If you expected General Manager Bob Quinn to mark time and not have the Detroit Lions as major players in the free-agent market, you were right.
But that was last year, when the Lions signed solid players such as Devon Kennard and Christian Jones but did not go after headliners who commanded big contracts.
What we learned from the plan Quinn and his staff executed this year and in others is that timing plays a significant role in free agency, and every year is different. Needs, talent pool and salary-cap space are key factors.
Among the other things we learned: small deals get done at the same time as big ones, and they can pay big dividends; for every ounce of optimism over a free-agent signing there’s a pound of skepticism, mostly regarding the value of the contract; and a comment by Trey Flowers at his introductory press conference was an insight into what it takes to be successful.
We start with timing.
Quick trigger -- again: It should have been no surprise that Quinn would act quickly if he had the opportunity and resources – resources being salary-cap space and players worth spending it on.
Quinn did that in 2016, his first year as GM of the Lions. He signed wide receiver Marvin Jones Jr. at the start of free agency to fill a gap created by Calvin Johnson’s retirement.
Obvious needs this year were an edge defender, cornerback, tight end and slot receiver in some order. Slot receiver Danny Amendola was eligible under league rules to be signed early, which was exactly what happened.
By Thursday afternoon – less than 24 hours after the official start of free-agent signings -- edge rusher Trey Flowers, tight end Jesse James and cornerback Justin Coleman had officially signed.
Bottom line: the timing was right.
Words to remember: A lot of flowery words flow this time of year about expectations and projections, both in the draft or free agency.
Flowers’ response to a question about the players’ reaction to Matt Patricia in his first season as head coach last year was straight to the heart of pro football’s basic element.
Flowers played his first three seasons in New England under Patricia as defensive coordinator. He’s well acquainted with Patricia’s coaching style, and the demands he puts on players.
Those demands – which obviously start at the top under head coach Bill Belichick – and players living up to them have made the Patriots the NFL’s standard of excellence.
“Obviously, it’s a tough league, and in order to be successful you have to be tough,” Flowers said. “You can’t be comfortable. Obviously, I got a taste of what it takes and how it’s done and things like that.”
The ‘taste” was playing in the Super Bowl his last three seasons and winning two championships.
Small deals: On the same day that Flowers, James and Coleman were introduced at a press conference, the Lions announced the signing of free-agent strong safety Andrew Adams. It didn’t get much notice, and there are hundreds – at least – just like it every year.
Adams made it to the NFL as an undrafted free agent from Connecticut, where he played part of his college career under Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni.
In two seasons with the Giants (2016-17) and one with the Bucs (2018) he played 49 games with 21 starts, totaling five interceptions and 16 passes defensed.
From his stat line, Adams looks like a guy who’s around the ball. He could be a solid prospect, or someone who provides competition in training camp.
From what we’ve learned about Quinn’s relentless roster building, he’ll get his chance.
Skeptics: “Overpaid” and “they have to do it on the field” are comments heard most often in free agency.
The “overpaid” comment is directed most often at a player without a big name who gets a big contract.
That’s what we heard about Golden Tate, when he signed with the Lions in 2014. After four productive seasons, and on his way to a fifth as a Lion before he was traded to the Eagles at midseason last year, he probably was underpaid based on contracts to other receivers with lesser production.
What we’ve learned over the years, and should remember this year, is that what looks good on paper doesn’t automatically guarantee success on the field.
That’s not being a skeptic. It’s the reality of the NFL.
View photos of Detroit Lions free-agent signings Trey Flowers, Justin Coleman and Jesse James signing their contracts and meeting the media on Thursday, March 14, 2019.