Bob Quinn is done with his first offseason and preseason as general manager of the Detroit Lions. He’s signed players. Drafted some. Evaluated a lot and set his initial 53-man roster. A large majority of those players will be who the franchise is hoping to win with in 2016.
And now that there’s a body of work to evaluate, what did we learn about Quinn and how he could handle rosters in his first full hiring-and-firing season?
1. Guaranteed money and draft standing, to a point, won’t matter: Quinn signed Jeremy Kerley, Geoff Schwartz and Stevan Ridley during free agency. All were expected to play a role for the Lions when they signed. By Sept. 1, they were all on other teams or released. Using a player's amount of guaranteed money (unless it's huge) to gauge the role that player might have is no longer valid in Detroit. Same with draft choices, be it Quinn’s or Martin Mayhew’s. Quinn cut one of his own picks, Jake Rudock, and a bunch of Mayhew’s with years remaining on their deals: Caraun Reid, TJ Jones, Alex Carter and Gabe Wright. And Jimmy Landes is on injured reserve. All five cuts could end up back with the Lions on the practice squad, but it’s clear that Quinn doesn’t necessarily care about standing or guarantees.
2. The fourth preseason game could actually matter: Coaches and players like to say it, but Quinn showed it could actually play a role in whom he picks. Consider this: Kerry Hyder had three sacks in the final preseason game against Buffalo and was all over the field. He’s on the 53-man roster. Cornerback Adairius Barnes had three defensive tackles, three pass breakups and a special-teams tackle in the finale. Surprisingly, he made the roster over veterans such as Darrin Walls and Crezdon Butler along with the aforementioned Carter. Now both of these guys could end up being waived in roster churn at some point or they could end up playing real roles. But the point is the Lions felt better about them than a lot of guys they cut. And both had strong final impressions.
3. Quinn isn’t afraid to go heavy where there is depth: All training camp long, the Lions had the most depth on the defensive line, a place where the Lions rotate a lot. Detroit kept 11 defensive linemen -- five ends, five tackles and Hyder, who has been used in both spots. He’s also good with positional flexibility as Hyder, Wallace Gilberry and Anthony Zettel can play end and tackle. In a pinch, Brandon Copeland can play end and linebacker and is a special-teams value player. He contradicted that a little bit at receiver, where the Lions kept only four players, but there’s a chance that ends up jumping to five when Detroit eventually puts Jon Bostic on injured reserve. Or, it’s a surprising oddity of Quinn’s first roster.
4. The Lions could misdirect -- or not: This shouldn’t be stunning, but take the case of Jones. He didn’t play at all in the preseason finale. It seemed like he was going to be safely on the roster as the primary backup to both outside spots and the slot since he played all three and had received first-team reps whenever a receiver was out. Instead, he’s released. Yet in Kerley’s case he didn’t play in preseason game No. 3 and was traded less than 24 hours later. So he’s made it tougher to read what’s going to happen based on preseason games.
5. Always, always look at the undrafted guys: Quinn is always going to look at the undrafted guys and hope some of them end up making the roster. It means good, deep scouting and it’s a helpful way to fill out a roster with minimum pay scale guys. He kept two undrafted guys this year: tight end Cole Wick and Barnes. And they did a good job scouting other undrafted spots, particularly receiver. The Lions had options there between Jay Lee, Quinshad Davis and Jace Billingsley. Detroit cut all three but the trio showed talent and there were ways to see combinations of all three on the roster. It didn’t happen, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see all three eventually in the league for a bit, either on the practice squad or a 53-man roster.