The tetrad of NFL teams which comprise the NFC North Division enter the offseason with more questions than answers. The Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings sacked their respective general managers and head coaches, looking to rebuild after years of peaking at mediocrity. Meanwhile, the Lions continue their identical rebuild they began last offseason when they brought Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell onboard.
Even the Packers are loaded with questions, as star quarterback Aaron Rodgers contemplates everything from retirement, playing for another team, and returning for another year in Wisconsin. It doesn’t help that they’re staring down the barrell of salary cap hell the likes of which not even New Orleans can give advice from which to escape.
It’s no stretch to say the West is the toughest division in NFC. With at least 2 playoff teams chasing Super Bowl aspirations for the fourth straight season, the NFC West is a dominant group.
The North, meanwhile, features 3 teams struggling to stay above .500, and the poster-child for postseason collapse, the Green Bay Packers.
As Bears fans, we often see the on-field product of our beloved’s division rivals, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the offseason moves of the Vikings, Lions, and Packers. There’s a complete rebuild running parallel with the Bears’ own cooking up in Minnesota. There’s an emotional rollercoaster of incompetence masquerading as an NFL team on the other side of the lake in Detroit. Then there’s popcorn ready for those who would like front-row seats to the downfall of a dynasty in Green Bay.
It can difficult to fathom at times, but the Lions aren’t too far removed from years when they contended for playoffs. They finished above .500 in three out of four years between 2014-2017, and it was less than a decade ago when they featured Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson in their prime.
Yet they’ve had double-digit losses in each of the past four seasons.
Some blamed the coaching, so by the time the Lions fell to 4-7 last season, Matt Patricia was chased out of Detroit. He found his way back to New England, where he coached another great defense to the playoffs this year. They found a new GM in Brad Holmes and a new coach in Dan “Bite the Kneecaps” Campbell. The roster was still in need of major overhaul, and they limped around to a 3-13-1 season, a major highlight being a tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers as their first non-loss of the season.
Finishing with the second-worst record in football has a perk, though. The Lions will have the second-overall selection in this year’s NFL Draft, where they can have their choice of an exciting group of future NFL stars. If they nail this draft and see some development from the existing roster, the Lions could turn the ship around and silence some doubters.
The NFC North looks wide-open, after all.
In a roundtable dicussion, we ask the staff to consider what we would do if we were in place of the Lions GM Brad Holmes. We’re also joined by a very special guest, Ryan Mathews of Pride of Detroit.
If you were the Lions GM, who do you target at #2 overall in the draft and why? What are two other offseason moves you make?
Jack R Salo: This roster still needs more overhaul and that means it’s time to draft like crazy. With compensatory picks the Lions should be sitting on 10 selections, with 5 of them being in rounds 1-3. I like that, but I don’t like it enough. I call up the New York Giants and see if they want to package a few picks to move up from #5 to #2. They won’t part with #7 (from the Bears) but since they’re still drunk from celebrating having a pair of top-10 picks, they may not think twice about sending me a 3rd and a 6th.
Then I hope OT Ikem Ekwonu out of NC State falls to #5, and settle for OT Charles Cross out of Mississippi State if he doesn’t. Either way, I’m getting an excellent offensive lineman to pair with Penei Sewell and Taylor Decker, and can use protection as a sales pitch to bring a quarterback to town when I move on from Jared Goff next offseason.
For my next two moves, I negotiate a deal to keep TJ Hockenson in Detroit for a few more years, but quietly make a few calls to find out his trade value.
Lastly, I kick the tires on Calvin Ridley in the trade market. On top of having an excellent offensive line, I want two solid wide receivers to pitch to a free agent quarterback next offseason.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter: I actually think in terms of raw talent and potential, Kayvon Thibodeaux is the best prospect to be had in the 2022 class. If he’s not the #1 overall pick — it’s a real crapshoot this year with a weak QB class — then he’s the guy I’m taking. The Lions also have another 1st round pick at their disposal, and it could be the ideal territory to draft the #2 QB on my list - Malik Willis. He would be the spark plug on offense under center that can reverse their fortunes, if a sound hire at OC is made and an even better plan of development is crafted.
Meanwhile, I’ll look to add any targets I can find in the receiving game. Free Agency, the draft, trade market. If they can catch a football, they’ll receive an offer. Corner is another position I’d target early and often.
Ken Mitchell: If I were the Lions I would do whatever I could within reason to trade back, since my biggest need is a young quarterback and none of this year’s guy are worth a #2 overall pick. If I had to stay put I would go Edge, somebody like a Aidan Hutchinson or a Kayvon Thibodeaux (although #2 is a bit early for Thibodeaux in my humble opion, but many have him slated that high so it’s no reach by any emeans) I would also look at going OL, somebody like an Ikem Ekwonu at tackle or an Evan Neal out of Alabama.
Jared Goff’s money means he’s going to be the starting QB for the Lions, and at least with pre-June cuts there’s not much that can be done to clear up space (Detroit has a TON of back-loaded deals).
The good news for Detroit is that 2022 is a DEEP draft for wide receivers, and that’s a huge area of need for the Lions. They need to improve their production from wideouts, and that means adding talent through the draft.
If I were their GM, I would look to find value free agents at possession wide receiver and also another back who specializes in catching the ball out of the backfield.
Lester Wilftong Jr: I think the Lions need to address QB, because Goff isn’t the answer. So if they believe in a quarterback in this class, then pull the trigger at 2. The Lions fought hard a year ago under head coach Dan Campbell, so keep building up the trenches and embrace the smash-mouth mentality while they figure out their long term QB.
Josh Sunderbruch: I haven’t done my research on the quarterbacks to give a specific name, but Jared Goff and Tim Boyle aren’t taking a team anywhere. I pick the best QB available at #2. I take the best offensive player who is not a quarterback with the Rams’ pick. I target a solid WR1 in free agency—an Allen Robinson-type, who can serve as a security blanket for the new quarterback and/or Goff.
Ryan Mathews (of Pride of Detroit): If I were in the position of Brad Holmes, I’d look at this roster and pick Kayvon Thibodeaux at No. 2 overall. Every football team is an elite pass rusher away from having a respectable defense, just look at the way the Chicago Bears transformed with the acquisition of Khalil Mack. Thibodeaux gives the Lions a pass rusher to situate the opposite of Romeo Okwara should he return from an Achilles injury.
Two other off-season moves I would consider making if I were the Lions is sort of contingent on the elephant in the corner: is Aaron Rodgers still a Green Bay Packer?
If not, I’m all for Brad Holmes making moves to immediately help Detroit. Splashy moves to kick this rebuild into the next gear. I’d really make a push for signing a Jessie Bates from Cincinnati or a Marcus Williams from New Orleans. Detroit could use a veteran leader in their defensive backfield ala Glover Quin, and with Tracy Walker an unrestricted free agent himself, it would be really good for this team to do two things at the safety position: re-sign Walker and grab another top-flight safety in free agency to pair with him.
I’m going to cheat and count those as one move to fortify the safety position, so here’s the second move I make: draft Malik Willis. Use the draft capital you have from the Rams first-round pick and pick No. 34 to move up into the first round and take a quarterback you can allow develop behind Jared Goff. Goff is undoubtedly going to be the team’s starter at the beginning of next year, he’s earned himself that opportunity with his play in the last quarter of the season. But the Lions would be in a great position to bring in a young, toolsy quarterback who could benefit from developing behind the scenes. If Goff works out, awesome, you have a valuable player in Willis that teams would definitely inquire about. If Goff isn’t the team’s franchise quarterback, you have a guy in Willis who, in my mind, could develop into that guy.