Detroit Lions: Tom Lewand

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- They have been back from London for less than two weeks, haven’t played a game since then and already, the Detroit Lions know they are headed back to Europe for a second straight season.

The experience from beating Atlanta in Week 8 is still so fresh and so familiar that there is a hope that having done this once before -- coincidentally on the same week of the NFL season in 2015 against Kansas City as the Falcons game -- will help the second time around.

With that game still a year away, that is what the Lions are hoping they can take from the 2014 venture to apply to the 2015 trip.

“Just the experience in itself, obviously,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “Once you’ve been through it, you’ve got a sense of it, obviously some adjustments you’d make. We debrief after every trip and try to see areas in which we can improve upon.

“All of that is resources and all of that prep work will assist us in terms of going over and acclimating a bit more quickly.”

Research heading into this year’s game told the Lions to head over Monday night into Tuesday instead of what some road teams do with the London trip, which is head over later in the week. Caldwell wouldn’t commit to that strategy again, but that could be due to the Lions not even fully unpacking their knowledge from this trip yet.

The benefit for Detroit going the second straight year, though, is the information they can now use will be through their own eyes and ears and experiences instead of talking second hand to as many people who have done this before as possible.

“I thought we handled it pretty well,” running back Reggie Bush said. “Obviously, we had one issue with one of our teammates, but other than that, I thought we handled it pretty well. I’ve done the trip before with the Saints, and we handled it well then, and I think we did the same thing here.

“I’m not sure that there is much that needs to be changed, but we can probably improve some little things here and there.”

Lions team president Tom Lewand said something similar Thursday, but didn’t have any specific examples yet. The reason? They are still going through everything from this year’s trip and won’t start truly planning for next year’s game until the 2014 season concludes.

It is, after all, a year away. That is how the players and coaches are thinking about it, anyway.

“It was a cool experience and all,” Lions offensive lineman Travis Swanson said. “But how I think of it is we have so much to do before then that it’s just, not even in my mind.

“I think I just read it and I was like, ‘OK. That’s so long [from now].’ “
BAGSHOT, England – The Detroit Lions found out about this trip around a year ago, and when they did, they began to plan. In the interim, the Lions changed coaching staffs, but most of that didn’t matter when it came to the off-field logistics.

It started with a lot of advance scouting and preparations. Lions team president Tom Lewand estimated there were three trips taken to England to scope out facilities in helping the team choose their hotel. The Falcons had the first choice and chose The Grove in Hertfordshire, England; Detroit picked the Pennyhill Park Hotel and Spa. Then it took time to understand all the potential issues they might face.

While that was happening, they were also doing research into how different teams went about this trip before them, from where they stayed to when they traveled and more.

It’s why Detroit traveled Monday night instead of making the trip later in the week, as other teams playing in London have done. Being in the same spot for so long – and in facilities they deemed top-notch – has given this week a similar feel to a training camp, yet a few thousand miles away.

Caldwell
Caldwell
Lions coach Jim Caldwell tried to think of everything. The team collected the passports of players last week and checked on passport statuses of players they brought in for tryouts, so there was no chance of a player forgetting theirs or not having one. Caldwell spoke with sleep specialists and members of the military about the best way to fight off jet lag from the five-time-zone difference the Lions faced when they arrived Tuesday. He specifically spoke with military members because they travel often with quick turnarounds.

“Everything that we talk about, it’s on [the players’] iPads, so they have the information right there readily available to them,” Caldwell said. “And then we also had a sleep specialist that came in and talked to them about what they should do, what they should do on the trip, what these first three days are like, things of that nature to try to make certain that you’re in the best possible shape you can be in, from a rest standpoint.”

Caldwell said that while he did not talk to the team about the Ebola virus because they were flying on a private charter, his medical personnel were aware of it because “obviously, it’s a national issue right now, so it’s not something that you just kind of turn your back on.”

So everything was covered.

The Lions made sure the typical conveniences of their Allen Park, Michigan, facility were also evident – including having a pingpong table and video game systems with FIFA Soccer available. These two things are staples in the team’s player’s lounge in America.

Whitehead
“A few guys brought their systems,” linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “So even if they didn’t have that accessible to us, we were still going to play some games. But it’s really helped a lot.”

To aid this, the Lions did what many businesses do in shipping things from Europe or Asia to North America. They put some of their equipment and supplies on a ship months ago and sent it across the Atlantic Ocean.

“A lot was office equipment,” Lions team president Tom Lewand said. “We’ve got to set up an office here. Network equipment we had to send over, servers and that kind of thing. And some of the things like athletic tape, supplies.

“It was really supply-based, that we knew didn’t have expiration dates and had longtime items we could plan through. So a lot of it was both office and football equipment-based.”

That includes, somewhat surprisingly, paper. The typical 8-by-11 sheets the Lions use are not the most commonly-used size in England, according to Lewand.

Raiola
With the office set up and the Lions turning conference and banquet rooms into different meeting rooms around the Pennyhill Park complex, it in some ways feels like home, even though it clearly isn’t.

“I could stay here all week,” Lions center Dominic Raiola said. “I haven’t even been to the spa yet. It looks sweet, though.”

The spa was one of the bigger benefits to staying at their hotel, which is also the training ground for the English national rugby team. So the facility has all the benefits for elite athletes, which has helped in their preparation.

“They have hot tubs over there, cold tubs, obviously massages, saunas and steam rooms,” Lions running back Reggie Bush said. “All those different things. I try to spend quite a bit of time over there.”

Mathis
Players also marveled at the size of the rooms and cornerback Rashean Mathis said he’d consider vacationing at the hotel another time.

Often, hotel rooms in big cities such as London and New York are small. The Lions have spacious facilities -- and Ndamukong Suh and C.J. Mosley have two-floor rooms to themselves. Raiola said he has a huge tub and heated floors in his bathroom.

It feels more like an apartment than a random hotel room in the middle of a city.

But it is not actually home.

“It’s not Union Lake,” Raiola said. “But it’s all right. It’ll do.”
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were prepared in case this situation happened. And with their tight end corps in disarray, they have brought in another player just a few hours before leaving for London.

The Lions signed tight end Kellen Davis and cut safety Jerome Couplin Monday, while also adding receiver Ifeanyi Momah to their practice squad.

Davis, who was a fifth-round pick of the Bears in 2008 out of Michigan State, has played in 95 games between Chicago and Seattle, making 50 catches for 561 yards and 12 touchdowns.

This was the type of situation Detroit had been preparing for with workouts for weeks, including bringing Davis in Thursday for a tryout after Eric Ebron injured his hamstring.

“You have your short list ready,” Lions team president Tom Lewand told ESPN.com. “So the fact that we’re going (to London) a little bit later (in the year) will help us. We’ve already got the book built on a number of different positions, including physicals and workout information and all that kind of stuff.”

Tight end happens to be Detroit’s biggest area of concern after the Saints game. The Lions went into the game down Ebron (hamstring) and Joseph Fauria (ankle) and with only two healthy tight ends in Brandon Pettigrew and Jordan Thompson.

Pettigrew then was injured in the game but finished, so the Lions were down to one healthy tight end, Thompson, who has played one career game.

“I’m always concerned about numbers, particularly in places where we can get thin there,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “So that’s a concern. But yeah, (Pettigrew) was hobbling, but the effort he put forth to finish that game out was quite admirable.

“But those are the type of guys that we have. They are tough and get after it and find a way.”

Lewand said the team will have people at their facility in Allen Park, Michigan, on Monday and Tuesday to work players out if necessary and, in a worst-case scenario, watching a player on video could be an option before potentially signing him and flying him over to London.

Caldwell said Monday that general manager Martin Mayhew has also been asking questions about passports to players the team works out on Tuesdays, just in case they would need them for this trip.

“It’d be quite a task if we didn’t have the Tuesdays like we have,” Caldwell said. “Generally, Martin has done a tremendous job, for reasons like this, of staying ahead of the curve with anything that you ask him to.

“We have a pool that we work with that we know who the next guy in line is at a number of different spots, wherever it might be. You really don’t know until you come out of a ballgame.”

Coming out of Sunday, tight end was that area.

Couplin had been primarily a special-teams player the past few weeks, and he has made two tackles in seven games.

Momah, who is 6-foot-7, has been with the Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns in the past.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand confirmed that Ndamukong Suh did not have a laser pointer at Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills -- but he would not talk about anything else related to his star defensive tackle.

Suh
"He did not bring a laser pointer into the stadium," Lewand said.

Lewand joked about the laser pointer and Suh at the end of his meeting with the media to discuss the team’s handling of the fan with the laser pointer at the Lions-Bills game and the tabled contract negotiations between Suh and the Lions.

Lewand also declined to comment about the report that the team and Suh were preparing to part ways when the defensive tackle hits the free agent market in March.

"I didn’t say that you couldn’t ask the question. We were just trying to be consistent with what we said back in July, which is we want to keep the focus on football, Ndamukong wants to keep the focus on football and that’s where it should be and that’s where it will remain and we won’t comment on it."

