Rogers: Front office will have to lead Lions out of their drought

Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Matthew Stafford with Lions GM Bob Quinn.

Allen Park – There are no curses in sports. The ghosts of the past are only excuses for the ineptitude of the present.

The Chicago Cubs didn’t overcome a goat to erase a 108-year championship drought. It was the result of nothing more than outstanding management assembling and developing a roster capable of such heights.

It started with hiring Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer to run the team’s front office. The bright, young tandem had worked together in Boston, helping construct the Red Sox roster that ended the franchise’s 86-year championship drought in 2004.

From there the Cubs drafted well, even if the selections of Kris Bryant and Javier Baez were seemingly no-brainers. The team largely made good decisions in free agency, inking proven pitchers Jon Lester and John Lackey, and veteran utility man Ben Zobrist. And they smartly identified young, up-and-coming talent on the trade market, acquiring MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo, leadoff man Dexter Fowler, Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta and ERA champ Kyle Hendricks, not to mention all the key pieces from the team’s dominant bullpen.

Oh, and they hired a progressive manager, Joe Maddon, to get that roster over the hump.

The loveable losers are no more. They’ve been replaced by an organization that came into this season as the favorite and met those lofty expectations. Not only that, the Cubs are in position to contend for years to come.

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Now that the Cubs have vanquished their infamous streak, we look for the next story of anguish. There’s the Indians, who are fresh off blowing a 3-1 series lead to the Cubs and have fallen short in their four trips to the World Series since last winning 68 years ago.

The Arizona Cardinals and Sacramento Kings also have title droughts extending longer than six decades, although both franchises have relocated at least twice, softening the misery inflicted on their cities.

What about the Detroit Lions?

Not only did the Lions last win a title in 59 years, they really haven’t come close since. They have one postseason victory during the stretch.

Detroit has its own curse, attributed to quarterback Bobby Layne, who supposedly said the franchise wouldn’t win another championship for another 50 years after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1958.

Whether Layne ever uttered the words is debatable, but it doesn’t matter. It isn’t a mystic hex that’s been the Lions’ problem, it’s been a steady stream of incompetence from the top down, starting with former owner William Clay Ford, who was embarrassingly loyal to his failed hires.

There’s nothing stopping the Lions from replicating the Cubs’ success. The NFL is set up, with a hard salary cap, to allow bottom-feeders to quickly transform into championship contenders. It just takes competent management.  

The Lions hope they’ve found their Epstein and Hoyer in general manager Bob Quinn and director of player personnel Kyle O’Brien. The similarly young tandem was forged in the championship cauldron of New England, where they earned multiple Super Bowl rings while working their way up the ranks with the Patriots.

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Time will tell if the duo has anything close to the roster-building aptitude of Epstein and Hoyer. In baseball, you have more options and less restrictions. Most of the Cubs’ roster was built through savvy trades. In football, the foundations of championships are laid through the draft. 

Quinn’s first class is off to a promising start, but the Lions need to string together multiple successful drafts, plus hit on some free agents, before this team can set its eyes on the promised land.

Nothing is impossible in sports. Lengthy championship droughts have been falling by the wayside, in Boston, Chicago (both the Cubs and White Sox) and Cleveland, where the Cavaliers ended 52 years of no titles, not for the team, but the city.

If the Lions hope to join that list in the near future, it rests on the shoulders of its front office.