Lions off to good start in free agency

DE Trey Flowers one of 3 former Patriots targeted

Bob Quinn’s busy Monday resulted in what appears to be one of the best days in Detroit LIons’ recent free agency history.

The Lions GM addressed some of the biggest needs which should open the team up for more flexibility in the NFL draft (April 25-27).

While free agency doesn’t officially start until Wednesday, Monday was the first day for legal tampering. So while the deals appear imminent the players can’t be signed until Wednesday.

That excludes wide receiver Danny Amendola who signed with Detroit after he was cut by the Miami Dolphins after just one season. He was a free agent so could ink the deal early.

Amendola, one of three former Patriots making the move to Detroit on Monday, is a two-time Super Bowl champ and quite familiar with Quinn and coach Matt Patricia.

On a conference call, the 35-year-old Amendola said he’s in the best shape of his career.

In case you’ve been in a cave, defensive end Trey Flowers was the biggest fish that the Lions landed on Monday.

Flowers, a two-time Super Bowl champ who is only 25, has missed just three games in the past three seasons in New England. The former fourth-round pick (2015) is expected to sign a deal worth approximately $17 million a year for five years. He should be worth it and could replaced 29-year-old Ziggy Ansah who just couldn’t stay healthy missing 14 games in the past three seasons.

And, of course, he knows Matt Patricia who coached him his first three seasons with the Pats. (He missed most of his rookie season in 2015 with a shoulder injury.

Justin Coleman, who will play nickel, spent the last two years in Seattle after his first two seasons with the Patriots. So he knows Patricia and Quinn well. (Sense a trend?). He’s expected to sign a four-year deal with $36 million. The Lions released Nevin Lawson earlier on Monday.

Quinn addressed the huge need at tight end by signing Jesse James who played with the Steelers the past four seasons. The 24-year-old is more of a blocking tight end but could give Matthew Stafford another option.

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Lions GM Bob Quinn: QB Matthew Stafford is not going anywhere

‘He will be our quarterback here’

ALLEN PARK — If there was any doubt about the future of Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Lions general manager Bob Quinn set the record straight in his season-ending press conference on Friday.

The Lions quarterback, who just finished his 10th season, is going nowhere.

“Matthew Stafford is our quarterback. He will be our quarterback here,’’ Quinn said. “Listen, this guy is a really talented player. Myself, the coaches need to put him in better situations to allow him to use his skill set. Matt’s extremely tough, he’s extremely diligent in his work ethic. He sets a great example for all of our players, and really all of our staff, of how to go about his job.’’

Stafford’s back injury late in the season was on the daily injury report. But apparently that is not all he was fighting through.

“He had the back thing, and he went through numerous things where he wanted to play through it and our doctors said he could play through it, and he showed a lot of toughness,’’ Quinn said. “That’s a credit to him. That’s one thing I’ll never, ever question. This guy loves football, he’s competitive, he’s talented. We need to do a better job of putting better players around him and scheming up things better to use his talent.”

The Lions finished 6-10 in coach Matt Patricia’s first season. The defense outperformed the offense for most of the season, but that was not all on Stafford. Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter’s contract was not renewed.

It was the first season since 2010 when he only played in three games,  that Stafford didn’t have at least 4,000 passing yards.

Quinn does not blame Stafford for the offense’s midseason struggles.

“It was a combination of we had some injuries, we had some things that were happening during the games defensively that kind of affected the offense. We kind of put them in some bad situations. Special teams, field position. It’s not just Matthew Stafford. That’s not what this is,’’ Quinn said. “We have 53 players on the field, on the team every week. We have 46 that dress. So, just because he’s the quarterback and he touches that ball every play on offense doesn’t mean he gets all the blame. The blame can be passed around. It starts with me, it starts with the coaches, and it starts with everybody on the team. It’s not his fault.”

Quinn said Stafford holds himself accountable at a “very high level.”

“I think Matthew’s kind of a reserved guy with you guys. I think in the locker room, in the meeting rooms, on the practice field, this guy holds himself at a very, very high standard, and that resonates with his teammates, that resonates with the staff,’’ Quinn said. “We didn’t win enough games, Matthew didn’t have as great stats as he normally does, and we’re going to improve that in the offseason.”

