions are destined for a great draft pick and are in need of a lot of things. Cornerback and a quality edge rusher would be the starting points on the board of team needs for them, but their offense needs some help, too. They need a tight end and they are in the market for another wide receiver. Before the Lions even think about attacking this offseason, they need to find out their identity. Whether it’s the one we’ve seen for 50 years or the one that’s trying to be established, they have to find out what direction they’re going before they make another move on the chess board.

It starts with three people: Matthew Stafford, Bob Quinn, and Matt Patricia. On paper, that sounds great, but when you look everywhere else right now, there’s clearly some type of disconnect. Can the Lions reconnect the dots and make the promising hire of Matt Patricia look worth it? Can they reconnect the dots fast enough to make it look like Matthew Stafford’s enormous contract is worth it? Can Stafford be the face of this culture change? He needs to show more than just “um” after every press conference. Show us the leadership and show that there isn’t animosity in the organization. If he can’t and the organization can’t turn this around fast enough, get ready for what will be more heartbreak and the calling for yet another new regime to build some type of elusive winning culture in Detroit.

 

National Scout for Cover 1. Host of Cover 1 | The NFL Draft Podcast. NFL Draft Enthusiast. X's and O's. Heard on ESPN Radio, FOX Sports Radio and CBS Sports Radio.

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