Then a thorough process took shape, spearheaded by the Lions' player personnel department before it collaborated with the coaching staff to start targeting their favorite names.
And a lot of those happened to be familiar faces.
So instead of making any big splashes, Holmes decided to re-sign a boatload of guys from the 2021 roster that finished 3-13-1.
The reason? They have faith that these players fit the culture of what they’re trying to accomplish, so they re-signed players on short-term deals at reasonable rates.
“I think it starts with Coach [Dan] Campbell and [general manager] Brad Holmes and kind of them building this foundation from the ground up, and that toughness and that grit and the attitude and the mentality that we bring to the field,” said Lions fullback Jason Cabinda, who re-signed on a two-year deal. “I feel like you saw it in every single game. It was a group that absolutely would never stop fighting, regardless of the score.”
Other players coming back include linebackers Charles Harris and Alex Anzalone, plus safety Tracy Walker and receivers Josh Reynolds and Kalif Raymond. The Lions also locked down backup quarterbacks Tim Boyle and David Blough on short-term deals as they continue to try to fill some holes at safety, receiver and perhaps even a young QB.
These names certainly aren’t eye-popping, but many of them share a common thread of being underdogs and determined to get back on track after injuries or a lack of opportunity, including Chark, who missed nine games in 2021 after suffering a broken ankle in Week 4.
“I actually kept up with the Lions, just because at the time, we had like the same record, but the games looked different,” Chark said. “I appreciated the way that they hustled, and the grit and the way that they persevered and went from tying games to winning games to playing better. And I truly appreciated the way that this staff kept that team together and had faith in those guys, and I know that means a lot to them.
“I’m ready to be a part of it,” he added. “I feel like it’s definitely a different feel than what I’ve been experiencing.”
Although the Lions finished last in the NFC North, missing the postseason for the fifth consecutive year, both Harris and Walker were committed to re-joining Detroit from the start of free agency, although other teams were interested.
Harris was coming off a career-best year with 65 tackles and 7.5 sacks, while Walker posted 105 tackles in 15 starts.
“Really just the scheme, the coaches setting me up in the right position, and not just me, but everyone involved on defense,” Harris cited as the reasons he performed well.
Walker says he has “unfinished business” in Detroit. He also has no issues with the front office wanting to run it back with a lot of familiar names, because he sees Holmes’ vision, along with Detroit holding three of the top 34 picks in the draft.
“A lot of those guys that we re-signed, a lot of those guys were not even supposed to be in the NFL,” Walker said. “A lot of those guys developed last year because of the circumstances they were put under, so with that being said, they were allowed to get better and they have improved, just like me. I was put in some circumstances where I had to improve, and that’s just one thing about since I’ve been here and seen this coaching staff come in, it’s all about development.”