Opportunity knocks: Chance to stand out lures FAs to Lions

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News
Marvin Jones

In the NFL, money and opportunity typically determine where a player goes in free agency.

The Lions offered both to former Cincinnati wide receiver Marvin Jones, so he chose to come to Detroit despite reportedly receiving interest from his former team and the Patriots. The Bengals have won the AFC North six of the last seven seasons, and New England earned the AFC East crown in 12 of the last 13 years.

The Lions, meanwhile, haven’t won a division title since 1993, but as they try to become contenders again, new general manager Bob Quinn — who spent the last 16 years with New England — said it hasn’t been hard to recruit players to Detroit.

“It really hasn’t,” he said this week at NFL annual meetings. “The players that we’ve had in for visits and we’ve signed and even some of the guys that we haven’t signed were really receptive. I had some really great conversations with players and representatives and agents about the opportunity that we present as a franchise with the ownership, the head coach, the hierarchy we have in terms of the structure of the organization, the position coaches, the coordinators. It’s an attractive place to go.”

And Quinn said the Lions are in the process of upgrading the team headquarters, which could make it an ever more attractive destination. The Lions will soon have a remodeled weight room, and Quinn said there will be other changes to the aesthetics within the Allen Park campus.

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“The football facility is where the players come to work and we want the players to be comfortable. We want them to be there, to enjoy coming to work, to enjoy putting in extra work. So, we’re just going to do little things around the building to kind of improve that.”

The Lions also hired a team performance dietitian, Sarah Snyder, who recently worked at Michigan and Florida. Quinn said the Patriots also had a dietitian on staff, and he wanted to hire one this year to stay ahead of the curve. According to the Collegiate & Professional Sports Dietitians Association, the Lions are now one of 10 NFL teams with one on staff.

Outside of Jones, the Lions haven’t signed any marquee free agents from other teams, but that has more to do with how they value players relative to the market, Quinn said this week. The Lions’ lack of winning hurt them when they showed interest in former Chargers safety Eric Weddle, but for the most part, Quinn said the Lions “had no issues whatsoever recruiting players to Detroit.”

Former Patriots safety Tavon Wilson said opportunity and familiarity led him to Detroit. In addition to knowing Bob Quinn, Wilson worked with new Lions head strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash Jr. in New England the past four years.

For cornerback Johnson Bademosi, money was a major selling point as the Lions gave him a two-year, $4.5 million deal that will pay him like one of the top special teams players in the NFL. He’ll also have an opportunity to earn a role on defense.

One free-agent recruit, meanwhile, had something else in mind when picking the Lions.

“The only thing I’m thinking about is winning,” said wide receiver Jeremy Kerley, who signed with the Lions Monday after reportedly visiting Buffalo and Kansas City.

Opportunity was clearly a big part of Kerley’s decision after seeing his offensive role diminish with the New York Jets last year, finishing with a career-low 16 catches and 152 yards. With the Lions, Kerley has a chance to be the punt returner, a role he maintained with the Jets last year, and the top slot receiver.

And despite the Lions’ poor history, Kerley said the new players must be hungry for success in the future.

“I’m very excited,” he said. “Anything could change the dynamics of a team — one guy, two guys, just the offseason. Anything can change the attitude of the team, regardless of being unsuccessful in the past.”