Lions general manager Brad Holmes has been fired

Is general manager of the Lions Brad Holmes becoming overconfident?

Boldest draft to date was the Detroit Lions 2024 selection. Is Lions General Manager Brad Holmes becoming overconfident, though?

I realize it’s risky to dispute anything general manager Brad Holmes of the Detroit Lions does. He not only keeps receipts, but he also has a fairly spotless record going back three years. He has no qualms about confronting a reporter during a news conference or ordering the front office of the Lions to don hoodies that make fun of those who have doubts.

However, constructive critique is something that everyone on Earth is capable of offering, and if we were to presume that Holmes’ actions are unassailable due to his incredible track record, we would have a fairly boring fan base and media.

Furthermore, there’s something a bit unsettling about Holmes’s newfound, almost conceited confidence. He’s definitely pushing the envelope for a franchise that has promoted an egoless culture with his increasing number of altercations with media members and his ongoing tirades about positional importance.
However, this is not about Holmes’ statements or stance. I’m aware that fans adore this kind of content, therefore none of these “calling outs” bother me personally. To some extent, he has earned it.

What worries me, though, is how much Holmes’ confidence comes through in his actions on selection day.

Do not misunderstand; I still believe that Holmes has a great plan for the team and that, based on his two decades as a college scout, his talent evaluation is among the finest in the league. However, some of his recent behavior appears to contradict even his own beliefs.

First, let’s address the obvious: the trade-offs. Four of the Lions’ six draft choices in 2024 were via trade ups; if Holmes had secured a trading partner in Round 2, that number would have increased to five out of six.

In an attempt to mitigate the impact of this tactic, team reporter Dannie Rogers referred to it as “calculated impatience,” but even Holmes rejected the term in a one-on-one interview conducted following the draft.

Which word did you use? Calm impatience, as Holmes put it. “Look, in the second round, I wasn’t really all that patient either. I simply was unable to ascend there.

In order to get Ennis Rakestraw Jr. or another talent, Holmes is stating—and he made this admission in his post-draft news conference—that he was seeking to trade up into the top half of the second round, but no team was prepared to go all the way down to number 61.

The historical data on trading up is pretty settled at this point. Because teams are generally bad—or inconsistent—at evaluating who is the best player available, trading down affords teams more draft capital, and therefore is generally the better strategy. ESPN’s Bill Barnwell published a lengthy-but-informative piece on trading up, if you’re interested in reading more, and this study by Bruin Sports Analytics has a similar scope.

Of course, every NFL fan justifies their own team trading up, arguing that their general manager is different. It’s the Tobias Funke meme: Does it work for those other teams?

“No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but…. but it might work for us.”

Now, I get it. I just admitted that Holmes was one of the best talent evaluators in football. Certainly, I should just trust him to beat the odds with a trade up? First of all, Barnwell’s piece shows that there really isn’t one particular team that is better at beating the trade-up odds. Additionally, Holmes’ track record of trade ups isn’t exactly as stellar as you may think.

  1. In 2021, the Lions dipped into 2022 draft capital (fourth-round pick) and swapped Day 3 capital (got a seventh-rounder (257), lost a fifth-rounder (153)) to select linebacker Derrick Barnes in the fourth round. Overall, this trade seems to be fine, but it’s worth noting that the fourth-round pick they traded away turned out to be the second pick in the fourth round (Pick 107) compared to where they picked Barnes (113). So it essentially cost them Pick 153 and next year’s Pick 107 for Pick 113. Overall, let’s still categorize this as a mild win, since Barnes has essentially worked his way to be a fringe starter.
  2. In 2022, the Lions packaged Picks 32, 34, and 66 for Pick 12 and 46. While the trade value chart was in Detroit’s favor, the selection of Jameson Williams with the 12th pick is still very much in question. Williams missed basically all of his rookie season—as expected—but his 2023 season was mildly disappointing. Though he came on late in the year, his current statline of 25 catches, for 354 yards and two touchdowns can only be viewed as a disappointment thus far. Overall, the jury is still out here, but Williams will need to show significant growth for this to be worth it.
  3. In 2023, the Lions traded up three spots—from 48 to 45—to draft Alabama corner Brian Branch. It only cost the Lions a fifth-rounder to do so, and Branch had a phenomenal rookie season. Overall, this is clearly a win right now and it was a low-cost trade up. Things could change slightly, but given the lost cost, this seems like a pretty sure win.
  4. In 2023, the Lions traded a fourth (122), and two fifths (139, 168) to draft Brodric Martin in the third round (96). Martin was viewed as a developmental prospect, so it’s not surprising nor necessarily disappointing he played just 28 snaps during his rookie season. Overall, this is still very much to be determined, but the additional risk of taking a developmental prospect with an already risky trade up is noteworthy.