A possible trade of Stafford has been recent fodder for Detroit sports talk radio. In 10 years Stafford has yet to win a playoff game, but that is not all on him as Quinn made clear. Stafford is on his third head coach and will soon be working with his fourth offensive coordinator. Since Reggie Bush was not brought back after the 2014 season, the Lions haven’t had much of a running game until this past season when Kerryon Johnson made his mark.

“I understand the outside perception. What I know on the inside is, working with this quarterback every day, seeing his car in the parking lot, early in the morning, late at night. I know what he does when he goes home, he puts the girls to bed and he works,’’ Quinn said. “I see that every day. I see what he does to get his body ready to play football. I see what he does on the practice field.’’

The GM noted how Stafford works extra before and after practice, notably with Bruce Ellington who was signed after Golden Tate was traded. But also with younger receivers like Andy Jones and even Justin Stockton who was on the practice squad.

“I understand what you’re saying, I really do,’’ Quinn said. “But when you live in this building, and you live with this guy, there’s things that go very unnoticed with him that are very, very valuable.”

Detroit Lions’ 2018 draft class was impressive in its first season

Frank Ragnow leads impressive class

The old rule of thumb is that a draft class can’t truly be judged for five years.

Maybe so. But after a rookie season, much has been learned about the Detroit Lions 2018 draftees.

Basically, General Manager Bob Quinn did a great job by filling needs and looking toward the future. If everyone stays healthy, it appears that all six will be on the roster in the 2019 season.

Here’s a quick look:

FRANK RAGNOW, first round, 20th overall — The left guard started all 16 games and showed flashes of what is yet to be. He proved to be a solid first-round pick and filled a need. To his benefit he was lined up between two guys with NFL experience in left tackle Taylor Decker and center Graham Glasgow. The offensive line has work to do but Ragnow proved he deserved a starting role.

“I think Frank has a bright future,” veteran right guard T.J. Lang said. “It’s not easy to come in as a young lineman and be thrown into a starting role. The way he approaches the game, sitting in meetings and asking questions, I think I really bonded with him this year because he was so ready to learn new techniques and everything he can about defenses. He wants to be great, and as an older guy to have an opportunity to teach him a little bit, take him under my wing, was an honor. He’s a strong kid, a smart kid, a great athlete. He’s only going to get better.”

KERRYON JOHNSON, second round, 43d overall — The running back, who had two games of more than 100 rushing yards, played a huge role in getting the once-weak run game in gear. It had been an issue which is why he was drafted in the second round. He was limited to 10 games following a knee injury on Nov. 18. The good news is that it’s not a lingering issue. He said if the Lions had made the playoffs he would be ready to go. He feels bad he couldn’t play the whole season. He finished with 118 carries for 641 yards, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

“Running back is a tough spot, but when you’re able to finish 17 (weeks), give it your all for 17, I feel like that puts your team in the best position to win,” Johnson said. “That’s what I like to do. I like to win and I like to be accountable. One way you do that is by finishing.

“I’ve just got to train harder. Obviously, what I did this past offseason wasn’t enough, so I’ve got to do more. I have more time to do more without having to prepare for the combine and all that stuff,’’ Johnson added.

TRACY WALKER, third round, 82nd overall — Defensive back is a tough position to play as a rookie in the NFL, but Walker got his feet wet on defense and was a factor on special teams. He made some highlight plays and was burned too which is all a part of the learning curve for rookie defensive backs. He played in all 16 games and grabbed his first interception in the win over Carolina.

DA’SHAWN HAND, fourth round, 114th overall —  The 6-foot-3, 297-pound rookie was the top-graded rookie interior defensive lineman in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. He said he’s just getting started and now knows where he needs to improve. “I want to be fast, like blazing speed,’’ Hand said. “I’m trying to be like one of the fastest D-linemen in the league.” His season was ended when he sprained his knee in Week 14 in the win at Arizona. In 13 games he had three sacks and 27 tackles.

