A year later, not much has changed.
"I think we're still in that situation in a lot of areas," Schwartz said after going 2-14 in his first season as coach. "There aren't many positions on this team that we can just sort of step back and say, 'Hey, we're good the way we are.' That's the facts of life. That's where we are."
Years of bad drafting by former president Matt Millen left the roster severely lacking. Here's a stunning stat: Of the 39 players Millen drafted from 2002-06, only one was on the active roster in '09: linebacker Ernie Sims.
General manager Martin Mayhew has explored every avenue since he took over officially at the end of the 2008 season, from the draft, to free agency, to trades, to waiver claims. The Lions turned over about half the roster entering the '09 season and kept turning it over week after week.
Still, much work remains.
Asked for his single biggest priority entering the off-season, Schwartz said simply: "Improve the talent level of the team." Later, he said: "We've still got a lot of ways to go, not only with starting talent, but also with depth on this team."
That about covers it.
Before you can identify what the Lions need, you must identify what they don't need.
The Lions feel they drafted well in 2009, finding a franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford, a complete tight end in Brandon Pettigrew, a leader for the defense in safety Louis Delmas, plus promising players like linebacker DeAndre Levy and defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
They have more faith in some players than the public does, such as center Dominic Raiola and left tackle Jeff Backus. Schwartz said Backus had an excellent season and even deserved some votes for the Pro Bowl.
"I think there are some players that we feel strongly about that were here in the past, and there's other guys that we feel strongly about that we acquired last year, particularly in the draft," Schwartz said. "I think that there are some areas that you look at and you say, 'OK, we just need to make more good decisions like that.'
"Is there going to be turnover? Yeah, there's going to be turnover. How much? It's too early to tell. But there will be significant turnover from this year to next, sure."
The Lions are closer to respectability on offense than they are on defense, at least in terms of numbers. Still, they need to surround Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson with a much stronger supporting cast to make the most out of their best playmakers. They need help at wide receiver, running back and left guard.
The defense, the NFL's worst for the third year in a row, needs help at every level. Linebacker is in better shape than the defensive line or the secondary, but even there, Larry Foote is an unrestricted free agent, and the Lions must decide whether Julian Peterson is worth a $7.5 million salary next season.
One thing the Lions won't do is look for a quick fix.
"We can't panic," Schwartz said. "We can't go for immediate gratification, because immediate gratification might be ... It's a short-term thing. It might do well for one year, and everybody feels good. 'Oh, wow. This thing's turned around. We did this.' But in the long run, it was counterproductive and you're back where you were."
Schwartz went back to what he, Mayhew and team president Tom Lewand said about a year ago. They need to make good decisions, build through the draft and supplement through free agency.
"If you want to have a good franchise, if you want to be a consistent team from year to year, you have to draft well," Schwartz said. "You have to keep stacking good young players behind good young players and you have to do that over a period of time. That's not an overnight thing."
- The Lions are expected to bring back the vast majority of the coaching staff, if not all of it. The biggest question mark is special teams coordinator Stan Kwan, a holdover from the previous staff whose unit struggled this season.
Kwan said he didn't know what would happen. Schwartz was noncommittal when asked if he would bring back his staff intact.
"There are always changes in the NFL," Schwartz said. "I don't want to lock into one way or the other because there are some things that happen for a lot of different reasons. That's part of the evaluation."
- Except for quarterback, which Schwartz considers the most important position on the team, Schwartz doesn't weight one position or area more than another. The Lions need help just about everywhere else, anyway. "You can look around the NFL and see teams that are really a strong running team and don't necessarily have an explosive pass team, or really a good run defense but don't have a really good pass defense, things like that," Schwartz said. "That's not us. We didn't have anything this year that we can hang our hat on and we could say, 'Hey, look, we're really strong in stopping the run, we just need to improve our coverage,' or, 'We're really strong in running the ball. We just need to improve some skill players.' That wasn't us this year."
- Don't forget depth. As much as the Lions need starters, they need role players. "I've been a part of teams that say, 'Hey, if we stay healthy, we're a playoff team,' and that's not a good strategy in the NFL," Schwartz said. "You need to be able to say, 'When we get injured, we're a playoff team.' ... We had injuries just like everybody else has had, but we didn't have enough depth to be able to handle those. Our depth showed up with injuries and our depth showed up in second half of games."
- Schwartz denied that not looking for instant gratification was a built-in excuse for low expectations. "There's no excuse, and there's no low expectations," Schwartz said. "I disagree 100 percent with that. I am not setting the bar low at all. I mean, I'm very disappointed to be 2-14, and there are no apologies, there's no excuse. We're a 2-14 football team. What I'm saying is that we need to make good decisions, and sometimes those decisions aren't made for what happens in the next month or in the next six months, or things like that."
Schwartz also denied he was saying the Lions need to take it slow. "My words were not that we have to do it slow," Schwartz said. "My words were that we have to do the right thing, that we have to make good decisions. We have to keep making progress. Not that we have to get immediate gratification. Like I said, that can be a little bit of a Chinese finger trap. The harder you pull on that, the tighter it gets."
- How can Schwartz improve as a coach? "Keep my blood pressure down maybe a little bit," Schwartz said. "I take pride in being even-keeled. I take pride in being the same way whether we win or lose. There have been some Mondays where obviously my temper was little bit shorter than others, and there are times that I've showed my displeasure with certain things that have happened on the field and things like that. But I'd like to be that head coach that is the same whether we're winning or losing, the same whether we're 10-1 or 1-10. I wasn't that way this year, but it was me. I'll work on it."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Next the Lions must continue to clear out unproductive players. Several veterans who started this season are not expected to return, most notably quarterback Daunte Culpepper, wide receivers Bryant Johnson and Dennis Northcutt and defensive backs Anthony Henry, Phillip Buchanon and Marvin White.
Some key decisions need to be made. The most interesting ones are at linebacker, where the Lions have a promising rookie in DeAndre Levy. Veteran middle linebacker Larry Foote, a Detroit native, has said he wants to return but is an unrestricted free agent. Veteran outside linebacker Julian Peterson is signed but due $7.5 million in salary next season.
After that, the Lions need to try to find upgrades in free agency and the draft, likely kicking off their search by coaching the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
Defensive line: The Lions need not only a run stopper in the middle but a consistent pass rusher on the edge.
Defensive back: Except for free safety Louis Delmas, the Lions have no building blocks on the back end.
Running back: Kevin Smith wasn't explosive before he tore his ACL. The Lions need a running game to support quarterback Matthew Stafford, help wide receiver Calvin Johnson get open and keep their defense off the field.
- QB Matthew Stafford had clean-up knee surgery, and his separated shoulder needs only rest. He expects to be 100 percent by the start of the off-season conditioning program in March.
- RB Kevin Smith had his torn ACL repaired. He has walked around without crutches -- against doctors' orders, though. He has not put a timetable on his return but could miss the entire off-season program.
- TE Brandon Pettigrew could miss the entire off-season program after having a torn ACL repaired.
- G Stephen Peterman is recovering from surgery to repair torn ankle ligaments. He expects to be ready for the off-season conditioning program.
- S Daniel Bullocks expects to start running in March after having micro-fracture knee surgery in August.