The Lions’ first free agent class under Dan Campbell and Brad Homes was nothing heroic, not that it was meant to be. It was meant to fill gaps. Their biggest signing on defense was Alex Anzalone, a linebacker (with an admittedly solid head of hair) who was a part-time starter with the Saints. Their biggest signing on offense was Tyrell Williams, a wide receiver who was five years removed from his only 1,000-yard season.
So, yeah. Nothing to pin on the fridge.
That might change in the years ahead. That might change because Campbell is earning the respect of players around the league -- and word gets around.
On this week's episode of the Necessary Roughness podcast with former NFL offensive linemen Jon Jansen and TJ Lang, Lang said he reached out to a pair of former teammates who played for Campbell in New Orleans in Jon Kuhn and Larry Warford when Campbell was hired by Detroit.
"And just the enthusiasm and the unanimous respect that they had for him kind of let me know, OK, we’re getting a good one," Lang said. "Those guys played under Coach Campbell, got to see his coaching style, and both of them said the exact same thing. They’re like, 'Guys are going to love him, man. He’s a tough-ass when he has to be, but you know what, he’ll shoot you straight. He’s a hell of a coach, the energy he brings, the passion."
Campbell is authentic, honest and flat-out likable. He's a Football Guy from Texas who would take a bullet for his players, then get up (bite off a knee cap) and take another. He's relatable because he's real. Lang said these are the kind of things that matter "in the players circle around the league."
"Players just respect honesty and that’s ultimately all you can ask for, is just mutual respect," said Lang, who spent 10 years in the NFL. "Players talk, they know other guys in the league that play for different teams in the league and how the coaches treat them. You get some coaches that are maybe honest to your face and then stabbing you behind the back to management. Guys aren’t stupid in the league, they know what’s going on."
Look, nothing will change if the Lions keep losing. Above all else, players want to play for a winner, because winning helps them get paid. Also, winning is fun. That's the first step for Campbell in increasing the free agent appeal of Detroit.
"Obviously they still got a long way to go," said Lang. "The biggest thing that matters to guys is obviously, are they winning? ... Guys want to get paid now, but older guys, stud guys, they’re not going to sign a big contract with a bad team just to get money. There still is a big motivation to go win, although it’s becoming a little bit more rare these days."
The Lions were darn close to their first win last week against the Ravens, a result that would have sent ripples around the league. Ripples eventually become waves. If Campbell can keep turning the tide this fall, the Lions might be poised to make a splash this winter.
"We still got a long way to go, we don’t know how this season is going to play out," said Lang. "But if they keep improving and bust out some wins, that’ll definitely stick out in other guys’ minds who maybe weren’t thinking Detroit on their radar. Maybe now it’s a team that they see is improving, maybe that’s something they want to be a part of."