Dave Birkett breaks down the busy first day of free agency for the Detroit Lions on Monday, March 11, 2019.
Detroit Free Press
Send in the beans. Start changing your accent. It’s Faaahd Field. It’s the Blue and Silvah. The Detroit Lions hit free agency Monday like a battering ram hits a piñata, and what fell loose were many intriguing pieces, most of them with one phrase in common:
“Former New England Patriot.”
The Lions now have more ex-Pats than the Cayman Islands. They added Trey Flowers, the coveted defensive end and former Patriot. And Justin Coleman, a cornerback who most recently played for the Seahawks but before that was with — you guessed it — the Patriots.
Earlier in the day, they announced the signing of Danny Amendola, who made his reputation catching passes from Tom Brady.
In New England.
And, of course, the two men making all these decisions are general manager Bob Quinn and coach Matt Patricia, formerly of the …
We’re the Patriots West. The New New England. Put tall ships on the Detroit River. Run marathons in April. Rarely has one team siphoned off another so quickly, but it began when Martha Ford hired Quinn three years ago, and it continued right through Monday, when Patricia was reunited with three players from days as a Patriots assistant coach.
“I was around him all the time,” Amendola told the media on a conference call Monday. “I just love the enthusiasm he brings to work. I love the attitude he comes into the building with every day. I’m excited to continue my career with him.”
Amendola. Flowers. Coleman. It’s like the Lions went ice fishing off Plymouth Rock. Of course, they keep leaving two big fish in the water: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. And many will argue you can take those two against the NFL field.
It’s not like the Lions haven’t tried the “Ex-Pat” route. They signed LeGarrette Blount last season, a guy who averaged 4.3 yards a carry in New England; he averaged 2.7 in Detroit.
Meanwhile, the Lions sent one of their own players to the Patriots a few years ago, a linebacker they gave up on. His name was Kyle Van Noy.
He was New England’s leading tackler last year.
And won a Super Bowl.
So it’s a two-way street with, so far, one lane closed.
‘The excitement is mutual’
Still, there is reason to think Monday’s activity was more than just trying on your big brother’s shoulder pads.
Flowers was, by nearly all accounts, the most sought after defensive player in this year’s free-agent class. He’s the right age (25), has power and is a big force on the defensive line. He hasn’t racked up major sack numbers, but that may have more to do with how he was used. One good thing: he plays a lot. The same can’t be said for the man he is likely replacing, Ziggy Ansah.
Meanwhile, Coleman, who is reportedly getting the richest contract for an NFL nickelback, had two effective years in Seattle after coming from New England where, again, he played for Patricia. Coleman is a playmaker. He showed it against the Lions last season. And he is definitely an improvement from Nevin Lawson, whom the Lions cut to make room.
No offense to Lawson personally, but I cringed whenever a ball was coming his way. He seemed to always draw a penalty or surrender a killer reception. In four years as a starter, he never had a pick. Not one. That says something.
Amendola is a recognizable name, because guys who catch passes from Brady are recognizable that way. He’s a low-grade plug-in for the absence of Golden Tate, a possession-type slot receiver who will catch four or five balls a game.
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He’s 33, spent last year in Miami after leaving the Patriots, and his numbers were not that far off from the New England days, considering Ryan Tannehill and Brock Osweiler were throwing him the ball instead of Brady.
“Just my relationship with Coach Patricia and the experiences we’ve had together … that excitement is mutual,” Amendola said. “I’m excited to be here.”
Even if we don’t have lobster.
Ex-Pats … don’t always work out
But hey, Lions fans. You wanted activity? You got activity. The Lions not only added four players through free agency — the fourth was tight end Jesse James, a pretty decent player from the Steelers — they cut loose some weight that just wasn’t working or was too banged up: Lawson, T.J. Lang, most likely Ansah.
And in doing their business in free agency, they loosened the shackles of the April draft. Before they signed Flowers, their No. 8 selection would almost have to have been a defensive end, even though teams drafting ahead of them are looking for the same thing.
With Flowers in the fold, they can pursue the best player available, or consider a trade. It’s not like they don’t still have holes. It’s just that the glaring ones got at least partially plugged Monday.
Now, it’s true. There is such a thing as Ex-Pats Fever. It starts in your eyes, making your vision blurry. It continues in your brain, making your memory fuzzy. It winds up in your mouth, and leaves you yelling “What happened?”
And what usually happens: the ex-Pat doesn’t live up to his billing, mostly because he was, ahem, an ex-Pat. He’s not being coached the same. Not being used the same. Not seeing the glow from Tom Brady’s mystic light.
Brandon Meriweather. Laurence Maroney. Matt Cassel. Guys who never came close to their Patriot excellence once they left. Or, more recently, linebacker Jamie Collins or left tackle Nate Solder. Their new teams wondered where the old guy went.
Here in Motown, we’ll find out soon enough. Like it or not, we are now all in on the Patriot Way, from the front office to the locker room.
So heat up the chowder. Call I-75 the new Big Dig. The 2019 Lions will soon be roaring. Although they may sound like Mark Wahlberg.
Contact Mitch Albom: email@example.com. Check out the latest updates with his charities, books and events at MitchAlbom.com. Download “The Sports Reporters” podcast each Monday and Friday on-demand through Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify and more. Follow him on Twitter @mitchalbom.