Rebuilding The Rebuild: Detroit Lions Bail Out Dan Campbell, Brad Holmes With Hockenson Trade
Through almost a season-and-a-half, the Dan Campbell era of the Detroit Lions has produced exactly four wins.
After 24 games at the helm, Campbell and his general manager Brad Holmes own a 4-19-1 record. For reference, Marty Mornhinweg, the same man who thought the most logical strategy after winning a sudden-death overtime coin toss was to "take the wind" and kick, was 5-19 at that same juncture of his tenure as head coach of the Lions.
That season was Mornhinweg's second and last in Detroit. Might it be the same for Campbell?
If Tuesday's news is any indication, the answer to that question is "probably not."
Deadline Day Deal
The Lions traded tight end T.J. Hockenson, in whom they invested the No. 8 overall draft pick just three years ago, to NFC North rival Minnesota ahead of Tuesday's NFL trade deadline for the Vikings' 2023 second-round pick and 2024 third-round pick. The Lions also sent along their fourth-round pick for this coming draft and a conditional 2024 fourth-round selection.
Hockenson had been on pace for his best season yet. Through seven games, he had caught 26 passes for 395 yards — a career-best 15.2 yards per reception — and three touchdowns. With decent stats thus far, why then were the Lions eager to move him?
Is it his contract? Hockenson is still eligible for the fifth-year option on his rookie deal, which would have cost Detroit $9.39 million and kept him in Honolulu Blue and Silver through 2023. For context, that figure would rank 16th in terms of average annual value for all NFL tight ends.
So if performance, contract, and cost weren't issues, what exactly was?
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Lions are rebooting their rebuild. That's what we can infer from the Hockenson trade.
Although he hasn't lived up to the hype of a Top 10 overall draft pick, Hockenson has proven to be a solid, reliable target in Detroit's passing offense. Moving him is a clear signal from Lions ownership and the front office that Campbell and Holmes are getting a reset just 24 games into their reign.
That means you can be sure that the pair will be back for Year 3 regardless of how the rest of this season shakes out.
A week ago, Lions owner Sheila Ford descended from her ivory tower to defend Campbell, reminding us all that the Lions' rebuild is different from other NFL rebuilds because it first required a tear-down. Regardless of whatever mental gymnastics she was attempting there — not to mention the shamelessness, tonedeafness, and utter incompetence needed in spades for someone to tell fans of this moribund franchise who have suffered for nearly 70 years to be patient — the meaning was an obvious excuse-making.
Never mind that other NFL coaches and GMs in Year 2 are enjoying marked improvement and success, such as the New York Jets, who, at 5-3, are in the thick of the AFC playoffs; or the Atlanta Falcons, who also are currently in the postseason field under second-year coach Arthur Smith; or even the New York Giants, who, despite having a rookie head coach and a roster undergoing a full-blown tear-down and rebuild, are 6-2.
Year 2 of Campbell and Holmes in Detroit was supposed to be like that. It's a season in which they promised to improve, compete, and prove that the Lions are on a path toward contention. They haven't delivered on any of that.
And if a Detroit team showing its ass when it's supposed to be building on an upstart end to the prior season sounds familiar to you, that's because the 2022 Detroit Lions might as well be the 2022 Detroit Tigers. But I digress.
Not only have Campbell and Holmes not delivered on any of the Lions' hype, there's a very real case to be made that things have regressed.
Detroit's defense owns some of the worst marks in pro football, including:
- Dead-last in total defense: 421 yards allowed per game
- Dead-last in scoring defense: 32.1 points allowed per game
- 27th in pass defense: 266.4 passing yards allowed per game
- 30th in rushing defense: 154 rushing yards allowed per game
On Monday, Campbell fired defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant.
"It just felt like a change needed to be made," Campbell said.
He's right, it did and does feel that way. He's just wrong about where.