The Detroit Lions are at one of the lowest points in the franchise's sad history. That seems hyperbolic, but it isn't. They have wasted Matthew Stafford's borderline Hall of Fame career much as they wasted Barry Sanders and Calvin Johnson and how they'll likely waste the next great who is enlisted into Motor City service is on the mind.
Dan Campbell has been given a pair of coveralls and a dipping sauce for his beloved kneecaps. His enthusiasm will be infectious but, barring a sudden miracle, will stand in stark contrast to a frustrating rebuild. The Lions job was among the least attractive because the cupboard is bare, and fixing that problem overnight with the seventh pick in this year's draft is a pipe dream.
And yet there is a dream scenario within grasp.
In his first mock draft, ESPN's Mel Kiper has the franchise selecting Justin Fields, play-making extraordinaire out of Ohio State. If this somehow comes to pass, it will be the smartest swing the Lions have taken since falling into Stafford with the No. 1 overall selection in 2009. It's a possibility that I didn't even entertain throughout the season, so thorough was Fields' dominance. It hardly seemed possible he'd fall past the second pick.
And yet, in perusing various mocks published on the Web, he's available in most come No. 7 as a result of the late ascension of BYU's Zach Wilson. Things could really fall into place here.
Fields has the measurables. He has the intangibles. He has a history of being patient and overcoming challenges. He has experience carrying the weight of a program on his shoulders. He has learned to overcome disappointment and play through pain.
Put more simply: he has the goods. He's a force-of-will guy with the steely resolve needed to grit his teeth for a few years, acclimate himself to the league, and then lead a team into contention.
This is the path forward. Perhaps the only path forward. A lesser rental will not do the job or build anything long-term. Trading for someone of Drew Lock's ceiling or giving Ryan Fitzpatrick a place to finish his career isn't the course of action. It is time for the Lions to build around a young, dynamic signal-caller and the only answer, for now, is Fields.
Conjuring up any type of optimism to stand even adjacent to this team is a fool's errand. But if Fields puts a blue and silver hat on come draft night, it will feel like hope and a lottery ticket to fans desperate to watch any flower bloom, even if it takes awhile.
And yes, the first two seasons will be vexing and painful and largely a fait accompli as offensive weapons are virtually non-existent headed into next fall. Fields could play out of his mind and still stumble to a 1-15 record. It's important to remember that such a debut isn't a death sentence. That sometimes it builds character. Ask Troy Aikman.
It isn't fair to ask Fields to be a savior. Yet it's inhuman for a fanbase to wander in the wilderness for so long.
Truth and time may prove the folly of giving him the reins. But I don't think another such opportunity is going to come around. This is the path forward, if the fates allow. And if not, it'll be another thing the Lions grow to rue as they suffer without so much a muffled roar.