Lions general manager Bob Quinn and his front office staff, along with head coach Matt Patricia and Detroit's coaching staff, sat down early in the offseason to start to prepare for free agency and the draft. They identified their roster needs and looked at both free agency and the draft to try and identify where there might be players to fit those needs.
As we got closer to the start of free agency and the beginning of the new league year in mid-March, the COVID-19 pandemic began closing down the country and changing the free-agency landscape teams were preparing to navigate through.
"I think that we put a plan together like that on how we needed to fill all those needs, and then things change in the course of that process as you're going along, and you have to be ready to monitor and adjust," Patricia said.
View photos of the Detroit Lions roster as of May 1, 2020.
With practice facilities shut down, free agency taking place virtually and the major changes to the offseason training program, Quinn and Patricia looked at some players they had familiarity with or players who had familiarity with their schemes and techniques as a way to help navigate through an uncertain offseason more efficiently.
"I think one of the things that certainly comes up in those quick decisions, especially in free agency, is how is the player's fit, and how does he fit into the system, and does he have familiarity with the system," Patricia said. "Those are the questions that then come up where there might be some guys that are familiar or have the same techniques or learning that maybe we're teaching that it's going to be quicker from that standpoint."
Detroit traded for veteran Duron Harmon, a productive safety Patricia coached when he was the defensive coordinator in New England. Harmon was looking for an expanded role as New England's third safety, and the Lions identified him as a quick fit having played in a similar system.
Linebacker Jamie Collins Sr. and defensive tackle Danny Shelton, two players signed early in free agency, either played for Patricia in New England, or in Shelton's case, spent the last two seasons playing for the Patriots in similar defensive schemes.
But as Patricia explained, they didn't just target players they had direct contact with or who had contact to the Patriots.
"For instance, Chase Daniel who has a West Coast background – he's been in that system for a while so the vernacular from 'Bev's' (offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell) to the stuff that he knows, that transition is going to be quicker," Patricia said. "He's going to be able to pick the information up faster.
"So when we're in that situation, we're looking for some depth at the quarterback position, a guy that we're familiar with (Daniel played for division rival Chicago the last two seasons and was in Philadelphia when Lions DC Cory Undlin coached there), a guy that we think helps us and fits our needs, plus on top of that, he's not going to spend all that time trying to learn the language – because it really is like learning a new language I think when you change systems. He's going to be able to pick up the information a lot faster. That is definitely maybe one example of where that comes into play for guys that have some background in it, and it does help."
The Lions have begun their offseason training program in a virtual classroom setting, choosing to using the classroom to get players on the same page in terms of verbiage, scheme and techniques, in the hope that when it's safe to get back on the field, they'll be in a position to hit the ground running. Having players who come in familiar with the scheme, language and techniques should help that process.