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.

 

Detroit Lions announce that OC Jim Bob Cooter will not return

His contract will not be renewed

The Detroit Lions will move forward under coach Matt Patricia with a new offensive coordinator. The team announced on Tuesday that Jim Bob Cooter’s contract will not be renewed.

Cooter, who is 34, will likely get another opportunity in the NFL. Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that Cooter has received requests to interview.

He was originally hired by coach Jim Caldwell as the Lions quarterback coach to start the 2014 season.

In Week 8 of the 2015 season, Cooter was promoted to offensive coordinator following the firing of Joe Lombardi by Caldwell.

Cooter played a role in the Lions’ two playoff appearances during Caldwell’s four-year tenure.

The Lions offense finished 24th in the NFL averaging 327.2 yards per game in the 2018 season after ranking 13th (337.8) in the same category in 2017 when Matthew Stafford compiled a 99.3 passer rating for the season and established a new single-season franchise record.

Cooter and Stafford often said they saw the offense from the same point of view. But in this 2018 season, the tempo was slowed down and Stafford did not throw as many downfield passes as in previous years. It was his first season he didn’t reach the 4,000-yard passing mark since 2010 when he played in just three games due to injury.

In Cooter’s first full season as offensive coordinator in 2016, the Lions scored on 64 of the team’s 156 offensive possessions (41.0 percent), which ranked seventh in the NFL.

In 2015, Cooter helped lead Detroit to a 6-2 record over the final eight games. In that span, Stafford accumulated the highest passer rating (110.1) over eight games by a Lions quarterback as he surpassed the 106.7 rating registered by Greg Landry over an eight-game span in 1976.

Cooter was a backup quarterback at the University of Tennessee where he got his start in coach as a graduate assistant from 2007 to 2008. He earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management from Tennessee in 2006 and went on to receive a master’s degree in sports psychology in 2008.

Lions T.J. Lang said team went through ‘drastic’ change with Matt Patricia

Still, no excuses for 6-10 season

ALLEN PARK — T.J. Lang has played 10 years so he knows a little about how an NFL  season unfolds.

The right guard spoke at length, after cleaning out his locker on Monday. The Lions wrapped up their season with a 31-0 win at Green Bay on Sunday to finish 6-10.

In the first season for coach Matt Patricia, the Lions got off to a slow start. There was much speculation about whether the team was buying in to Patricia’s changes especially at training camp and after the Lions started the season 0-2 with losses to the Jets and 49ers.

Lang was open about the transition calling it drastic.

“I guess I wouldn’t say the buy-in didn’t exist. Just like anything, you go through a change as drastic as we did there’s going to be a learning curve,’’ Lang said. “There’s going to be some things that you have to learn how to practice different, how to prepare different, how to meet different, I think that being said I think that takes a little longer sometimes — no excuses.

“I think that was maybe an issue we had early on in the season. I would never question the guys’ effort or the guys wanting to be here or the buy-in,” Lang said, “I think it’s something that at the end of the day, obviously it’d be nice to get off to a lot faster start in the season to kind of shred some of those questions, some of those doubts. But at the end of the day everybody in this locker room is together and that’s what it’s all about.’’

Lang said it was a combination of factors at work.

“We’ve got a lot of young guys, this is my 10th season doing it. I’ve seen different coaches, different approaches, anyway you can,’’ Lang said. “It’s about adjusting as fast as you can and adapting to new way and getting rolling. Like I said there’s no excuse. I think that will be a learning experience that we can take into next year.’’

Patricia was more vague about the situation and how it should make the start of next season smoother.

“There’s always a little more comfort with familiarity when you can walk into a situation and kind of know what to expect that’s always better,’’ Patricia said. “But I certainly do believe every team is different every single year in the NFL whether there’s consistency with the coaching or not. It does change and coaches do change, things do change it’s just part of the NFL season. We’ll certainly evaluate everything and try to do the best we can to make it better from that standpoint.’’

Patricia, whose ragged beard had been trimmed, had no update on the status of his coaching staff including offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter whose contract is expiring.

Detroit Lions Matt Patricia: No decision yet on Jim Bob Cooter’s future

No timeline for staff changes

ALLEN PARK — Matt Patricia said on Monday that he has not made decisions on his staff moving forward. That includes offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter.

The Detroit Lions coach, who just completed his first season with a 6-10 record, said he wants to take time to let the emotions die down and then will evaluate which coaches and players will be a part of the equation moving forward.

“In all aspects, it’s not just coaching, it’s support staff, it’s players, it’s scheduling, it’s everything,’’ Patricia said. “We’ll definitely evaluate.’’

He was asked specifically about Cooter, but Patricia responded in generalities.

