Big changes via free agency most likely not coming for the Lions

Posted Mar 26, 2012

Palm Beach, Fla. – Don't expect any big free agent names to walk through the doors of Allen Park over the next couple months.

The Lions have made an executive decision to move forward with the core pieces the team has drafted or traded for over the last three years.

Lions president Tom Lewand said Monday at the NFL league meetings that the team is happy with that core group of young players moving forward. The team is putting all its chips in the pot on Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Ndamukong Suh, Stephen Tulloch and their other young players to win big.

"I know from our perspective at this point in time, we're very, very comfortable with the nucleus," Lewand said. "When you've got a high degree of comfort in the nucleus of your team, the impetus or the desire to go out in free agency and add to that nucleus isn't as powerful. And that, certainly, was the case for us.

"Obviously, player acquisition in free agency becomes no less important, but you're acquiring players for other needs in other roles on the club than your nucleus. It allows you to use free agency different."

The first thing the Lions did when free agency opened was make receiver Calvin Johnson a Lion through 2019 with a $132 million contract. A week later, they re-signed linebacker Stephen Tulloch.

That's two core pieces in the team's plans moving forward.

The only players outside the organization the Lions have signed in free agency thus far are cornerback Jacob Lacey, defensive end Everette Brown and fullback James Bryant.

"I've long said this: free agency, in my way of thinking, has never been the answer in terms of the question of how do you build a team," Lewand said. "It's never been the answer. I think it's proven over time.

"Now, can you add good pieces in free agency? Absolutely. Can you build your team on a consistent basis through free agency? I don't believe that to be the case and I don't think we've seen a successful example of that over the years."

The Lions, instead, have built through the draft, and it's produced players like Stafford, Johnson and Suh. It's those players Lewand and Co. are placing the organization's future in.

"Over time, I think the model of building your nucleus through different means – trades and draft – primarily through the draft, has been the (model) that has shown the most sustainability for success over time."

But how do the Lions take the next step this season with essentially the same roster that was eliminated from the playoffs in the Wild Card by the Saints?

"When you have a nucleus of players it certainly doesn't grow stagnant," Lewand said. "The nucleus continues to develop and understand systems. The coaches can then give them more nuances in what they're doing with their system offensively and defensively and you can grow as a football team.

"We're going to have young guys who were injured last year like a Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure and Jahvid Best and Titus Young, who missed most of training camp with his hamstring injury, who are going to come back and have full offseasons."

The Lions also expect quarterback Matthew Stafford to be a lot better this season.

"Jim (Schwartz) has used the example of Matthew Stafford now being 24 years old and when Tom Brady was 24 he hadn't thrown a pass in the NFL yet," Lewand said. "He's got a lot of growing to do as a quarterback even though he's thrown for 5,000 yards already."

The Lions are expecting that one more year in the system, one more year together and the benefit of an offseason will make all the difference for this team and it's core group of players.