Suh declined to talk about his contract situation when asked about it last week.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Ndamukong Suh may or may not be in Detroit next fall and right now his head coach, Jim Caldwell, wants nothing to do with talking about the possibility of his defensive tackle not staying in Detroit.

Caldwell
Caldwell
The latest conversation about Suh’s contract saga -- and it officially can go down as that now -- came Sunday when colleague Adam Schefter reported the Lions were preparing for Suh to move on after the season, when he is eligible for free agency.

Suh did not talk with reporters after Sunday’s 24-17 win over the Jets. Caldwell didn’t want to talk about it in New Jersey and he reiterated that back in Michigan on Monday.

“I’m not going to talk about those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “I think it was addressed early on in the season when [team president] Tom [Lewand] made the last statement he made in regard to it. Other than that, I’m not going to talk about any issues. I’ll talk about the game. I’ll talk about anything else that you want to.

“Other than that, I’m not going to speak on that.”

When he was pressed on the Suh issue, Caldwell eventually tried to cut off questioning with a “next question” reference. Later, he appeared impressed at the persistence of the Detroit press corps when it came to questions about both Suh and about injuries his team suffered.

There is no question, though, about Suh’s importance to the Lions. His presence in the middle of the defensive front four is somewhat akin to what Calvin Johnson does to an opposing defense. Teams need to be aware of where he is on every play because he can wreck a game plan if not dealt with properly.

Caldwell saw this before he arrived in Detroit. Coaching Suh the first four games of the season only confirmed it.

“He’s a guy you have to pay attention to,” Caldwell said. “He certainly warrants double-teams in almost every facet, which opens up the opportunity for some other guys to make plays, whether it’s pass rush or in the run game where they can’t afford to single-block him, necessarily.

“So he gets a lot of attention and I think I mentioned last week if it was hockey, he’d lead the league in assists. He’s certainly a very important guy for us.”

The attention he gets now goes beyond the playing field. The Lions tried to stem this conversation by halting contract talks before the start of training camp and for a few weeks, it appeared to work. Eventually, though, be it now or a month from now, these conversations would once again come to the forefront with Suh.

His impact is obvious. Whether that impact is felt in Detroit by Suh sticking around or leaving is another story all together.

“He’s one of our strong leaders as well,” Caldwell said. “There are a lot of positives that he certainly brings to the table.

“He’s an extraordinary player.”
DETROIT -- When the boss issues an edict, employees tend to listen or hunt for new jobs. So when Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand sat down with his bosses following the team's plummet from a potential playoff berth to a 7-9 finish, there was a message given.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
Duane Burleson/AP PhotoThe Lions hope additions such as Golden Tate create a consistent culture of winning in Detroit.
The Fords -- current owner Martha Ford and her late husband, William Clay Ford Sr. -- wanted one thing. They wanted to win. This was before the Lions hired Jim Caldwell to replace Jim Schwartz and before they made any of the roster moves they believed would help a woebegone franchise turn into a consistent winner instead of one that has made the playoffs once this century.

"When we sat down with the Ford family at the end of last season, the first thing out of their mouths, Mr. and Mrs. Ford, was how do we win the NFC North in 2014 and take it from there?," Lewand said Wednesday at the Detroit Economic Club's Lions luncheon. "That's where it starts. That's what the mission is. That's the goal that everyone in this organization has.

"That's why we hired the coach that we have, have the staff around him and the team around them that we have. We are focused on that goal of being a championship football team and doing the necessary things to get there."

This is similar to what is said every year by every team, owner and general manager, but there seems to be a motivation behind this season. Since the team fired Schwartz the day after the 2013 season ended, this has been a constant.

Win. Win now.

It is why the Lions brought in Golden Tate to complement Calvin Johnson. Besides being a legitimate No. 2 receiver, he won a Super Bowl and has been a natural, passionate leader anywhere he has been, from college at Notre Dame and then to Seattle and in his short time in Detroit. They brought in James Ihedigbo, who also won a Super Bowl, and coaches who have coached in the championship game.

This, it appeared, was their attempt to change the vibe surrounding the Lions throughout the Super Bowl era.

"That's one thing that this locker room has, is they have leaders who want to get better every single day," Tate said at the luncheon. "They have 12-year veterans like Dom [Raiola], we have coach Caldwell coming in, who has been there, done that, and he's won a championship and knows what it takes.

"So I think the guys in our locker room and the people in the city are buying into what coach is saying and the next thing you know, we'll be winning games. I think we need to get to the point where we expect to beat the Green Bay Packers."