Cooter, who was originally hired as the offensive coordinator by ex-coach Jim Caldwell, is in the final season of his contract. The Lions offense went from 13th in the NFL in 2017 to 24th in 2018 based on yards per game.

Patricia said he’s not sure when decisions on his staff will be made.

“I don’t think I need to put a hard timeline on it at this current moment. But obviously we do have a time limit we do have to address with it,’’ Patricia said. “Things will come up when they come up. For the minute I’m going to take the rest of the day, enjoy the New Year, see my kids and we’ll go from there.’’

The Lions wrapped up their season with a 31-0 win at Green Bay on Sunday. The players cleaned out their lockers on Monday.

Five key moments from the Detroit Lions 2018 season which ended 6-10

Win at Green Bay wrapped up Patricia’s first season

It’s amazing what a win can do, especially a 31-0 shutout at Lambeau Field. The Lions are now entering the offseason on a bit of a positive note.

They wrapped up their first season under coach Matt Patricia on Sunday with a 6-10 record. After finishing 9-7 a year ago, the 6-10 mark is disappointing.

Patricia’s bunch beat Green Bay twice and also upset the New England Patriots. But consistency was an issue all season — game to game, quarter to quarter and often series to series.

Injuries played a factor too, but every NFL team has to withstand losing players throughout the season.

Next it’s time for evaluation before free agency and the draft where the Lions will have the eighth overall pick.

First, a look at the five key moments of the Lions’ 2018 season:

1. Hiring Matt Patricia who had never been a head coach at any level. This was not unprecedented in the NFL this season. Bears’ coach Matt Nagy and Colts coach Frank Reich were also first-time head coaches, along with Arizona’s Steven Wilks. Nagy turned the Bears around from a 5-11 record in 2017 to win the NFC North (12-4) and Reich took the Colts from 9-7 in 2017 to 10-6 and the playoffs. Wilks was fired on Monday. He took over a 8-8 team and he guided them to a league-worst 3-13 record. Patricia, who is from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, improved the defense, but seemed to have trouble getting the players to buy into his ways early on, starting in training camp.

2. The 48-17 loss to the New York Jets in the season opener dampened enthusiasm for Patricia from the get-go. It wasn’t just a loss, it was a drubbing from a team that would finish the season 4-12. The “new-look” Lions were outscored 41-7 in the second half. The defense allowed 169 rushing yards and 198 passing yards to rookie quarterback Sam Darnold playing in his first NFL regular season game. Matthew Stafford threw four interceptions and one touchdown. It was a brutal, total team loss and a sign of things to come.

3. The 28-14 home loss to the Seahawks in Week 8 may not have seemed huge, but the Lions were 3-3 going into the game and had a chance to get to 4-3. This is a mental game and it could have mattered. The Lions could only manage 34 rushing yards while allowing the Seahawks 176 rushing yards with no run of more than 12 yards. It was the first of three straight losses.

4.  Wide receiver Golden Tate was traded on Oct. 30. It appeared to be a sign from GM Bob Quinn that he had given up on the season. Players and coaches say otherwise, but look at the results. The Lions were 3-4 at that point. They hadn’t reached the tipping point. Since Tate was shipped to the Eagles, the Lions were 3-6. It’s odd because every week, Patricia said he is only thinking about the next game. Yet, Quinn traded Tate looking to the future and for a draft pick since this was most likely Tate’s last season with Detroit. One argument is what if Tate was injured and missed the rest of the season? That would have been bad, but the trade sent a message that the season was over. Real or perceived, the message was there. That should have been a factor in making the trade. Talk all you want about the next guy stepping up, the next guy doesn’t possess Tate’s ability to gain yards after the catch or excel in clutch situations.

5. The Thanksgiving 23-16 loss to the Bears was key in knocking the Lions out of the playoff hunt. Detroit was 4-6 going into that day with eight games remaining. Dropping to 4-7, they weren’t mathematically out but might as well have been.

Other key factors:

— Losing 30-27 to the hapless San Francisco 49ers in Week 2 to drop to 0-2. It’s not like the 49ers are a powerhouse — they finished the season at 4-12.

— The 26-10 win over the Patriots was impressive, but the Lions didn’t build on it with losses in four of the next six games.

— The trade for Damon ‘Snacks” Harrison boosted the defense. Snacks proved to be a valuable run stopper, a missing element of the defense. Don’t dismiss the power of a Twix.

— Losing wide Marvin Jones Jr. for final seven games due to a knee injury, the week after Tate was traded.

— Bringing back running back Zach Zenner after his back was healed certainly helped the run game down the stretch. Zenner averaged 4.8 yards per carry (55 for 265 yards) in eight games. He saved the best for last with 13 carries for 93 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s shutout win at Green Bay.