His teammate, Damon “Snacks” Harrison, sees a bright future for Hand. Harrison tweeted about Hand this week: “This kid is going to be a problem for a long time for offenses. No cap.”

TYRELL CROSBY, fifth round, 153rd overall — The offensive lineman saw action at right tackle in Week 14 when Rick Wagner was injured and could not finish the game. Crosby started at the same position for Wagner the next week. He served as a backup tackle this season but could move inside to guard also. Overall he played in 10 games and did not disappoint.

NICK BAWDEN, seventh round, 237rd overall — The fullback tore his ACL in June’s minicamp and missed the entire season.

 

Lions Matt Patricia: Fundamentals, execution holding us back right now

Next up, Lions head to Chicago, the NFC North leader

ALLEN PARK >> Matt Patricia said there was not one glaring factor when Matthew Stafford was sacked 10 times in the 24-9 Lions’ loss at the Vikings on Sunday.

Obviously, more sacks than points scored is never good.

“It’s a full team thing, it’s a full unit thing and we have to do a better job. We can’t play that way,’’ Patricia said at his Monday press conference.

And, even though it’s November, half of the season is history and the Lions are 3-5, the first-year coach is leaning on basics.

“Fundamentals and execution is what’s holding us back right now,’’ Patricia said.

Talent? The coach said they have plenty of talented guys to help them win.

So where are the wins? How could they get humiliated two straight weeks? Yes, the Vikings and Seahawks are good teams, but the Lions didn’t just lose, they were embarrassed.

Certainly the Lions’ coaches made adjustments as Sunday’s game went on, it was just difficult to see the improvement.

“What happens as the season goes and you have some success in certain areas, obviously teams are going to gear up to try to stop those things you do and make you do them differently,’’ Patricia said. “We have to be able to handle those changes better than what we do right now and put our players in a better situation to give them some success, especially with the offensive run game. The defensive run game definitely seeing some repeat runs which are giving us problems.’’

And, of course, there was Dalvin Cook’s 70-yard run which Patricia called “catastrophic.”

The Lions ran for just 66 yards at the Vikings and the Detroit defense gave up 128 rushing yards.

“With both offensive and defensive lines I would say the point of emphasis right now is fundamentals,’’ Patricia said. “Some of our fundamentals (Sunday) got out of whack, some of our technique stuff was not necessarily where it needs to be on a consistent basis.’’

It all seems a little nuts. They worked on fundamentals in long, grueling training camp sessions in July and August. Much of the roster is composed of NFL veterans who should not need to go back to square one for Football Fundamentals 101.

But they will work on basics this week in the meeting rooms and Patricia said he might add some extra periods during practice. “It’s hard when we’re trying to get everything we can done and get ready to go. It is what it is, we have to get it done, put a little more effort into it,’’ Patricia said.

Next up is another road game against a divisional opponent, the first-place NFC North Chicago Bears (5-3).

Patricia said they had a good week of practice last week, it just didn’t carry over.

“We were prepared and ready to go we just didn’t show up on Sunday enough all the way around,’’ Patricia said. “Just got to do a better job.’’

That is everyone, coaches included.

When Patricia was hired by the Lions in February, he was not brought in for a rebuild. The long-time Patriots defensive coordinator was expected to improve on the Lions’ 9-7 record from 2017.

General manager Bob Quinn made it clear the reason Jim Caldwell was fired was because he thought they were capable of winning more than nine games each of the last two seasons. He traded Golden Tate, the top wide receiver, last week. Maybe it’s a move for the future but Quinn knew they had two divisional opponents coming up.

Any talk that the Lions are currently sinking because it is all a part of the plan is just not true unless they’ve changed course and didn’t mention it.

Sunday’s loss at the Vikings was cringe-worthy.

Fundamentals and execution. Seems like we’ve heard those two words before.

The season appears to be basically over thanks to a 3-5 record. Not sure this was part of the Quinn-Patricia plan.

Lions Matt Patricia offers insights on Golden Tate trade, moving forward

It will take a team effort to replace leading WR

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia said he was open with the team about the trade of Golden Tate to the Eagles. The Lions coach talked to his players before their first practice on Wednesday minus Tate, their leading receiver.

