Detroit Lions star Matthew Stafford is undeniably one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, but he’s made the playoffs just three times. Will his playoff misfortune change in 2020?
The skinny: Detroit hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2016 season and the Lions have not advanced past the wild-card round in nearly three decades (1991). Typically, teams that have an elite quarterback are much more competitive.
Here, we’re diving into what the Lions can do to finally turn their franchise around and field a playoff contender.
Getting defensive: Head coach Matt Patricia was hired away from New England a couple of years back because he was seen as a guy who could fix Detroit’s defense. Things haven’t gone the way anyone planned, though, and last year the Lions sported the second-worst total defense in the NFL, allowing an average of 400 yards and more than 26 points per game.
So, what should the Lions do this offseason to ensure they turn it around?
- Don’t trade big-play Slay: There’s been no shortage of news suggesting the Lions will look to trade cornerback Darius Slay. That would be a huge mistake. He’s been one of the elite cover corners in the NFL for the past few years, racking up 13 interceptions and 50 pass breakups, tied for second-most in the league since 2017.
- Target pass-rusher in the draft: Detroit has the No. 3 overall pick this April, and given the way the board is shaping up, there’s a chance Chase Young could fall right into their laps. If that doesn’t happen, then the Lions should explore a trade down with the idea of targeting K’Lavon Chaisson or Zach Baun.
- Solid Plan B: If Young goes to Washington at No. 2 overall (as the latest mock drafts suggest), and the team can’t get what it wants in a trade-down scenario, then there are a lot worse ways to go than landing Jeffrey Okudah, the incredible cornerback out of Ohio State, to pair with big-play Slay.
- Free agency frenzy: Before the draft, the Lions have a chance to bolster their defensive line in free agency. The likes of Yannick Ngakoue, Jadeveon Clowney and Dante Fowler Jr. could be huge additions to pair with Trey Flowers, who was in dire need of help last season.
- Brick wall needed: Edge rushers will only get you so far. If teams can run the ball down your throat, you’re in trouble. The Lions weren’t the worst in the league last year at stopping the run, but there’s no doubt they struggled. Landing someone like Michael Pierce or Quinton Jefferson could be a great way to fix that.
It’s not all Patricia’s fault the Lions tanked on defense last year. He isn’t exactly Bill Belichick when it comes to scheming up a winning game plan, but give him enough talent and Detroit’s defense will have more bite than bark in 2020.
Protect Stafford at all costs: Before he was lost for the season with a back injury, Stafford was having arguably the best year of his career. Unfortunately, the Lions’ previous moves to build a dominant offensive line have fallen flat. It’s time to remedy this.
- Interior linemen are a must: The Lions should try and re-sign free agent Graham Glasgow, and it couldn’t hurt to bring back Kenny Wiggins as well. However, there’s no doubt that new blood is needed inside. Detroit should target a veteran like Michael Schofield or Mike Iupati to bolster this unit, and it should draft at least two interior linemen.
- Replace Rick Wagner: Left tackle Taylor Decker is pretty decent, and the former first-rounder isn’t going anywhere. Right tackle Rick Wagner, on the other hand, has been a big disappointment and could be a cap casualty due to his $11.9 million cap hit. It’s time to move on, and there are some intriguing options out there, such as Jason Peters, Jack Conklin, and Bryan Bulaga.
- Swing for the fences: There’s also the potential option of trading with Washington to land seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams. In this scenario, Decker could move over to right tackle, and the Lions would be in great shape to protect Stafford from the elite edge rushers in this league.
Regardless of how it happens, the Lions absolutely have to improve their offensive line. Stafford, when he has time, is utterly lethal from the pocket. But if he’s getting hit in 2020 like he was last year, it’s going to be another losing season in Detroit.
Supercharge the passing game: Kenny Golladay is special. Marvin Jones is still very productive. Danny Amendola, who recently re-signed, is still one of the better slot specialists in the league. Tight end T.J. Hockenson, if he can stay healthy, could become a deadly weapon. The one thing the Lions lack is a lightning-in-a-bottle playmaker.
Here are a few options for Detroit to consider in free agency:
- Robby Anderson: Rumors suggest the New York Jets want to keep this young star, but he’d be a perfect fit in Detroit. Stafford has one of the strongest arms in the league, and Anderson can stretch the field as well as anyone.
- Breshad Perriman: After looking like a first-round bust for much of his career, Perriman showed out big time last year in Tampa Bay. He averaged 17.9 yards per catch and hauled in six touchdowns and would be a tremendous addition to Detroit’s offense.
- Phillip Dorsett: Underutilized in New England, Dorsett still managed to catch 29 passes for 397 yards (13.7 yards per reception) and five touchdowns.
We’d be stunned if the Lions didn’t take advantage of this historic draft class as well. Here’s what they could do this coming April to provide Stafford with another electric weapon.
- Round 2 (No. 35 overall): Draft Denzel Mims out of Baylor — This young man was recently mocked in Round 1 after dominating the Combine in Indy. He’s quick, fast, and made some of the craziest catches in college football last year.
- Round 3 (No. 67 overall): Draft Devin Duvernay out of Texas — Dude ran a sub-4.4 40 at the Combine and showed off his wheels regularly playing for the Longhorns.
If the Lions can overwhelm opposing defensive secondaries with speed, and if they can protect Stafford, he’s going to shred.
The bottom line: Stafford is really, really good. It’s up for debate whether the Lions can cobble together enough talent to turn the franchise into a playoff contender this year, which is why we recently posed the notion of trading Stafford to build the franchise up from scratch.
However, the Lions have made it clear that’s not happening, and Stafford has made it clear he isn’t going anywhere. With that in mind, general manager Bob Quinn certainly has his work cut out to get the Lions back to the playoffs in 2020. But it’s not an impossible task.