Matt Patricia has been on the job for less than two days. He has yet to be formally introduced -- something that’ll happen next Wednesday, when he’ll start laying out his vision for how he plans on taking the Detroit Lions from one of the teams in the middle of the NFL to a consistent contender.
That’s what he’s being brought in to do: help the Lions win their first division title since 1993 and make their first-ever Super Bowl. Between now and the start of the season -- heck, the start of the new league year in March -- there are some major decisions he is going to have to weigh in on.
Those conversations, more than likely, might have started during the interview process. They’ll surely continue now, from franchise tags to roster construction to staffing. Here are a few big items he’s going to have to address in his first few weeks on the job.
1. Ezekiel Ansah: The defensive end is the Lions’ biggest potential free agent and they'll need to decide whether or not to use the franchise or transition tag on him by March 6. Ansah had 44 tackles and 12 sacks last season, the second time in three years he had double-digit sacks. But the numbers from 2017 are misleading because half his sacks came in the last two weeks of the season. Injuries have been a problem throughout his career and he didn’t practice fully throughout most of last season. The first question Patricia must ask is if Ansah fits the scheme he wants to run. If Ansah doesn’t, then the decision is an easy one. If he does fit the scheme, then the Lions have to decide whether or not to franchise tag him, sign him to a long-term extension or let him test free agency, where he’ll surely have multiple suitors. Pass rush is one of Detroit’s biggest problems and whether or not you’re starting and building around the 28-year-old Ansah in the future could influence a number of decisions this offseason. On Wednesday, general manager Bob Quinn said he and Patricia had yet to have conversations about Ansah’s future -- but it’ll be something to deal with in short order.
2. The roster: Quinn has been building this roster for a couple of offseasons now, and he’ll likely start to look for a different type of player now that he has a new head coach in place. That’ll start with Patricia going through the roster and identifying which players will work for him, particularly on defense. This won’t apply to some of Detroit’s better players, like Darius Slay and Glover Quin, but what Patricia wants to work with in the front seven could dictate how much of an overhaul the defensive line and linebackers need. While Ansah is the biggest free-agent decision there, how much of a roster reboot Detroit needs will be one of Patricia’s top tasks.
3. Evaluating the other Lions free agents: Detroit has some key players who are headed to some sort of free agency beyond Ansah. How does Haloti Ngata, who told 97.1 FM in Detroit he wants to play again, fit into what Patricia wants to run defensively? What about Tahir Whitehead, who played better in 2017 than 2016? Does Patricia feel good enough about what he sees during his roster evaluation of Teez Tabor and Jamal Agnew to move on from Nevin Lawson and D.J. Hayden, or would he want to try and bring Lawson or Hayden back? What about safety Tavon Wilson, whom Patricia knows from New England, and restricted free agents Brandon Copeland and TJ Jones, who carved out roles over the past two seasons? Quinn will make a lot of these decisions, but input from Patricia will be critical.
4. Get to know Matthew Stafford: While Jim Bob Cooter will remain with the Lions as offensive coordinator, Patricia needs to start learning about his quarterback. There’s no reason for the two to have had any relationship before this week, so starting to get a feel for what the franchise quarterback is all about is a good start in understanding the roster. Patricia has been known to create genuine relationships with the players he coaches. Starting with Stafford (and Quin) would be a prudent move. Patricia already started this, speaking with Stafford on Tuesday to start building a relationship.
5. Come up with a combine plan: This is going to be Patricia's first major event as Detroit’s head coach. He’s been around the process before, but this is the first time he’ll be one of the leaders of it -- along with Quinn. Going into Indianapolis with a concrete idea of what he’s looking for and what he needs to see is going to be important. Typically this wouldn’t be on an immediate list, but because New England was in the Super Bowl, the combine is less than a month away.