“The biggest point for me is to make sure everybody understands this also shows a lot of confidence in the people that are in that room,’’ Patricia said. “There are great players in that room and there are a lot of them. There’s a lot of guys who have opportunities to make plays and go out there and play at a high level. The biggest thing for us is we have to turn the page and be ready to go. If we spend all Wednesday talking about this, Minnesota is getting ready to kick the ball off at 1 o’clock on Sunday, whether we’re there or not. We better show up ready to go.’’

Patricia admitted it wasn’t an easy decision. Detroit got a third-round pick in exchange for giving away their leading receiver (44 catches, 517 yards, three touchdowns).

The Lions (3-4) are still in the thick of the NFC North race and face the Vikings (4-3-1) on Sunday in a big divisional game in Minnesota. Then the Lions had to Chicago (4-3)  on Nov. 11.

“The decisions are not easy. It’s more than just players, it’s relationships, it’s friendships, it’s working together for a long time,’’ Patricia said. “I talked to Golden at length yesterday, I talked to him last night. I wanted to make sure he was alright moving forward. I know he’s going to a good place with people who will take good care of him.’’

No one on the roster currently has the same talents as Tate has so it’s going to take some adjustment on the offense. Along with Marvin Jones Jr. (26 catches for 387 yards, five touchdowns) and Kenny Golladay (30 catches for 477 yards, three touchdowns), the other wide receivers on the roster are TJ Jones (3 catches, 36 yards) and rookie Brandon Powell who has only played on special teams. Running back Theo Riddick, who has missed two games with a knee injury, can line up in the slot.

“You never try to walk in and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to replace this guy with this.’ It’s a team effort,’’ Patricia said. “It’s totally however we think scheme-wise what will help us win this week.  It might be different the next week and might be different the week after that. We have a lot of good players that can step up in different roles depending on how we decide it’s best to play this game.’’

General manager Bob Quinn may have made the call, but he worked with Patricia on the decision to trade Tate for a third-round pick.

“You have to work together with all those situations. There certainly is good conversation that goes on and it’s good to have that, it really is. You can get caught up either way to one side. You may make decisions that are more emotional than logical. At some point you’re trying to make the best logical decision that you can, that’s the important thing,’’ Patricia said.

“Football is great, there’s a lot of emotion in it, there’s a lot of emotion on game day, there’s a lot of emotion during the game when we work and the relationships are emotional. That’s what makes it so special,’’ Patricia said. “… There’s a huge emotional part of this when you’re running a business or need to make decisions for the greater good.’’

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer can’t be quite sure how to prepare for the Tate-less Lions.

“I think Golden is a heck of a football player, he’s definitely a great run-after-catch guy. He’s always giving us problems,’’ Zimmer said in a conference call on Wednesday morning. “It changes some of the things with our game plans. It’s part of the NFL everything changes all the time.’’

Lions’ trade of Golden Tate to Eagles is a befuddling move

Eagles send third-round pick for the veteran WR

The Lions had a good thing going on offense with a talented trio of wide receivers in Golden Tate, Marvin Jones Jr., and Kenny Golladay.

Subtract Tate from the equation. He was traded to the Philadelphia Eagles for a third-round pick today, the NFL trade deadline day.

It’s a head-scratching move.

Has GM Bob Quinn given up on the season? He will say no, but his message seems clear.

The Lions are just 3-4 but still had a fighting chance in the NFC North with Tate on the roster.

Now? The offense loses a major weapon. The locker room loses a leader and fans lose one of their favorites.

The three wide receivers are not interchangeable — they each had their strengths. Tate’s shiftiness, his ability to work between the seams and creases set him apart. He fought hard for  yards after the catch and was successful.

The 30-year-old team leader, who was in his fifth season in Detroit, was in the last year of his contract and it seemed unlikely the Lions would pay a high price to bring him back.

However, the timing seems bad. It’s not a move that will sit well with fans or perhaps the rest of the team. This group finished last year 9-7 which cost Jim Caldwell his job. They brought in Matt Patricia to improve on that. They added nose tackle Damon Harrison last week which seems like a good move, but now trading Tate away seems a little scary.

