The 2015 season ended all too familiar for fans of the Detroit Lions at 7-9, leaving fans to wonder what’s next. Owner, Martha Ford, has already made sweeping changes firing multiple employees mid-season including the President,GM and Offensive Coordinator. Mrs. Ford’s next decisions will shape the future of the franchise for years to come.
1. Will Jim Caldwell remain as head coach?
The stoic coach is as consistent as it comes when it comes to those outside of his locker room, especially the media, by discussing only what occurs on the field and what is ahead. His record of 18-15, statistically puts him at the top of the list of any coach in Lions history after their first two seasons. With raised expectations the Lions fell flat on their face out the block and after a brief tease of a playoff push they again ended up window shopping for the Lombardi Trophy. Jim Caldwell has changed the culture within the locker room, but is he the coach to take them to the next level? Questionable in-game decisions and falling short has caused some to lose the faith they gained in his regime as a result of last seasons playoff appearance. Firing Caldwell will be following the same old Lions mantra(hitting the reset button potentially too soon), but so would be keeping him(settling on mediocrity as the measuring stick). One of those options will have to be the correct decision and the time frame to build upon the recent success and get the franchise to a level the fanbase deserves. Rumors are swirling that Martha Ford wants to keep him around, but that decision will occur in the upcoming weeks.
Lions’ ownership supports HC Jim Caldwell and plans to retain him, per sources. But Lions also expected to leave final decision to new GM.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) January 3, 2016
2. Who will become the next GM?
With current interim GM Sheldon White the dark horse to take the position, Lions ownership will have to make a swift yet sure-handed decision to ensure too much time elapse to make the necessary decisions regarding the future of the team. When a GM is doing a great job a franchise runs smoothly and winning usually coincides; that’s a foreign concept for Lions fans. A change in the general manager usually comes in during the lowest of the low. From a franchise prospective, sadly, this is one of the high points over the last 5 years with 2 playoff appearance. The next GM must come from a winning pedigree with the ability to do whatever it takes to build this franchise for the long haul. There is no recipe based upon experience that equates to immediate success, so the Lions are looking at some front office candidates with currently no GM experience.
— Dave Birkett (@davebirkett) January 4, 2016
3. Will Calvin Johnson be a Lion next year?
This decision must be made with the head and not the heart and that might not sit well with some Lions fans. Calvin Johnson is the franchise’s all-time leader in catches, yards and touchdowns may not be the best fit for the team, financially. With a player friendly ballooning salary over the next few years, its obvious his play will decline as his salary increases over the next four years. The only potential WR free agent, to date, that could possible fill the shoes of Megatron would be Alshon Jeffery, who is younger and may be willing to sign to a similar deal. Things are never that simple for the Lions, barring an unlikely trade, releasing Johnson would cost them save them $11 million of the $24 million due to him this year. There are multiple variables that would play a part in him restructuring his contract, head coach and GM decisions and his belief that this team can win now. Restructuring would benefit the Lions and Johnson by freeing up money to resign some key players and sign additional players to continue to build this team. Its clear Matthew Stafford as well as the rest of the offense wants him to return, but will that be enough for him to stay.
4. Did Jim Bob Cooter do enough to save his job?
After the longest yet offensively pathetic first half of the season, Jim Bob Cooter got he shot and he took advantage of it. Installing an offense on the fly for a 1-7 team with everyone on the chopping block appeared to be a recipe for disaster, but old Jim Bob did what many high profile offensive coordinators couldn’t, maximize the potential of Matt Stafford. Stafford threw for 19 TDs with only 2 interceptions during the second half of the season and made some plays most thought were not in his repertoire. Jim Bob also used creativity to increase the rushing output as the team reached the 100 yard plateau five times in the second half of the season compared to just once in the first half. The improved success of the offense may be the exact thing that helps save Caldwell and his staffs jobs. The relationship between OC and QB is one that of a dancing partner and once someone is out of step it becomes a mess. Matt Stafford has finally found someone to lead him that he’s willing to follow; will the franchise take him away and make him dance to the same ol Lions tune?
5.What is the greatest off-season need?
After last season with the retirement of Dominic Raiola, the drafting of Laken Tomlinson and trading for Manny Ramirez many thought the offensive line had improved, but few thought it would be utterly offensive. The learning curve of the changing of the guard at center proved to be much larger than what Travis Swanson imagined. The offensive line often looked confused and lost as blocking assignments were called and no one was blocked too many times to name. This could be due to the lack of imagination and the predictable play calling of former OC Joe Lombardi, but never the less major changes much occur. The only lineman who is untouchable is Larry Warford, who needs to stay healthy to remain on that list. Tomlinson and Swanson were rookies at their positions, but need to improve on core strength to keep the inside strong. Riley Reiff is not the answer at left tackle and is best suited on the right side. So the question remains who will replace him to protect Stafford’s blind side. There are two options draft or free agency. There are a few of tackles with great potential in the draft that could start day 1; Laremy Tunsil and Ronnie Staley. Outside of that Lions would be reaching as they draft from the #16 position, so free agency may be the best option for a starter and provide depth later in the draft. The number one target the Lions should go after is Russel Okung who has been a mainstay on the Seahawks line since being drafted. At 25 he has the experience and the desired youth, but he will cost a pretty penny to requester his services from a great squad. The only way the offense can continue progress from the promise showed in the last 8 games is to keep Stafford upright and to open up holes for the running backs.