The Detroit Lions saw rumors swirl for the better part of a week ahead of the NFL trade deadline, but when push came to shove on Tuesday afternoon, they did nothing to help out their 3-3-1 team.
It wasn’t just Detroit, though. There was no movement across nearly the entire league, and if the stalemate showed anything, it was how expensive some of the prices were on players prior to the deadline.
For Detroit, that can’t be used as an excuse. The Lions have a chance to start to save their season and take a step toward attacking the long term goals of their team, and while many might contend a small improvement would not help the Lions this year, a meaningful one could be the difference between getting into the playoff conversation and setting up for a push in 2020 or suffering another meaningless December of football in the Motor City.
While it might not have been realistic for the Lions to fix all their problems in one day, they could have patched a few holes for the future with one well timed move on either side of the ball. Those fixes could have not only given Detroit a better chance to rescue their 2019 season, but to set them up for bigger things in 2020 as well.
Detroit was said to be kicking around the running back market for a name for over a week. While it was probably unfair to assume they’d trade for a big name like a Le’Veon Bell or a Melvin Gordon considering their various contract situations, a moderate move with an eye on the future could have been justified.
The Seattle Seahawks were reportedly dangling running back Rashaad Penny, who might be blocked by Chris Carson. While many of the other runners couldn’t have justified giving up a higher draft pick, Penny was a move the Lions could have made both with 2019 and beyond in mind. He could have solidified the run game now with the absence of Kerryon Johnson due to injury, then gave the Lions a formidable running mate for Johnson in the future to build around.
Cost would have been expensive for such a move, but it would have also ended the discussion on how the Lions need to fix the running back spot this offseason. In Penny and Johnson, the team would have had two good answers to that question, and would not have had to look to the draft or free agency for a fix. If Johnson is indeed becoming injury prone, the Lions would have been covered. Matthew Stafford would also have been given a solid running mate to help aid what has been a brilliant season so far.
It would have been arguably one of the most forward thinking moves the front office could have made.
Reportedly, the Lions were the only team to make a pitch for Chris Harris of the Denver Broncos. While the reasoning might have had everything to do with a potential Darius Slay trade, there is little doubt the two could have co-existed in Detroit the rest of the 2019 season. There is risk in giving up a third round selection, but Detroit’s pass defense has been abysmal this season. Harris could have stepped in and given the team depth as they fight through the absence of Slay to a hamstring injury and also, struggle to find a new identity after the trade of Quandre Diggs.
As for the future, Harris would have been a free agent after this season. But if he were to step in and play well for the Lions, the team could have had the first chance to sell him on staying or signing a deal, especially if they are not committed to keeping Slay, as rumors have held. At the very least, there would have been a backup plan ahead of the 2020 offseason at cornerback.
Trading Slay now would have sent the wrong message, but adding to the room could have been a proactive move by the front office.
Now, everything is up in the air. Will the Lions commit to Slay with a new deal, or is he going to be on the outs? Can the relationship be repaired after all the rumors? Do they like Harris enough to pursue him as a replacement this offseason? Does he even fit within the scheme?
All those variables remain unknown and will remain that way at this time.
The Bottom Line
By not making a move, the Lions are committing to the roster they have, with Matt Patricia admitting as much on Tuesday afternoon. Detroit has been a better team than their record might indicate to those who watch closely, but as the saying goes, a record often tells folks exactly what a team is in the NFL. To that end, the Lions are average in 2019 to all those who merely watch from afar and look at a record as a litmus test.
The Lions have enough underlying issues where it wouldn’t be stunning to see the team bottom out the rest of the way. While everyone else sat idle, the Lions could have made a statement about where they wanted to go.
Now, will their finish send a message that improvement is being made and the plan of Bob Quinn is coming together, or will the opposite be true? Addressing a need with a bolder move could have set the Lions up for a better chance at a solid finish, perhaps netting Quinn and Patricia some additional goodwill from an ever-skeptical fanbase.
Those that remain on the roster will have no choice but to fight to prove their team is on the right track regardless.