In seven games this season Tate had 44 catches for 517 yards (11.8-yard average), three touchdowns and three carries for 42 yards. He never missed a game in his time in Detroit.

Sunday’s game puts Lions’ Matt Patricia and Patriots’ Bill Belichick in spotlight

Both coaches insist it’s about the game, not their relationship

ALLEN PARK — Whether they like it or not, much of the focus leading into Sunday night’s Lions home game against the New England Patriots will be focused on the coaches.

Bill Belichick hired Patricia in 2004 as an offensive assistant and kept him around until the Lions hired him as their 27th head coach in February.

Neither one wants to talk much about the past. In typical coach-speak, they’re focused on the matchup between the Lions (0-2) and Patriots (1-1). Kickoff is 8:20 p.m. on Sunday at Ford Field.

Belichick is 4-1 against the Lions since his first year as head coach in New England. The only loss was on Thanksgiving in his first season (2000) when the Lions won, 34-9. Drew Bledsoe was the quarterback for the Patriots who went 5-11 that season. Charlie Batch led the Lions who finished 9-7 in 2000.

“This is about the Patriots and the Lions. And each of us has a part in the game obviously, and I have all the respect in the world for Matt, Bob (Quinn), Mrs. (Martha Firestone) Ford, who I worked for. Great people in the Lions organization,’’ Belichick said in a conference call on Wednesday. “But in the end, it’s about the two teams competing and that’s what the game is about. Hopefully we can go out there and do a good job. So, that’s what we’re going to try and do.”

Belichick, who has won five Super Bowl rings in New England, coached with the Lions early in his career as assistant special teams coach in 1976 and receivers coach in 1977. (By the way, the Lions were 6-8 both of those seasons.)

Patricia, who won three Super Bowl rings as  the Patriots’ defensive coordinator, would also rather focus on the Lions instead of his New England ties.

“New England is New England. We’re trying to build Detroit here. We’re trying to do the best thing we can for the Lions with this team and the players that we have,’’ Patricia said. “There’s certain philosophies that I think carry over as me as a coach and what I believe in. Whether that’s New England or Syracuse or wherever I was before, college or whatever the case may be, just things that I believe in.’’

The comparison has been made for three years since the Lions hired general manager Bob Quinn from the Patriots where he had spent 16 seasons in a variety of roles. The talk intensified when he hired Patricia to replace Jim Caldwell who was fired after posting a 9-7 record in 2017.

Belichick didn’t want to get into too many details about his relationship with Patricia. He wouldn’t say if he saw some of himself in Patricia 14 years ago when he first hired him.

“I try not to evaluate those kinds of things. Look, every player and every person is different and every coach is different. No two of us are the same, even identical twins. So, everything is different, I really don’t worry about that,’’ Belichick said. “I just try to do the best job that I can in the role that I have.”

Belichick said there was no magic when he first hired Patricia. He makes it sound like it was a just another hire.

“We had openings, he was recommended, we talked to a number of people and we thought he was the best fit. And he did a great job and continued to expand his role,’’ Belichick said. “He did a number of things in the organization. He started off as an offensive assistant on the offensive line and ended up as the defensive coordinator—and there were a lot of things in between.”

Patricia is growing and learning at his first stint at any level as a head coach. Of course, he’s taking some of what he learned from New England and trying to transform the culture at the Lions’ organization. He’s figured out at least one thing about Belichick since he’s been a head coach.

“I would say the only thing that you can’t really get a perspective on until you sit in this seat would be, and I think I’ve mentioned this before, is just how much time that (Belichick)  would give me in particular and the other coaches. You walk in his office and he might be doing a thousand things. You have no idea. And your question is the most important question in the entire world, so you have to get it answered right away,’’ Patricia said. “And he would just stop and explain it, teach it, coach it. And I’d move on, I’d go handle my situation. And I’m sure that he just got stockpiled with everything else that was walking through his door, I slowed him down a little bit, I’m sure, at that point. Which you think you kind of realize, but you really don’t realize just how much is coming at you.”