We’ve got a clear win, a mild win, and two “TBDs” with both needing to show significant improvement to avoid losses. It’s not a bad track record, but these are certainly Holmes’ most risky moves.

The biggest risk one can take with a trade up, according to Barnwell’s study of the 2011 through 2019 drafts, is digging into future capital in what Barnwell calls the “x+1 deal.” In short, he’s talking about trading a future one-round-higher pick for a current pick. The Lions did this in the 2024 NFL Draft by trading a 2025 third-round pick for a 2024 fourth-round pick to select Giovanni Manu. Here’s what Barnwell’s found:

“I charted 14 deals like this from 2011 through 2019. The team that waited a year and picked up the more valuable pick came away with the best player in the deal 12 times.”

With this troubling history, it’s hard to categorize this particular trade up as anything but a massive risk.

What’s most concerning to me is the increasing rate of which Holmes appears willing to take on these kinds of risk. While I don’t love trading up, doing it in moderation is fine. Doing it four times in one draft is borderline reckless. And, that’s not even taking into account the additional risk of developmental prospects like Martin and Manu. It’s not that Holmes is taking the occasional risk. It’s that he’s topping risk on top of risk on top of risk, and for what reason?

Look at his early drafts. It’s basically an even mix of trade ups and trade downs. He doesn’t take any ridiculous swings, and—believe it or not—he drafted players at positions of high value. The foundation of this team is built off Penei Sewell, Amon-Ra St. Brown, and Aidan Hutchinson—three players at some of the most valuable positions in football. Playing the odds worked for him!

Since then, though, Holmes has gotten increasingly risky, going against years of historical data when it comes to both positional value and trade value, and also taking developmental prospects in the mid-rounds that come with their own high risks.

There are two counterarguments I’m likely to encounter for writing this. One: the Lions’ Super Bowl window is open. Why not take a risk or two to get a high-impact player and get the team over the top? My response to that is a quote from a notable general manager.

“I think when you start getting into that, ‘We’ve got this window, we’ve got this, so we’ve got to pivot,’ that’s when I think you kind of get into a little bit of trouble.”

Yes, that’s Brad Holmes himself, and I happen to very much agree with him there.

The other argument is that the Lions’ roster is in such a good spot that the team can afford to take risks on developmental players and losing future draft capital. Again, I don’t agree here. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that the Lions are in a spot where they can’t afford to miss out on draft picks.

Soon Holmes’ job is going to get much harder. The foundation he’s built is already starting to come with record-breaking contracts, and to counterbalance that, they’ll need a well of young talent on affordable rookie deals. When Jared Goff, Sewell, St. Brown, Hutchinson, and Sam LaPorta are taking up a huge percentage of the cap, will Detroit be regretting playing against the odds when they didn’t have to?

Obviously, we won’t know the answer to those questions for several years now. And most fans probably don’t care about 2027 when the prospect of a Lombardi Trophy is standing right there in front of the franchise right now (and, yes, Brad Holmes is the primary reason the Lions are this close. That shouldn’t be forgotten).

However, Holmes has continually stated that he wants to keep this team competitive for many years to come. It is interesting to ask if the 2024 NFL Draft actually reflects this priority.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *