Former New England Patriots director of pro scouting Bob Quinn is entering his second season as the general manager of the Detroit Lions. He’s building the Lions in the image of his old squad by applying lessons from Bill Belichick and Nick Caserio to one of the most unlucky franchises of the past thirty years.
I spoke with PrideOfDetroit.com’s Christopher Lemieux to understand how Quinn has made an impact on the Lions, and whether there are any players that might not make the final roster and could interest the Patriots.
“He's been working to build depth, beyond all else,” Lemieux wrote about Quinn. “There used to be mad scrambles and heads on fire when a starter would go down and the level of play would drop from someone mediocre to a guy who's just on witness protection. Quinn's actually got a plan when someone gets hurt.
“I'm generally surprised and pleased at what he finds in the mid-rounds of the draft, and even the picks he's made this year that's had people questioning his decisions are looking like they'll pay off sooner rather than later. His pro scouting knowz-it has worked out well in free agency. He can acquire talent from unlikely places and I don't think that's been the case of past front offices at Allen Park.”
It’s no secret anymore that the special sauce of the Patriots roster has been Bill Belichick and the front office’s ability to find quality depth players to ensure a single injury to a starter can’t derail the season. In fact, the Patriots generally use free agency as a time to sign the low- and mid-tier free agents to flesh out the roster so the third and fourth players on the New England depth chart are as good as the second-stringer for another franchise.
The Lions have signed top special teams players and viable top back-ups like LB Paul Worrilow and CB Johnson Bademosi to compete for starting jobs and have kept former Patriots like TE Tim Wright, SS Tavon Wilson, and WR Keshawn Martin for the same reason as New England: they can play special teams and step up on offense or defense in a pinch.
Quinn hasn’t been perfect, though, and Lemieux points to Quinn’s poor handling of franchise players are a big problem.
“I wrote an article the other day that was fairly conspiratorially minded about Quinn and Stafford's impending extension, but it does highlight that I have had misgivings with how he's handled this Calvin Johnson mess and DeAndre Levy's injuries,” Lemieux writes. “These were two bits of dramas with former stars he could have easily resolved behind closed doors and he blew both cases. He let Stephen Tulloch go at probably the worst point of the offseason and probably hurt his chances to find a new team, although I know there were complicated matters there. Either way though, I have reservations with how he's dealt with some of the veterans of this team, and it's why I remain wary about this deal with Stafford. If Quinn pulls it off I'll give him that credit.”
One of the big issues with former Belichick acolytes is their complete inability to recognize the importance of understanding the players. Josh McDaniels struggled with it. So did Eric Mangini. Even Scott Pioli had problems with that in Kansas City.
For all the grief that Belichick is given with regards to contract renegotiations with struggling players, he’s generally the first to get rid of veterans that won’t make the team so they will have plenty of time to sign with another franchise. Hopefully Quinn can quickly realize the importance of maintaining relationships with the players because that will go a long way in how every decision is analyzed.
Lemieux also provided the name of four players that could interest the Patriots (I think only one might) and I’ll add a few more for good measure.
“If you jackals take our beautiful Eastern Oregon boy Jace Billingsley I... well, it'll be fine if he wins a Super Bowl ring, but I'll be sad,” Lemieux jokes. “TJ Jones and Keshawn Martin could potentially fall off the table among that crew too. On defense, no guarantee Jeremiah Valoaga makes the team, but he's been decent in training camp.”
The Patriots really don’t have room for receivers, so Lemieux need not worry. But it’s the Lions edge defenders that could really interest the Patriots.
Lions star EDGE Ziggy Ansah is on the PUP list and Kerry Hyder is on the injured reserve after tearing his Achilles in the first preseason game; they were Detroit’s projected starters.
So the Lions have shifted their focus to allow some of their depth players to see more opportunities and a few have really stepped up. Valoaga is one, along with Alex Barrett and Pat O’Connor. They are competing for the fourth and potentially fifth edge defender roles on the Lions depth chart and there’s a chance that one or two will not make it through roster cuts.
According to Pro Football Focus, all three could be contributors in the NFL as they all ranked in the top 20 of 4-3 defensive ends in the opening week of the preseason, with Valoaga and Barrett playing at a high level against both the run and the pass. They were all successful in the second week of the preseason, too.
Look for the Patriots to keep tabs on these Lions pass rushers and look for them as potential mid-season trade acquisitions if the New England pass rush is struggling.