Lions placing premium on adding playmakers this offseason
Allen Park — For much of his three years on the job, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn has dutifully attended to his team's trenches. That approach reflected comments he made when hired, stating a belief that's where football games are won.
In those three years, Quinn has completely remade the team's offensive line with high-round draft picks and high-priced free agents. He also signed bigger, more physical tight ends, revamped the interior of the defensive line by taking A'Shawn Robinson and Da'Shawn Hand in the draft and trading for Damon Harrison, and made edge rusher Devon Kennard the team's top free-agent priority last offseason.
While it's doubtful he'll suddenly abandon efforts to continue to strengthen both fronts, Quinn made it sound as if priorities will be shifting this offseason, from hogs to stallions.
When asked what the Lions need to do in order to reach the next level, Quinn offered a short list, specifically headlined by one item.
“I think we need more playmakers on both sides of the ball," Quinn said. "I think big picture, we need more playmakers. We need guys to make big plays."
What defines a playmaker is a subjective measure. On offense, STATS LLC. defines a big play as a pass that gains 25 or more yards and a run that gains 10 or more.
Using these measures, the Lions combined to have 66 big plays in 2018, tied with the Jacksonville Jaguars for 27th in the league. Building blocks pieces Kerryon Johnson and Kenny Golladay paced the way for Lions.
Johnson, who appeared in just 10 games as a rookie, was responsible for 17 of the team's 10-plus yard rushes. The team's three other running backs — LeGarrett Blount, Theo Riddick and Zach Zenner — combined for 19, despite more than double the carries.
Golladay had nine receptions of 25 yards or more, tied for 19th in the NFL. Golden Tate was second on the team with six, and he only played seven games before he was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Marvin Jones, who had 15 big-play catches a year ago, was limited to five during his injury-shortened 2018 campaign.
It's worth noting, Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, who is reportedly on the trading block, has averaged 15 receptions of 25 or more yards the past two seasons, finishing in the top-five each year.
Defensively, big plays could probably best be summed up as tackles for loss, sacks and turnovers.
The Lions didn't have a single, dominant pass-rusher last season. Instead, the team finished in the middle of the pack in sacks by spreading the wealth. Fourteen different players recording at least one, lead by Romeo Okwara's 7.5.
With tackles for loss, only linebacker Jarrad Davis finished in the top-50. His 10 were tied for 49th.
Quinn acknowledged he inquired about the asking price of Khalil Mack last season, before the All-Pro linebacker was traded from Oakland to Chicago for a package of draft picks, including the Bears' first-round selection.
Mack tallied 12.5 sacks and another 11 tackles for loss in his first season with the Bears. It was his fourth straight season with double-digit sacks.
Turnovers were also a big issue for the Lions last season. The team's 14 takeaways ranked 31st, ahead of only the Arizona Cardinals.
During his season-ending news conference a week ago, coach Matt Patricia listed turnover margin as the top area the team needed to improve.
Cornerback Darius Slay and safety Quandre Diggs led the Lions with three interceptions apiece, accounting for 86 percent of the team's total.
Quinn's stated need for more playmaking puts a spotlight on starting cornerback Nevin Lawson, who has broken up just nine passes the past two seasons and remains without an interception for his career. In fact, no defensive back in NFL history has started as many games as Lawson (54) without a pick.
Barring an unexpected trade for Brown, or another established star such as Denver linebacker Von Miller, the Lions best bet to add a playmaker will likely be the NFL draft. The team currently holds the No. 8 selection.
Some early possibilities at that spot include Kentucky's Josh Allen, Florida's Jachai Polite, LSU's Greedy Williams and Washington's Byron Murphy.