Well the Lions did it. They tried hard to avoid the inevitable, but Green Bay finished the final chapter in Detroit’s winless saga. Since then, Martin Mayhew has been given the GM position, and Tom Lewand has taken on the team president role. So, how do these two clean up one of the biggest messes in pro-sports history?
First comes the choice of a new coach. Obviously, the man’s last name has to start with M, as is evident by the last 6 men to lead the team, Mayhew, Millen, Marinelli, Mariucci, Mornhinweg and Moeller. So, which M will get to lead the team next season? Perhaps Ron Meeks? On the serious side, the Lions need a disciplinarian, and someone with a track record.
This is not the team that needs a hot shot coordinator or college coach to take the reins; they need a proven NFL head coach. Good for them, there are a few on the market, including Bill Cowher, Marty Schottenheimer, and the newly jobless Mike Shanahan. I’m sure that Cowher will not make the trip to Detroit. I think picking Schottenheimer to pick up the pieces would be great for Detroit, and hey, at least Marty starts with an M, right?
Now to the real issue, the players. Time to take a drastic look at the roster, and who deserves to be on this roster come June. On the offensive side, there are currently three untouchables, that’s it.
Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith and Dominic Raiola are the only three offensive players who should be guaranteed a roster spot for next season. Of course, there are others that they’ll need to build around, but those three are the current core.
Last year’s first round pick, tackle Gosder Cherilus, has shown improvement throughout the season, but may be more effective switching to guard. Jeff Backus has been the rock at the other tackle position for 8 years, but is an expert at taking a penalty at the wrong time, or allowing his opponent a way to the QB at the wrong time.
Nevertheless, if Cherilus takes a move to inside, Backus will continue to play his position. The Lions do not have a playmaker at tight end, but have several role players who do the job well. It will be up to the new coaching regime regarding that position. At receiver, Shaun McDonald makes a good complement to Johnson, and Furrey, Standeford and Middleton are good, but competition will certainly not hurt them.
The scene on defense looks even worse, there are no untouchables. But there is some young talent to build around, including Ernie Sims and Daniel Bullocks, as well as rookies Cliff Avril and Jordan Dizon, who was good enough to wear the defensive radio helmet all season long. Besides those four, there are a few others. Leigh Bodden, acquired from Cleveland in the Shaun Rogers trade is a good corner, and DeWayne White is a good end when he has help on the line.
Some young talent is now in the put up or get out of town category, guys such as Ikaika Alama-Francis, Shaun Cody, Stanley Wilson and Paris Lenon just to name some.
First, let’s pinpoint the Lions’ biggest needs, since there is basically a need everywhere and we need to narrow it down some. One of the biggest needs is at quarterback. Jon Kitna has one year remaining on his contract, and he is good to keep around, especially in a mentoring role, but who will he get to mentor?
Dan Orlovsky has put up some fairly decent numbers, but in many cases he has simply been rescued by Calvin Johnson. In a game I went to against Jacksonville, Drew Stanton saw a lot of playing time, and led the team on a TD drive in the fourth quarter.
Let me just say though that he does not need to see any more playing time in my opinion, as his receivers, namely Calvin and Middleton rescued him on two horribly thrown passes. The Lions are certainly not going to get far featuring Daunte Culpepper, and Drew Henson is worse than all of them.
Another area of need is the gaping hole left in the middle of the defense when Rodgers was shipped out of town. Cory Redding is a good tackle, but he misses Shaun more than anybody, and the rest of the guys on the roster are too small to take on the true nose-tackle job, though I won’t write off Andre Fluellen yet.
And of course the biggest need year in and year out is on the offensive line. Manny Ramirez, George Foster and Stephen Peterman should already be on the bus leaving town, and I’ve already mentioned the issues with Backus and Cherilus.
So first off, what can the Lions do in free agency? Martin Mayhew has already declared, as he should, that the team will be built through the draft, but picking up just the right free agents is crucial in the development of a rising team.
One name sticks out, but he will also stick out on about 38 other teams’ want list, and that is the big man in Nashville, Albert Haynesworth. If the Lions stick Haynesworth in the middle of that line, you will immediately see better play out of Redding, and White and Avril could both be good for 7-12 sacks. Another place the Lions are lacking is at the fullback position; they don’t have punishing blocker that opens lanes for Smith. Heath Evans may be just the right guy to bring into the fold.
On the offensive line, guys like Mark Tauscher and Jordan Gross are probably too pricy for the Lions at the moment, but a Khalif Barnes could prove vital in the advancement of the line. Are the Lions happy with Rudi Johnson backing up Smith, or might they try to sign a younger player to share the time in the backfield? Defensively, beyond the DT spot, the Lions can use the most help in the secondary, and a veteran corner or two (Chris Gamble, Dunta Robinson) may be a good investment.
But now on to the real meat of the Lions’ off-season, the Draft. Again, the biggest needs are on the offensive and defensive lines, at quarterback and in the secondary. The Lions own the first pick, obviously, the 20th from Dallas, and 5 total picks in the first three rounds.
I believe that if Sam Bradford declares, he will prove through the workouts and the combine that he is indeed worthy of being the top player selected in the draft. I don’t believe any other quarterback will be able to claim that. That will put the Lions in a dilemma, because at #1, they have their pick of offensive tackles, at #20, there may not be any left, despite the big run on tackles last year.
But can they really pass on Bradford? This is a decision that could haunt the team for many years to come. This next statement may become obsolete within a week, but I think Bradford will declare for the draft, and I believe the Lions will not pass up on him. Ok, so the #1 pick is out of the way, and it brings no relief to the offensive line. What about at #20?
Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Jason Smith and Eugene Monroe will all be off the board by then. But the Lions could still end up with the steal of the draft at this point. Guards are almost never taken this high in the draft, and even last year Brandon Albert didn’t rise up the draft boards until teams started to project him at tackle. Perhaps the best guard to enter the draft in years, Duke Robinson, another Sooner, may just be available, and if he is, the Lions should immediately pounce on him, as I believe he may end up being the prized jewel of the 2009 draft class.
Then, a mere 13 picks later, they draft again. And again, they would be very lucky here to draft Boston College defensive tackle B.J. Raji, who could slip out of the first round and right into Detroit’s hands. Of course, he may also rise up the draft boards, and the Lions will have to consider him at #20, but I believe he will be available for the team to take in the 2ndround.
Then they get to relax until Sunday, where they will again have two picks in the third round. While many might feel that the Lions are taking their tackle 63 picks too late, Detroit will be very happy with the acquisition of Kent State tackle Augustus Parrish. One more pick in the third round, and it is again a pick acquired from Dallas in the Roy Williams trade.
If Detroit cannot retain free agent receiver Shaun McDonald, this may be the place to look for a complement to Johnson. This could also be the place to look for a runner to share the backfield with Smith, or a Tight End, or even a Fullback. Defensively, as has been mentioned, Cornerback would be highest on the list.
So, with the most pressing needs addressed, the Lions take the offensive best player on the board, which may just be Florida Tight End Cornelius Ingram. So to recap, the Lions draft will look like this,
First round – Sam Bradford, QB and Duke Robinson, G, both of Oklahoma
Second round – B.J. Raji, DT, Boston College
Third round – Augustus Parrish, OT, Kent State and Cornelius Ingram, TE, Florida
With the right coach, a little luck in free agency, and these rookie additions, the Lions will be well on their way to at least some respectability.