By Ashley Dunkak
CBS DETROIT – Coming off a season in which the team dropped six of its last seven games and fell from first place in the weak NFC North to completely out of playoff contention, the Detroit Lions expect much better this season, and they are counting on new head coach Jim Caldwell to make the difference.
“I think part of it is where we are as a football team, where our players are in their careers, and the type of head coach we brought in,” Lions president Tom Lewand told reporters at the MGM Grand in Detroit on Monday, according to ProFootballTalk. “We didn’t bring in a head coach this time who’s becoming a head coach for the first time and learning as he goes. There’s no adjustment period for him in terms of being a head coach, there’s no adjustment period for him in terms of the expectations that he had for his staff and how he’s going to build his staff. He knows what he’s looking for.
“He’s been to the Super Bowl as a head coach,” Lewand continued. “He’s been to the Super Bowl twice as a top assistant. So he knows what it is he’s looking for, he knows how he wants to build his football team and wants to do it right now.”
The team president made it clear that sooner rather than later is the goal, and the Lions are intent on capitalizing on the quickly closing window of time in which aging superstar Calvin Johnson, pending free agent Ndamukong Suh and talented but sometimes underachieving quarterback Matthew Stafford are still together and near their peaks.
“It’s a year of ‘Let’s go right now,’” Lewand said. “I think you heard Jim say it in his introductory press conference, we heard it in his interviews, you hear it from our players. There’s no five-year plans here.”
Many have worried this offseason that the lack of Suh signing a new deal would hamstring the Lions in free agency and stunt the team’s progress. Suh’s 2014 cap hit of $22.4 million is the second highest in the NFL, and restructuring his deal could free up some money to sign other free agents. Suh took a considerable amount of time to hire a new agent this offseason, leaving little time for his representatives to negotiate with the team before free agency began.
While the length of the process of re-signing Suh has aggravated some fans, Lewand said Monday that doing a new deal with Suh was not a crucial part of the offseason plan.
“It’s not been frustrating,” Lewand told reporters at the same event, according to ESPN. “We said it months ago. We didn’t have a deal with [quarterback] Matthew Stafford done until later in the summer. The timing of the Suh deal was never the factor when it came to planning for free agency.”
Lewand maintained that extending Suh’s contract would not have given the team much more money with which to work. Plus, no matter how the Lions shift Suh’s payments around, they still have to pay him eventually, and that amount will still limit the team’s ability to sign more free agents.
“If you only look at a guy’s cap number and you say that all of a sudden that creates a lot more room to sign free agents, it really doesn’t because then you’re signing new players and you have to fit all those guys into  and  as well,” Lewand said. “So you have maybe a lower cap number for a particular player in one year but it means, almost by definition that it’s going to be a higher number in future years so you have to be able to fit all of those dollars in a certain time frame.
“That’s why it’s not that linear,” he added.
Detroit’s free agency moves so far have included signing Lions Joique Bell and Brandon Pettigrew and bringing in wide receiver Golden Tate from the Seattle Seahawks and defensive end Darryl Tapp of the Washington Redskins. Tate will fill a void left by No. 2 wide receiver Nate Burleson, whom the Lions released, and Tapp will likely fill the role of Willie Young, who left the Lions for a free-agent deal with the Chicago Bears.
Among the positions the Lions still need to fill are safety and backup quarterback.