The Lions actually split with the Packers last season, beating a Green Bay team without Aaron Rodgers in Detroit on Thanksgiving and losing to them in October. The losses in Wisconsin have been a yearly ritual since the early 1990s without Johnson.

Tate seems to believe Detroit has the talent to win the division if the Lions can do what they were unable to last season and so many other seasons in their history -- get out of their own way when it matters the most.

"It's up to us. Whatever we put into it is what we're going to get out of it and with that being said, the only team that can beat us is us," Tate said. I hope that motivates us to show up every single day and work hard. For the last 20 years, Detroit's had a lot of talent. We just haven't put it together.

"Thank you for being very patient, fans, it's going to change now. But it's up to us. That's the great thing about it. We're either going to beat ourselves or beat the other team."

Motivational speeches like this are part of the reason the Lions pursued Tate, combined with his on-field ability. He has won before. He is able to rally players around him. He is pretty much what the Lions' owners have asked for.

He's a guy who has won before and is trying to become a rarity -- a Lions free agent who comes to the team and is actually able to affect change that hasn't been able to happen before.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions were still talking a good game Monday, even as they were announcing what felt like a bad scenario for the franchise when it came to one of its cornerstone players.

The team is tabling contract talks with polarizing defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the season -- a sign that, at the very least, the club and the player are somewhat far from being able to reach a deal that would benefit both sides.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions announced they will table any contract discussions with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh until after the 2014 season.
Considering how confident the Lions have been in the past with getting deals done and how confident they still acted Monday -- both team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew expressed optimism they would sign Suh eventually -- this is a big moment for the two of them.

The two often have said they were confident Suh wanted to be here and the team wanted him here. Mayhew went further, saying Monday that he continually felt at different points that a contract extension for Suh would happen soon. Then the combine passed. The start of the new league year passed. The draft passed.

Training camp arrived and the Lions still had no deal in place, leading them to decide to table the talks once camp began. That brings the Lions to this point, and to a risk for both sides.

For the Lions, another massive season from Suh could push his asking price beyond what he and agent Jimmy Sexton are likely asking for now, making it a very tough decision to try to re-sign him. For Suh, it’s a gamble because if he suffers a significant injury, his asking price could plummet. While there would still be suitors for his services, he would be a question mark for the first time in his career.

There is the school of thought that if Suh wanted to stay in Detroit, he would have reached a deal before the season started, as quarterback Matthew Stafford did prior to the 2013 season. But different contracts and different agents require different time frames, so this is the Lions’ hope now: that the latest snag is just a blip instead of a major sign that Suh will end up somewhere other than Detroit in 2015. He has indicated he would like to return, although often talk is just talk until pen and paper meet.

But Suh needs to do what’s best for him -- and that goes beyond a money angle, because he will be paid well no matter where he ends up. Detroit has a new coaching staff, one he is unfamiliar with. The Lions are a franchise that has never really shown the ability to win consistently -- hence the one winning season and one playoff appearance this century.

So if winning is important to Suh as he enters the prime of his career, it behooves him to see how he interacts with this coaching staff and how he will be used throughout the course of a season. It’s something that could be explained to him by coaches, but until he sees it, he won’t know for sure.

What ends up being best for Suh? The question now is whether Detroit is the answer to that question -- and it is an answer only he will know.
From the beginning, there always seemed like a demarcation line of concern when it came to the ongoing contract discussions with Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh.

Even though he switched agents this offseason and there always appeared to be something keeping negotiations between Suh and the Lions from progressing, there was optimism the two sides would come to a deal by the time training camp started.

Suh
Training camp begins Monday with veterans reporting Sunday. And now colleague Chris Mortensen is saying a team source told him the team is not optimistic about reaching a deal by the start of camp.

With it, the Lions can officially become concerned about whether or not Suh will be with the team beyond this season. Suh has seemed like a player who would not want to have contract discussions during a season, especially if he is now potentially playing for a new deal either with Detroit or elsewhere.

It would behoove the Lions to say they would not negotiate during the season. Doing so gives a timeline for any real negotiations and eliminates what would otherwise be a constant distraction for a franchise needing to minimize them at every possible cost.

This leaves Detroit and the Suh’s agent, Jimmy Sexton, with two potential windows to hatch a deal -- if there is even the true desire to do so: Either between the start of training camp and the beginning of the season, or between the end of the season and the start of free agency.

If the Lions were smart, they would push to not have Suh play out the season with free agency looming. Another huge season from him and he may want to test free agency no matter what, just to see what he could command on the open market as one of the top players at his position.

