After 'dysfunction' and rough year, young Lions players trying to figure out how to help

At 27, Taylor Decker already is one of the veterans young Lions players look up to and he is willing to speak his mind to help improve the team. Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- There are few Detroit Lions players who know they’ll be around for the future. This is life when there’s a regime change in process, when a new coach and a new general manager will be taking over.

The Lions have seen it often over the past 20-plus years, although most of the players in the organization now haven’t quite experienced it. There is one player, though, who knows he’ll be around for a while, and he’s trying to make a difference.

Left tackle Taylor Decker signed a four-year contract extension just before the start of the season, tying him to the franchise for longer than almost any other player.

He’s been open about his long-term wishes, too. He wants to stay with the Lions his entire career. So Decker, on Monday, said he wanted to do something about it before he left for the offseason. That meant Decker approaching Lions CEO Rod Wood to offer some suggestions.

“I’m not going to overstep, but I’m going to go and have conversations. Probably in an hour or two I’m going to go see if Rod is available, and I’m going to go and talk to Rod,” Decker said. “Just give my opinion, because I am invested in this team, and there are people that I, if it were up to me, I would want to keep.

“That’s not my decision to make, but over the past five years I felt like I put a lot into this organization and given what I can. So if I can just go put a word in for a player or a coach, I’ll do it.”

Decker knows the decisions aren’t up to him. But he’s one of the few players the Lions have who figure to be part of any rebuilding process -- short- or long-term. At age 27, he’s become a veteran on the team and a captain.

So his voice carries meaning within the locker room. He hopes management is willing to hear him out. And yes, he said he would advocate for keeping quarterback Matthew Stafford, among other things.

“I have some perspective on day-to-day and meetings, how certain things are ran and what things are working, because it’s really easy to say, ‘Oh, we’ll just go in and blow up everything,’" Decker said. “But I think there are some pieces that are working well and could continue to work well ... Obviously we know there’s going to be a lot of change, but if something is working well, I think you should take a look at it and see if it’s worth keeping around.”

Likewise, Lions rookie cornerback Jeff Okudah, who spent the last part of the season on injured reserve following groin surgery, said he felt there was dysfunction -- a word he used multiple times -- within the organization and that there wasn’t proper alignment with players and coaches. He also felt like there was a lack of transparency in certain aspects of the organization. For him, a strong organization has “no hidden agendas, just everyone being transparent the whole time, and I think that when you have an organization that’s run on that premise, I think that you have a solid organization.”

He pointed to the seamless transition at Ohio State from Urban Meyer to Ryan Day as how things can be changed while keeping or instituting success.

To him, the first thing he would want to see with the Lions is a coach who can be transparent and in alignment with the players.

“[It's good] whenever you can get a coach, coaches that are kind of with the players,” Okudah said. “Not saying that in the past they haven’t been with the players, but when you have a coach like that, where the players kind of feel like this guy’s [going to] war with us every single time and that we’re in this together.

“I think that you have a team that’s willing to play for each other no matter the circumstances, no matter if you’re up 40 or down 40. They are going to play until the end. So I think just getting everyone on the same page, same goal, that would pay us great dividends going forward.”

Okudah said whoever the new staff is, the first thing he believes the players will try to do is align themselves together with the staff to try and build chemistry within the organization.

Other players seemed open to this, too. Defensive end Trey Flowers, another player whose long-term future appears to be in Detroit, said he would offer his opinions to Wood, owner Sheila Ford Hamp or advisor Chris Spielman if they asked him.

Flowers believes Detroit could contend in 2021 -- in part because any team can contend any year.

“It’s not a long process,” Flowers said. “We were close in a lot of games, even thinking back to last year, so it’s only a few plays here or there to where that isn’t our last game of the season ... We have to show this city, show this organization, us as players we have to show up. We can say we were this close or that close or we could’ve been, but I know at this point a lot of people in this whole city and in the whole state of Michigan is tired of just hearing people talk and people predicting and expecting and all throughout the offseason. Now we just have got to show.”