Rogers: Uncertainty clouds possible Patricia-Lions union

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

In the second week of the Detroit Lions’ coaching search, the spotlight has narrowed on one candidate; New England Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia. Whether the franchise will be able to land the presumed-to-be top name on its list remains a matter of debate.

Over the weekend, a number of national headlines, spearheaded by Pro Football Talk, made it sound as if Patricia to Detroit was a done deal.

“Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the Patriots are bracing for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to leave, most likely to become the next coach of the Detroit Lions,” they wrote as others followed suit.

But the focus should be on the word “likely,” which concedes a lack of certainty. Fuel was added to those embers Wednesday morning, when Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, one of the most-respected journalists covering the NFL, noted Patricia was eyeing another opening.

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“In Detroit, I hear Pats defensive coordinator Matt Patricia is the choice over Houston’s defensive boss, Mike Vrabel — but Patricia favors the Giants,” King writes. “If the Giants give the nod to Patricia, Detroit could be Vrabel’s job.”

King’s comments highlight only Patricia’s preference, failing to note whether the feeling is reciprocated by the Giants. The New York Daily News closed that gap on Wednesday.

“The Daily News has learned that all signs are pointing to Matt Patricia, the New England Patriots defensive coordinator with a degree in aeronautical engineering, as the man the Giants will hire to point Big Blue back in the right direction,” the paper wrote.

No team is able to hire Patricia, or even negotiate contract terms, until after the Patriots have either been eliminated from the postseason or win the Super Bowl, but let’s assume the premise is true, that he is the top choice for both the Lions and Giants. Why would he choose the Giants?

New York finished with a 3-13 record last season and quarterback Eli Manning, 37, is in the twilight of his career. The Lions, on the other hand, went 9-7 with franchise signal-caller Matthew Stafford still in his prime. First glance tells you the Lions are closer to contending.

But there are factors working in the Giants’ favor.

First, it’s closer to home than Detroit. Patricia was born in New York, raised in the state and went to college at Rensselaer Polytechnic, located three hours north of the city.

And despite their current state, the Giants are one of the NFL’s premier franchises, winners of four Super Bowls and owned by the Maras, one of the league’s most influential families.

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New York was also where Patricia’s longtime boss, Bill Belichick was molded as coach. He spent a dozen years with the franchise, working under Bill Parcells, before earning his first head-coaching opportunity.

Finally, the Giants holds the No. 2 pick in the upcoming draft, so there’s potential for Patricia to draft and develop a young quarterback of his choosing.

Patricia interviewed with the Giants shortly before talking with the Lions about their opening. He’s also met with the Arizona Cardinals. When asked about the process earlier this week, he offered no insight into his future.

“It’s always a learning experience, like when I’ve been through it before,” Patricia said Monday. “You know, you have the opportunity to learn about some other franchises and get a chance to talk about how they do things and really just kind of broaden your whole overall education of what the NFL and the different organizations are. So, it’s always a very informative process.”

In addition to Patricia, the Giants have also interviewed New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator and former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks and interim head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

What we’re left with is lingering uncertainty. And with two franchises in the Patriots and the Lions, run by Patriots disciples, who both treat information like state secrets, there’s little hope clarity will be provided on the record anytime soon.

But the Lions will know when to move on. Patricia isn’t likely to keep Lions general manager Bob Quinn, a former colleague and friend, on the hook. And by all accounts, supplemented by King’s speculation, Vrabel would be the next option.

Vrabel, 42, interviewed with the Lions last week and also has an extensive history with Quinn. Vrabel was a veteran linebacker and locker room leader while Quinn was working his way up the ladder as a scout in New England during three of the franchise’s Super Bowl wins.

A young coach, Vrabel spent his first three years at his alma mater, Ohio State, before joining Bill O’Brien’s staff in Houston in 2014. After coaching the team’s linebackers for three seasons, Vrabel was promoted to defensive coordinator prior to the 2017 season.