Either way, the concern about Ndamukong Suh is now real and it should lead to an interesting few weeks as a sidebar to Detroit’s training camp.

This also sets up one of the worst-case scenarios for Detroit when it chose to decline the fifth-year option on fellow defensive tackle Nick Fairley. If Suh does not get a deal done, there is a real chance the team could lose their first-round picks from 2010 and 2011 after 2014.

It would decimate the interior of a defensive line the Lions built around the past few seasons.

Of course, the Lions can keep Fairley around by either tagging him or re-signing him if he has the season Detroit is hoping for.

None of this is to say Suh is wrong at all. He has every right to have his agent negotiate the best possible deal for him considering the finite nature of his profession. It is exactly what Suh is paying Sexton for.

But if Suh really wants to be in Detroit and really wants to help the Lions turn into a winning franchise, he would push his agent to finish a deal before Sept. 8, when the Lions play on "Monday Night Football" against the Giants.

A week ago, Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand said the plan for the team was to win now and that he didn’t have a five-year plan in place.

The five-year plan bit triggered something almost as soon as he said it -- and it popped up again after general manager Martin Mayhew said the team wouldn’t be picking up the fifth-year option on defensive tackle Nick Fairley.

Fairley has been a maddening player for Detroit. He has first-round talent, but has not been able to put any of that together consistently, which appears to be why the Lions have made this decision, especially since keeping him around would have cost $5.5 million in 2015.

Mayhew told reporters this move is to motivate Fairley for this season -- and this is where the five-year plan problem comes in again. Planning, though, has the history of backfiring from time to time. This is what the Lions have to hope doesn't happen now that they are going to take a massive risk on their future in order to win now.

While it is good to be adaptable and flexible, the Lions have now put themselves in a position where there is a chance they could lose both of their starting defensive tackles -- the same tackles they spent first-round picks on in 2010 and 2011 -- at the end of next season. Theoretically, after the threat of possibly losing Ndamukong Suh, they could also lose their top three tackles as C.J. Mosley is also in the final year of his deal.

Suh
This puts immense pressure on Detroit to make sure it gets a deal done with Suh, and while the Lions appear confident it will happen -- they could have waited before making a decision on Fairley. Now, if negotiations with Suh aren’t fruitful over the next few months, a defense built solely around a strong front four would be losing its most critical interior pieces.

Those are decisions that can blow up plans for a coaching staff and an organization if they get it wrong.

When it comes to Fairley, this feels like it could mean 2014 is the final season he is in Detroit. If Fairley responds well to this somewhat bizarre motivational tactic, he could then choose to test free agency and see what his market value is. If he doesn't respond, he is gone anyway.

As long as the team retains Suh, they can handle that.

But there is the doomsday for Detroit option in play now. Suh chooses to leave. Fairley plays well and also decides to bolt. And now there is a gaping hole in the middle of the Lions' defensive line that will need to be rebuilt with immense speed.

Why?

It goes back to Lewand and the need to win now. This decision backs up his statement of not having a five-year plan and of having immense urgency to win now. Sometimes what makes sense in the short term doesn’t work for the long term and in this case, the Lions need to hope they are right with this decision.

Otherwise a lot more than one player might need to be overhauled.
The Lions, lying in wait for the new year...

Ever since Detroit Lions team president Tom Lewand said last week he was planning on meeting with Ndamukong Suh's new agent, Jimmy Sexton, at the NFL owner's meetings this week, the parameters of what it would take to get a deal done started to percolate.

It doesn't, though, sound like a deal will get done any time soon.

"We've got a long runway to get this done," Lewand told the Lions website Sunday. "There's no pressure. We don't have any deep discussions planned."

While it is always possible the sides could come to an easy agreement, it doesn't sound like Lewand is anticipating getting everything done in the next few days.

Considering Suh has employed Sexton for under a month, that Lewand doesn't anticipate having a deal done this week is expected. He can't sputter, though, as he tries to make sure a deal gets done between Suh and the Lions. If the defensive tackle isn't signed to a long-term extension by the start of traning camp in July, that would be the definitive time to wonder whether or not Suh wants to return to Detroit when his contract ends following the 2014 season.

Yes, it is only March and that is still a long ways away, but as I've written about before, this is going to be the biggest issue for Detroit through the rest of the off-season and one that needs to resolved for the Lions to truly understand what type of team they are building for their future.

And now, a look at the Lions news from around the Interwebs.
DETROIT -- They said this from the beginning and now, after two months of the same mantra over and over again, the Detroit Lions might just have to follow through on it.

