The Detroit Lions' front office might say it doesn’t want to emulate everything the New England Patriots do, but on Monday, it did almost everything it could to look a lot like a version of the Patriots in the Midwest.
The Lions agreed to terms with defensive end Trey Flowers, the best pass-rusher available in free agency, and Justin Coleman, a high-level nickel corner. They signed receiver Danny Amendola. What do all three have in common?
New England. New England. New England.
Lions coach Matt Patricia has made many moves since being hired in February 2018. A lot of them have come with some sort of familiarity attached. Several of the coaches he brought in had ties to him from the past. Now the players he’s bringing in all have some level of connection to New England.
In Flowers’ case, at least, the Lions' move transcends the New England ties. Flowers is a versatile player who can move all along the defensive line -- as can other movable pieces such as Romeo Okwara and Da'Shawn Hand. Flowers also has proven production in the Patriots' style of defense, with 21 sacks over the past three seasons.
“I think the NFL résumé is huge. Those guys have been in the league, most of them four years plus, right -- because they’re hitting unrestricted free agency,” general manager Bob Quinn said at the combine last month. “So, there’s plenty of tape and stuff you can watch against NFL competition if they’re making plays at whatever position they are. That’s a little bit, I’d say, a safer bet than drafting anybody from the first round down to the seventh because the draft is sporadic.
“Sometimes you hit; sometimes you miss. We try to do as much work as possible to try to mitigate those misses, but yeah, the NFL free agency is more of a safe bet.”
The Lions are still going to have to hit in the draft, but as far as free agency is concerned, give Quinn credit for doing exactly what he said he was going to do. The Lions needed more playmakers. He nabbed the top pass-rusher on the market in Flowers and one of the top nickel cornerbacks available in Coleman. He added a veteran receiver in Amendola who's reliable but not flashy.
And he was willing to spend -- at least with Flowers and Coleman -- to get what he wanted. In taking these three players, the team has a better idea of how they are going to produce because Patricia has either worked with or coached on the same team as all three of them.
Flowers and Coleman have direct knowledge of Patricia on a day-to-day level. Both played for him in New England -- with Flowers starting to break out in 2016 and 2017 under his tutelage. Coleman didn’t flourish until he went to Seattle, but that might have been a function of opportunity.
This is the type of offseason Detroit needed to have after a rough 2018 that featured a 6-10 record on the field and multiple gaffes off it. The Lions had to switch the public perception of the franchise while also finding good players. They had to bring in players they believed had a high probability of working out. Players they could trust. In this, Quinn had a fantastic day. Establish your targets at each position and go get them. Less than 24 hours into the new league year, no one can say the Lions missed on many of their targets -- heavy on the Patriots or not.
Whether it will work remains to be seen -- NFL seasons past are littered with teams that appeared to win in March but failed in the fall. On March 11, though, the Lions have to feel very, very good about what has happened with their franchise.