DETROIT — One of the biggest criticisms of Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn during the past two offseasons was his inability to adequately address their issues along the defensive line. They struggled to get to the quarterback. Stopping the run was an adventure.
And Quinn did little to improve it. Until Wednesday.
In trading a fifth-round pick for Damon “Snacks” Harrison, Quinn not only shored up Detroit’s defensive line with one of the best run-stoppers in the league, he also proved that the Lions believe they have a window to win. Now.
The 29-year-old Harrison (who turns 30 in November) is a dominating presence in the middle of Detroit’s defense. At 355 pounds, he’s the big, space-eating nose tackle the Lions just haven’t had. They hoped Sylvester Williams could be that player, but he hasn’t been to the level of Harrison, a 2016 first-team All-Pro who can force double teams to take place in the middle. It could give Detroit a presence reminiscent of what head coach Matt Patricia had in New England, when his best defenses had the massive Vince Wilfork in the middle of the line, controlling what went on up front. He lacked that player in Detroit, but not anymore.
It’s almost a better version of what the Lions had in Haloti Ngata, who missed half of last season due to injury before leaving for Philadelphia in the offseason. And when the Lions failed to really replace Ngata, that left a massive hole that needed replacing. In trading for Harrison, Detroit has done that.
They’ve done it for now, with an option for more later. Harrison is under contract until 2020, with cap hits of $8.6 million in 2019 and $10.85 million in 2020. The Lions can afford that because they had significant cap room heading into the next two seasons. But with none of the money guaranteed, they are locked into nothing after this season. That means they can turn Harrison into a half-year rental of the centerpiece of their defensive line for the foreseeable future, pairing him with young players like Da’Shawn Hand and his former-and-now-teammates-again, Romeo Okwara and Devon Kennard.
Having Harrison in the middle should also improve Detroit’s pass rush, even if he is not a significant pass-rusher himself. The attention that he will command in the middle of Detroit’s defensive line will keep offenses from being able to focus too much on Kennard, Eli Harold, Okwara and, when he returns, Ezekiel Ansah. So that could give those players more one-on-one matchups that could lead to quarterback pressure.
This move also did something else. It showed the Lions, at 3-3, clearly believe they have a team to win — and win this year. That shouldn’t be shocking considering Detroit fired Jim Caldwell last year after back-to-back 9-7 seasons, with Quinn saying at the time he felt his team was better than their record.
He hired his friend, Patricia, to make Detroit better. After a rough start, the Lions have shown some promise over the past month, winning three of their past four games. But the defensive line was still Detroit’s biggest problem. And one Quinn needed to address if the Lions had any realistic hope of winning the NFC North this year.
The Lions had to. Being No. 30 in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (139.3) and last in yards per rush allowed (5.32) was going to be a problem for the Lions, especially as weather got colder and they hit a string of talented teams throughout the last two months of the season. It was clearly going to be one of the issues that held them back, as they had allowed 89 yards rushing or more to every opponent this season (and four of six games of 105 yards or more).
That wasn’t going to cut it the rest of the season and the easiest way to fix it was to find someone to send them the run-stopper they couldn’t find anywhere else.
The Giants did — and in doing so, Detroit just became a team to be a little more concerned about in the NFC North.