DETROIT – Detroit Lions' president Tom Lewand joined Local 4's Flashpoint on Sunday morning to talk about his expectations for the upcoming season. The Lions, coming off an 11-5 season in which they lost to Dallas in the Wildcard Round of the playoffs, open the 2015-16 campaign Sunday in San Diego.
Devin Scillian asked Lewand about the strange officiating decision in the Lions' playoff game in Dallas, when officials decided to pick up a flag that was thrown against a Cowboys defender for pass interference. The overturned call resulted in a Lions punt and the Cowboys eventually scored a touchdown to beat the Lions 24-20.
"No, it's done," Lewand said. "It's behind us. I think what we do use is the things that we did well last year and we try to build on those. We also take a critical look at the things we didn't do well last year and try to improve on those. That's been the focus, really, for the offseason and training camp."
He said the Lions' turnover ratio from last season is one of the strengths the team is hoping to build on. But there were things the team didn't do well that have to chance.
"Things like running the ball, getting some more big plays on offense, some of the things we can do better have been the focus, not what happened in Dallas at the end of the season," he said.
One of the biggest differences in this year's team will be the absence of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who left Detroit for a mega deal with the Miami Dolphins.
Lewand was asked about what went wrong during negotiations with Suh before his departure. Lewand had said there was a "very, very good chance" that the Lions would resign Suh during an interview on Flashpoint last season.
"He had a lot invested here and I really thought he wanted to stay here," Lewand said. "Particularly when we were willing to make him the highest paid defensive player in the league, which we were. And he didn't want to stay, so he made a decision to go to Miami and that was his right to do. We had a limitation on what we thought was wise in terms of the magnitude of the investment in him."
Lewand said the Lions didn't wait too long to make a deal with Suh. In his experience dealing with players and negotiating contracts, if both sides want to get a deal done, they get it done.
"If one side doesn't want to get a deal done, for whatever reason, it doesn't happen," Lewand said. "He elected to go to Miami. He thought there were some things that were to his advantage, in addition to the financial aspect of it, and that's his choice and we're comfortable where we are."
He said the Lions are comfortable with newly-acquired nose tackle Haloti Ngata and the defense as a whole. He said they've moved on and the players are looking forward to San Diego.
Lewand talked about injuries to players like DeAndre Levy, who will miss the opening game against the Chargers, and Ngata, who missed the entire preseason. He said nobody is going to cry for an NFL team because everyone battles through injuries and that the Lions are taking the "next man up" philosophy.
Ngata has been cleared to play Sunday, but Levy, defensive lineman Caraun Reid and right guard Larry Warford are expected to miss the season opener.
Devin asked Lewand about the Lions' glaring struggles in the 2nd round of the NFL draft, which has seen Detroit draft players like Titus Young, Jahvid Best and Ryan Broyles over the past few year. Many of the problems that ended their careers, like off-field issues for Young and concussions for Best, were foreseeable problems before they were selected.
Lewand said Young is a person with a lot of problems and mental issues. Young's NFL career came to a screeching halt after several arrests and battles with the law. But he said the Lions had no way to know that injuries would be the downfall of Best and Broyles. It looked like Broyles, especially, was off to a great NFL career before he hurt his Achilles heel and ACL, he said.
It's unclear how much of an impact the most recent draft class will have for the Lions this season.
"Laken (Tomlinson) will be up there today, and he'll be starting and I think you'll see his continued development," Lewand said of this year's top pick. "I think we've got some really significant contributions on the way from our 2nd round draft pick, Ameer Abdullah, who had a great training camp. I'm excited about what our young guys are doing, even more excited that they're in a veteran locker room with a lot of leadership, so they're learning how to do it the right way."
None of the Lions' 2015 draft picks are expected to start for the team in San Diego, though Tomlinson and Abdullah, the first two picks, will play a role.
On the topic of the New England Patriots and the reemergence of the Spygate scandal earlier this week, Lewand said that it's difficult to point the finger at one single team as a lawbreaker in the league. He said the league has to repair the relationship with the players and extend an olive branch instead of a battering ram. The NFL can't take its relationship with fans for granted and needs to return the focus to the on-field product instead of the off-field issues, he said.
New England kicked off the NFL season with a win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night. Seven more games will begin Sunday at 1 p.m., with the Lions scheduled kickoff in San Diego at 4:05 p.m.