Since the Lions hired Jim Caldwell in mid-January, both he and team president Tom Lewand have been consistent in the same message. They hired Caldwell to win. And win immediately.

“It’s a year of, 'Let’s go right now,'" Lewand said during an appearance at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “There’s no five-year plan.”

[+] EnlargeJim Caldwell
AP Photo/Carlos OsorioThe Lions hired coach Jim Caldwell, in part because many of their best players are in their primes.
While that might sound somewhat concerning for Detroit in the long term -- ideally, one would think the Lions should plan for the present and the future at the same time -- it also crystallized his point. Detroit is working with a somewhat shrinking window to win with its current roster.

Calvin Johnson is 28 years old, turns 29 in September, and has been dealing with knee issues the past couple of seasons. Reggie Bush turns 30 next year. Joique Bell will be 30 by the end of his contract. Matthew Stafford is entering his prime, and Ndamukong Suh is about to either enter his last year in Detroit or become signed to a massive long-term contract.

The ages and contract statuses of its stars made Detroit a somewhat enviable place for a coach to land, despite the franchise’s culture and history of ineptitude and losing. It is why Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew really focused on coaches with prior head-coaching experience -- and prior NFL head-coaching experience -- when they conducted their search to replace Jim Schwartz.

It’s how they landed on Caldwell, and in Caldwell they are all entrusting their present and their futures.

“I was one of those people who didn't know Jim Caldwell before we started this process, but I was remarkably impressed with the people who spoke so highly of him,” Lewand said. “Bill Polian. Ozzie Newsome.

“John Harbaugh, who I have known for years, he called me up and said, ‘Look, this is a guy who I sit in the back of the room in our meetings in Baltimore when he’s presenting the offense and I think he’s the head coach. He’s that impressive to me. I couldn't speak more highly of him.'"

This is what sold the Lions on hiring Caldwell, who has now been on the job two months and has hired a staff and brought in his first high-level free agent. He’s the man who Lewand and Mayhew are constructing a team for.

Because Lewand and Mayhew have placed their futures in with this group of players and this coaching staff, so they have no other option except to trust. And to win immediately.

Even if they fail, Lewand was right to dismiss a five-year plan, because it's possible none of them would be around to implement it anyway.
DETROIT – Over the past week, the Detroit Lions draft needs have changed a little bit.

The team brought in Golden Tate to be the No. 2 receiver and re-signed Brandon Pettigrew as the team's tight end. While the signings don't mean those needs have evaporated for Detroit – the Lions need receivers still and could use a stretch-the-field tight end – it made both of those spots less important to draft in the first round.

It also gives Detroit some flexibility, as does not have to draft a quarterback.

The Lions would potentially consider trading up in May's draft or dropping back from the No. 10 slot in the first round. Team president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew recognize that every option needs to be available.

"It always sounds good on paper to trade up or trade back. The old adage is it takes two to tango and sometimes opportunities present themselves for trades on draft day or outside of draft day and sometimes they don't," Lewand said Monday night at the MGM Grand in Detroit. "Our position is we always have to be ready to improve our team in whatever way is possible.

"Sometimes we search those things out and they don't materialize and sometimes they are presented to us and we take advantage of them. We have to be ready, no matter what the opportunity is, if there's a chance to improve the defense by trading up or trading back, we'll look at that and if it makes sense, we'll do it."

May's draft offers some intriguing opportunities there. But who would be worth the Lions making a move from No. 10 -- either up or back -- for? That depends somewhat on how the draft falls and somewhat how the Lions final board ends up being set up.

This also focuses mostly on defense.

WORTH MOVING UP:

Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson: Watkins is the top receiver in the draft and the only offensive player that would be worth making a move higher into the Top 10 for, although even then, it would be questionable how much Detroit should be willing to give up for him. Watkins is a special talent, but having grabbed Tate in free agency, that alleviated receiver from being the No. 1 need. But if Watkins ends up still on the board at No. 8, it might be worth exploring jumping over Buffalo to ensure Detroit grabs him.

Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina: Just putting him here in case the inexplicable happens and he drops beyond the third or fourth pick. If he does, the Lions should trade whatever possible to go and select him. But it would be very, very, very unlikely to happen.

Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo: Mack may be the best non-Clowney defensive prospect in the draft and for a little while, it appeared he might end up falling to No. 10. If he did, Mack would almost be a no-brainer selection for Detroit as long as Watkins was no longer available. If Detroit determines Mack is the best player in the draft, it could be worth investigating a move higher for a linebacker that could end up being an All-Pro.

STAY PUT IF THIS PLAYER IS HERE:

[+] EnlargeAnthony Barr
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe Lions should address their needs on defense by taking linebacker Anthony Barr in the first round.
Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA: The Lions are clearly intrigued by Barr, who has extreme athleticism and could improve a good but not great linebacker group immediately. Mayhew was out at his Pro Day to watch him perform. His speed/size/frame combination makes him extremely intriguing.

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M/Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: They are both options for Detroit at this spot, but both positions are deep in this draft and are no longer massively pressing needs due to the signings at the top. But if Mayhew and Lewand wanted to go offense, these would be two likely targets.

IF THIS IS THE TARGET, TRADE DOWN AND TAKE A CHANCE:

There are teams below Detroit with needs and other than the defensive backfield, there is not a major pressing need for the Lions in the first round. So the Lions could make a smart play depending who is available and who is interested and try to trade down to stockpile picks in a deep draft. These four potential targets could merit a trade down.

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama: He has already come in for a visit with the Lions and is one of the top safeties in the draft. He is rated as the No. 16 overall player and has long, rangy arms. He'll almost definitely be available at No. 10, but if the Lions covet him, they could probably drop down a few places and still nab him.

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville: Similar situation to Clinton-Dix. He's a little bit shorter than his Alabama counterpart at 5-foot-11, but he was listed as 6-foot-2 in college. He's rated one spot ahead of Clinton-Dix as the No. 15 overall player and should be available at No. 10, too. For either safety, Detroit could probably trade down as low as No. 14 or No. 15 and still be able to take either player.

Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State/Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State: The top two cornerbacks in the draft are both of first round value and should almost definitely be available when Detroit is picking. If the team decides corner is the area they want to go in the first round, they could drop a couple of places and select one of these players.

IF PICKING TODAY, I'D TAKE:

Barr. Offense may be sexy, but the Lions need to focus on and improve their defense from back to front. They have two strong running backs, two dynamic wide receivers and can add in the draft. But to find an impact starter in the first round, Detroit would benefit from going defense with its first pick and Barr could be the best available. (Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press agreed with this earlier this week)
DETROIT -- Throughout the first week of free agency, the Detroit Lions continued to focus on offense, the part of the game the team is most known for and the part of the game that has produced the more gaudy numbers for the team in recent years.

The offensive power is strong. The offensive power added receiver Golden Tate, retained tight end Brandon Pettigrew and continued to stockpile players attempting to score.

Ihedigbo
But what about defense? The other side, the side that helped Seattle win a Super Bowl last season. The side of the ball where Detroit has noticeably struggled in recent seasons despite the drafting of defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ziggy Ansah in the first round of three of the past four drafts.

A lot of focus is on the Lions’ sub-par pass defense -- the cornerbacks struggled yet again in 2013 -- but Lions president Tom Lewand looks at pass defense as encompassing everyone on the defense.

“When you’re talking about pass defense, you’re not just talking about defensive backs,” Lewand said Monday at the MGM Grand. “I think you have to talk about everybody on the defense, because they all defend the pass.

“We built our team up front, and I won’t change a thing about that. Giving the quarterback a very short time to throw the ball, create a lot of pressure.”

Yet the Lions have not made any real impact moves defensively during free agency. They signed two defensive linemen for depth -- Vaughn Martin and Darryl Tapp -- and let a productive defensive end, Willie Young, leave for Chicago.

In the secondary, the Lions have only visited with one free agent, safety James Ihedigbo, and he left without signing a contract. That might happen, but until it does, that leaves Detroit without any impact changes in the defensive backfield. The most noticeable move they have made was bringing in Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a potential first-round pick, for a visit Monday.

But the Lions say they are trying to, and have in the past, made attempts to improve their defense.

“Are we looking at ways to strengthen our team and our defense, absolutely,” Lewand said. “I think we have to do that. We lost Louis Delmas to the Miami Dolphins, and we’ve been looking at ways to add to our secondary.

“I think we’ve done that the last few years, whether it’s drafting a number of defensive backs in the middle rounds, in the second round last year with Darius Slay, and we see a lot of those young corners developing.”

It is possible Detroit could add to that, too. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said at his introductory news conference that he could never have enough cornerbacks. He has a lot of young ones, but few proven ones other than Chris Houston, who had an inconsistent 2013.

So it is still an area the team could draft, both at corner and safety, in May as the Lions search for whatever way possible to improve their team.
DETROIT -- It started with a profile, because pretty much everything with the Detroit Lions these days begins with a conversation to put together the vision in their heads.

[+] EnlargeGolden Tate
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonGolden Tate, a four-year NFL veteran, will be expected to fill out the Lions' receiver set.
It is how Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew brainstormed the criteria they would like in their next head coach after they fired Jim Schwartz in December. And not surprisingly, it is what they did again when they hit free agency last week.

They all met together -- scouts, coaches and front office staff -- and put together exactly what they would be looking for in each need position in free agency. That included wide receiver, where the Lions have made their biggest move thus far.

“We put together a position profile that says this is the kind of skill set we need to have," Lewand said Monday evening at the MGM Grand in Detroit. “Then you have a profile and these are the guys who are available. Who are the guys that are available in free agency that match that profile and Golden Tate was a guy who matched that profile in that complementary receiver to Calvin (Johnson).

“A guy that brings certain skills."

What were those skills?

Lewand didn't get into specifics when discussing his team's newest receiver acquisition, but by parsing together various statements throughout the past three months from Lewand and new head coach Jim Caldwell, the Lions appeared to focus on three factors.

First was hands, and considering Detroit's issues with merely catching the ball a season ago, this became obvious. The Lions dropped 46 passes last season -- 7.5 percent of Matthew Stafford's throws. Tate, meanwhile, has dropped seven passes in his four seasons and has a 2.7 percent drop rate.

So that's an obvious improvement.

“It's very important and that's why we're receivers is because we can catch the ball, although sometimes it might not seem that way," Tate said. “One thing that I did notice from watching (Matthew) Stafford throw the ball (last week) when I was meeting with coach (Joe) Lombardi is that sometimes Stafford will throw a covered guy open.

“What I mean by that is he might throw a back shoulder or throw it high and to the right and I feel like that's one thing I excel at is catching low balls and balls that are outside my frame."

Second was the ability to make contested catches. Tate has no issue doing that, often being able to leap up between cornerbacks and safeties to come down with the ball despite his 5-foot-10 frame. He can fight on the shorter and intermediate routes along with battling cornerbacks on deeper patterns. Going along with that toughness is his ability to block. He is a more than willing blocker and is actually good at it for his size.

Third was not verbalized, but Caldwell spoke at Tate's introductory news conference that they were looking for someone with leadership and character. Tate grew in these areas during his first four years in the NFL, culminating in winning a Super Bowl last season.

Additionally, he is used to playing alongside another top receiver, as he did that at Notre Dame opposite Michael Floyd, now with Arizona.

So when Detroit brought Tate in last week, it knew what it wanted to accomplish -- and was assisted by the snow.

“We knew there was going to be a snowstorm," Lewand said. "He came in the night before, came in late Tuesday night, and we knew the snow was going to come and it was going to be hard for him to get out to his next destination."

The team woke him up at 6 a.m. -- 3 a.m. on Tate's body clock time -- for his physical and by noon, instead of visiting the stadium, all he wanted was the nap he spoke about at his news conference later last Tuesday.

By then, Detroit knew it received its complementary pass catcher to Calvin Johnson and now any concern shifted from whether he fit the profile the Lions set to how he will fit once the team actually begins practice next month.

So goes the risk with any free agent. Until a team sees how he blends in during practice and what his role ends up being and that he can remain healthy, bringing in new players becomes educated guesswork.

“You want that vision to come to fruition, but there are a lot of different factors," Lewand said. “You don't make or break your team in free agency. You can add strategically."

With the signing of Tate, that's what Detroit believes it did.
The Lions, lying in wait for this new year...

DETROIT -- It was one of those questions that gets asked during an hour-long interview, a throwaway of sorts that could lead a subject anywhere and into any spot.

There were a few of those Monday night during Tom Lewand's hour with Bernie Smilovitz at the TAP restaurant at MGM Grand, but one stuck out. Smilovitz, about 45 minutes or so into the interview, asked Lewand what he would do if he could be the NFL Commissioner for a day.

The first part of his answer was somewhat expected -- to try to improve player health and safety. He said while he felt it has been good, "it has to get better."

The second part was a bit more unexpected.

While Lewand wouldn't go as far as to allow cameras into the locker room for halftime strategy sessions or even halftime speeches as college basketball has done in recent years, he expressed a desire to give fans more experiences in the stadium.

And to make the fan experience more enjoyable -- including some access via video to locker rooms before the game.

"We want to have exclusive opportunities to consume our game," Lewand said.

How the NFL does this could go a multitude of directions and, have fun with this in the comments, what would you like to see to improve your time at football games?

And now, a look around the Interwebs in search of Lions news:

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