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O'HARA: What we learned from the virtual offseason program

Be ready.

That's what we learned would determine success, failure or something in between in an unprecedented NFL 2020 offseason when the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Be ready to react. Be ready to change. Be ready to listen. Be ready to learn.

That's what teams had to do in a virtual offseason with personnel executives working at home under a quarantine mandated by the NFL that barred all 32 teams from doing business at their franchise headquarters.

And what we should hope will have greater and more lasting impact, is how players came together to discuss social justice issues and bond together after the May 25 killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, which resulted in four Minneapolis police officers being charged.

We start with the business of football – but be ready for social justice:

There were groans around the NFL and predictions that it would never work when Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the free-agent signing period and draft would both start on schedule.

Here's how the Lions' operated:

Free agency: The results look like it was business as usual for the Lions in Bob Quinn's fifth year as general manager.

Unlike the previous year, when Quinn signed Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers, there were no high-profile signings this year. Quinn signed free agents at positions of need – among them offensive tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai, linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., linebacker Reggie Ragland, defensive tackles Danny Shelton and Nick Williams and cornerback Desmond Trufant.

He also worked a trade with the Eagles that brought the Lions a third-round draft pick in exchange for cornerback Darius Slay.

The bottom line on free agents: It didn't seem different than any other season, except for the restrictions on meeting with players. The homework had been done.

The draft: Preparations could not have been more different than normal soon after the Combine ended in March. Pro days and individual workouts were called off, and teams were not allowed to visit players or bring them in for meetings and workouts.

Goodell gave franchises ample warning that each team would conduct its draft at home – but not at its headquarters facility – and there would be no draft bonanza in Las Vegas.

Goodell handled his usual role from his basement, announcing picks and greeting draftees via Zoom.

Quinn's first two picks – cornerback Jeff Okudah and running back D’Andre Swift – were high-value prospects. Two third-round picks, edge rusher Julian Okwara and guard Jonah Jackson, could be starters or rotational players as rookies.

Bottom line: The Lions adjusted to the virtual draft. They even had an IT expert on call in a Winnebago at Quinn's home in Metro Detroit.

Quinn's fifth draft as GM of the Lions might have been his best.

Bonding: As protests raged throughout the country, two Lions practices days in late May were spent with players discussing social justice and racial issues. Black players spoke of the mistreatment they've gotten because of their skin color.

In a Zoom interview with the Detroit media, center Frank Ragnow called the sessions "eye opening" and "heart breaking."

Ragnow, going into his third season as a Lion, grew up in a town about 30 minutes southwest of Minneapolis.

He spoke in stark, measured tones about watching the video of Floyd's murder, and of hearing what his black teammates had faced.

"Absolutely disgusting – hard to watch, watching that video," Ragnow said. "It's hard to stomach that's a reality, what's happening in our country today.

"Team meetings this week have been very unique, especially from the perspective of myself, a white kid who grew up in suburban slash country privileged. I say I was a privileged kid. I had a very great upbringing. I never had to worry about things my black brothers in that locker room had to worry about.

"Just uncomfortable hearing them in that team meeting talk about situations that have happened throughout their life that they have to think about. Obviously, I was aware that there was a problem in this country, and I knew we were not perfectly united as a country.

"It's been very eye opening, very uncomfortable. Very real. I've just been trying, as a white person trying to listen, trying to let them know – really let every black person know -- I don't want to be part of that problem anymore. I want to be there with them.

"I want to help make it better. We're all ready to learn. We're all trying to listen. We're trying to be together."

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