They are a team that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention this offseason. But the Detroit Lions may be a lot more intriguing than NFL fans realize.
They almost seem like an afterthought in the surging NFC North.
The Minnesota Vikings are defending division champions. The Green Bay Packers won the title the previous four years and have been to the playoffs seven consecutive seasons and counting. The Chicago Bears were one of the league’s busiest teams this offseason and have the look of a much-improved club.
What about the Men from Motown? The Detroit Lions did follow up a playoff appearance in 2014 by winning only seven games this past season. But this was a club that won six of its final eight contests after a 1-7 start.
Yes, the retirement of wide receiver Calvin Johnson drew a lot of headlines this offseason. But the team may be in better shape from top to bottom than some people think.
Up top, the Lions are currently under the command of general manager Bob Quinn, who has ties to the New England Patriots. When it came to bring back head coach Jim Caldwell after a 7-9 season, Quinn told Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press it was “probably the easiest and best decision I made.”
“(I) really have a great working relationship with Jim,” added Quinn earlier this week. “All of the sets of meetings we had, whether it was when I first got there figuring out our team, leading into free agency, leading into the draft meetings, really felt comfortable with Jim and his staff and their ability to take a player that has a certain skill set and make that fit into the schemes that their running.”
As for replacing “Megatron,” the club signed free agents Marvin Jones (Cincinnati Bengals), Jeremy Kerley (New York Jets), Andre Caldwell (Denver Broncos) and Andre Roberts (Washington Redskins). But quarterback Matthew Stafford has high hopes for this offense.
“Golden (Tate) has had a great offseason and I just got the chance to start working with Marvin and he’s a heckuva receiver…I think we’re going to do it a little bit differently than we have in the past,” Stafford said in a recent interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio.
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“Obviously, we used to feature Calvin, and everybody kind of got theirs after that…I think it’ll be tougher for defenses, in a certain way, that they don’t know who we’re going to. There’s no guy to key in on. We’re probably just going to spread the ball around a bunch, and a bunch of guys will get a ton of catches, and we’ll be all right.”
On the other side of the ball, emerging defensive end Devin Taylor came on big time last season. The team also played virtually all of 2015 without outside linebacker DeAndre Levy due to a hip issue last season. Michael Rothstein of ESPN has the latest on the productive defender. In free agency, the Lions added safeties Rafael Bush and Travon Wilson.
This team is far from perfect. There are still question marks regarding the ground game, which gained the fewest yards in the league in 2015. But better offensive play can make this an area of improvement, hence the fact that Quinn used three of his first five picks in April’s draft on help in this area and also inked veteran blocker Geoff Schwartz this offseason.
While the remainder of the division in drawing plenty of attention this spring, Caldwell and the Lions are lying in waiting in the NFC North. Don’t discount this being one of the surprise teams and stories of 2016.