During this week's NFL owners meetings in Florida, Lions general manager Brad Holmes sat down with local reporters and explained his process through the first few weeks of free agency.
Holmes and the Lions have been somewhat low key in free agency, avoiding the mega deals we've seen other teams award free agents, instead opting to re-sign and reward some of their own free agents coming off career years, while targeting very specific external free agents that are culture and scheme fits.
The strategy has been met with mixed emotions from fans. Most understand Holmes and head coach Dan Campbell came in with plan to build this roster through the draft and fill holes in free agency, staying disciplined to the process and not overspending considering the roster they inherited and the work that needed to be done, and still needs to be done.
Others have expressed some frustration with bringing back a lot of the same players that won just three games last year.
All but one of Holmes' free-agent acquisitions last year were signed to one-year, prove-it deals. Players like outside linebacker Charles Harris, wide receiver Josh Reynolds, wide receiver Kalif Raymond and center Evan Brown performed above those one-year deals, and Holmes rewarded them with new contracts this offseason.
"Bringing back a lot of our own guys, first of all they wanted to come back, so I think that's a testament to our organization and everybody in our building is that those guys wanted to come back," Holmes said. "The other thing I'll say about that you could argue they had some of the best years of their careers, if not the best year of their career, with us last year."
Holmes said they weighed those performances against players at their positions across the league.
"We do our work, we do our due diligence, and those guys had great years for us," Holmes said. "They played really good football, we know them, we deem that they're fits."
When bringing in a new player, you're never sure exactly how they're going to fit in the locker room or scheme.
"When I hear that people wanted us to get more external help, the grass is not always greener, and you kind of know who the culture fits are (for the guys who are here), who are and who aren't," he said.
Holmes was asked about the strategy behind bringing back so many players from a three-win team, and whether that's the right strategy or not.
"I understand and that's totally fair," he said. "But I've said all along, we had a plan and we stuck to it."
Holmes said they decided to take a little bit of a hard road last year and avoided adding a lot of veteran free agents in order to allow their young players to play more, take their lumps, but gain valuable experience along the way. Holmes looked at the end of last year and the progress those young players made as a key part in their process.
Go behind the scenes with the Detroit Lions during 2022 free agency.
"I totally understand, especially from our fans' perspective when you say, 'Look man, three win team, why are you bringing back the same players?'
"But as much work as we put into the production that those players had in our system, and then having the continuity with our coaching staff coming back as well, there is a lot of optimism for that," Holmes said. "And it's still being aggressive. It's just that it's not always saying you're not being aggressive if you're not going the external route."
So for Holmes, bringing back players he is familiar with, players that fit Detroit's scheme and culture, while continuing to build through the draft and nurture the process and vision he had for the roster when he took the job was important.
He saw the improvement the team made with the players they had the second half of the season, and he expects that to continue into the 2022 season.