Former NFL GM Candid on Lions Offseason: ‘They Need Players Period’

Dan Campbell

Getty Dan Campbell looks on during a presser at the 2022 NFL combine.

In January of 2021, the Detroit Lions committed to a full-scale rebuild by hiring Brad Holmes and Dan Campbell, and while folks crave immediate improvement, it’s long been understood that Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Yes, the new-look Lions football team will not be built in a year. It may not even be built in two years, either. If last season was about reconstruction, this season is more about the actual rebuild. The house is far from a finished product, and now is not the time to be picking out furniture and landscaping when walls still need to go up and the foundation needs to be solidified.

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Naturally, fans are impatient and want to see big move after big move, especially in an NFL offseason which has seen the near-daily shuffle of elite players across the league. It takes a former league personnel man and general manager to see the bigger picture, however, and make sense of where things are truly at in the Motor City.

Enter former general manager Randy Mueller, who has presided over such a rebuild himself. Before the New Orleans Saints were the perennial winners everybody has come to know, things were very different near the turn of the century. The team was mired in a decades-long slump which most fans believed they’d never see the team emerge from.

Mueller was charged with the rebuild and managed to flip the narrative for the Saints in a way that led to some success. His team managed to go 10-6 and win a Wild Card playoff game in 2000 over the then St. Louis Rams, a team that won the Super Bowl in the 1999-2000 season and would make it back in the 2001-2002 year.

Thus, Mueller would know what works and what doesn’t in terms of getting a program off the ground. To that end, Mueller believes the Lions are approaching things in the right way relative to where they are at right now. Speaking with, Mueller discussed Detroit’s approach thus far this offseason and what needs to happen next. Unsurprisingly, he was not bothered by a lack of flash out of Detroit, and chose instead to focus on the team’s substantive moves.

“I don’t think spending money on big-ticket items is what they need. They have to identify the core players that they can say, ‘we are good with for at least five years’ and build methodically outside that. Players like D’Andre Swift, Frank Ragnow (and) Penei Sewell on offense. I think adding to this group by being selective by age and production on guys who are ascending makes sense. They need more than one or two things,” Mueller said.

While fans might not be happy with the lack of jaw-dropping moves or big names, Mueller says that should be of no concern to Detroit. Instead, he thinks the team should be focusing on filling their football needs including finding some help for an offense that needs a big-play gear outside their elite talents.

“(If I was the Lions), I wouldn’t be swayed by fan reaction or winning any press conferences,” he admitted. “They lack big strike ability and need speed on the perimeter. Their main wide receiver targets average 10-12 yards per-catch. They need to add speed to the mix to force people to defend them differently. This should open things for Swift more, who I think is special.”

Mueller Explains How Lions Can Build Competitive Roster

While the Lions have taken steps to keep their solid veterans around this year and last year such as safety Tracy Walker, guard Frank Ragnow, wideout Josh Reynolds, the fact is, Detroit still has to find elite players who can be cornerstones for the future across the roster. While the Lions have done good to keep the base they do have intact this offseason, Mueller believes that there’s more to be done in terms of building.

“I don’t think they have enough core players to be an advantage on either side of the ball at this point. You surely don’t want to lose guys who you identify as part of (a core) group,” he said.

In terms of their outside additions, Mueller understands what the Lions are going for with shorter-term deals and sees the advantage of operating in such a way, providing there remains a sound plan in place.

“I see nothing wrong with short-term, prove-it style deals, but those don’t happen until later in the free agent window,” he said. “Players all think they are going to get big money (with high expectations) so once reality hits and that money is not there, then the short-term deals take effect. Hopefully they have a plan later in free agency to execute, but timing is everything.”

So far, the Lions have been able to strike on some deals just like Mueller described. In addition to wideout DJ Chark and tight end Garrett Griffin, they added cornerback Mike Hughes as well as linebacker Chris Board. Every single player from the outside was on a one-year deal, and can be seen as quality locker room fits as well as upside depth plays at key positions on the team. Mueller has seen the advantage before in his career of making such moves and witnessed the fruit it can bear.

“When I took over the Saints in 2000, we totally revamped by adding numbers to the mix to change culture. I think Detroit has tried to do that somewhat. They just need more,” he said. “One-year deals make players hungry and if they are done with the right character guys, can be very effective. In New Orleans, it resulted in us winning the division and the first playoff game in Saints history so it can work. You have to have cap space though, and $21 million (in Detroit) is not a lot.”

With that in mind, seeing the Lions make use of the cap space they have in effective ways could figure to be a solid plan, and a way for the Lions to have their cake and eat it too in this particular rebuild. Thus far, they’ve seemed to do that well. It may take a bit more time to get to the point where Detroit can make the splashier additions most folks crave, though.

Mueller Reveals His Ideal 2022 NFL Draft Plan for Lions

Outside of free agency, the most logical way a team builds a solid nucleus is through the draft. Mueller sees a big opportunity this year for the Lions to make a bold statement about their future by drafting for defense and getting tough and nasty on that side of the ball. As he said, he believes that’s where the Lions are most in need.

“I think the Lions have much more to do on defense so I’d rate their progress incomplete so far (this offseason). They should be able to help that side of the ball in this year’s draft,” he explained.

What positions should they look for specifically? All of them, considering that’s where Detroit’s needs currently sit. That includes having an open mind about the second-overall selection, which many mocks have believed up until now feels earmarked for a pass rushing stud.

“I would not be hung up on the fact that pass rush solves everything. They need players period. Being 28th in rushing defense has to be improved on. They have to be in best defensive player available mode when it comes to the second-overall pick in my opinion,” Mueller said.

With a mental tug-of-war currently raging in Detroit regarding the quarterback position, Mueller’s words should be remembered once the calendar flips to the draft month of April in a few weeks time.

The Lions have taken some solid steps in free agency already, but the opportunity for their real construction to occur is fast approaching once again.

READ NEXT: Lions Ownership Speaks Confidently About Team’s Rebuild

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