Best Addition: Stephen Tulloch, LB (from Tennessee Titans)
I spent the majority of the 2011 offseason chastising anyone who thought the Lions would sign Stephen Tulloch.
I will own up to it here and now, because the Lions signed him to a one-year deal, and I got a lesson in humility.
Tulloch was a big-name free agent, likely the best interior linebacker on the market, and Martin Mayhew had not made a habit of signing top-tier players. It seemed out-of-character for him.
But Tulloch seemingly had a difficult time bringing in the kind of contract he was looking for, so he ended up in Detroit on a one-year contract, seemingly to make sure his stock stayed high.
This represents a seismic change in the way the Lions were perceived in free agency. Much of the Lions' 2011 free-agent class chose the Lions because they saw latent potential and the opportunity to have a good contract year.
In other words, the Lions were set up well enough (particularly along the defensive front) to make players like Tulloch and Eric Wright look good. One year later, Tulloch led the Lions in tackles, and Wright is a starting-quality cornerback coming off a fine year.
Who's up in 2012?
Worst Addition: Erik Coleman, SS (from Atlanta Falcons)
Well, not everybody piggybacked the Lions defense to great personal gains.
Admittedly, Erik Coleman was only supposed to be a quality depth player behind Louis Delmas and Amari Spievey, maybe pushing Spievey for the starting role if he stumbled.
Instead, Coleman played in four games, notched two tackles and went down for the year.
And later in the season, when the Lions actually needed that depth, they were forced to turn to special teamer John Wendling and Bears castoff Chris Harris.
Wendling is an All-Pro-caliber special teamer, but shouldn't be allowed within miles of an actual functioning defense.
Harris will be best remembered this season for getting repeatedly burned against the Packers and tacking several millions of dollars onto Matt Flynn's eventual free-agent deal.
So the intent behind the Coleman signing was solid, but the results were painfully bad.
Impact Trade: Nixed Jerome Harrison/Ronnie Brown Trade
Sometimes "impact" extends beyond the football field. And sometimes a lockout handcuffs a team's ability to make any other notable trades.
This falls under both.
By now, you've all heard the story about how the Lions tried to trade Jerome Harrison back to the Eagles in exchange for veteran Ronnie Brown and how that trade was axed because of doctors finding a brain tumor in his ensuing physical.
Harrison underwent surgery for the tumor, which could have become fatal if not discovered as soon as it was.
To the Lions, on paper, all it meant was a cancellation of a trade and yet another running back hitting injured reserve.
But try making the argument to Harrison himself that this trade didn't have a huge impact.
And if you want to get really Grinchy in terms of impact for the Lions, look at it this way.
If Harrison doesn't get traded, he doesn't hit IR. If he doesn't hit IR, the Lions are a little less thin at running back. If the Lions are a little less thin at running back, they don't put a call in to the unemployed Kevin Smith, who was instrumental in the stretch run and could turn out to be the best mistake the Lions ever undid.
Addition by Subtraction: Jerome Felton, FB
There's nothing wrong with Jerome Felton as a fullback.
I mean, if you're into fullbacks, that is. But if you're an NFL team in 2011, chances are the passing game is too important to waste on a blocker for your backfield.
That's where the Lions found themselves, and while the power running game may have suffered for it, the passing game seems to be just fine.
The current trend in the league is to privilege speed over power on offense, which means the true fullback is a dying breed, with most teams opting for an "H-back" (tight-end/fullback hybrid) to keep versatility and focus on the passing game.
The Lions determined that Will Heller could step into that H-back role last season and opted to save themselves a roster spot by cutting Felton.
Felton reunited with former teammates Dan Orlovsky and Ernie Sims in Indianapolis, and it was very nearly too familiar, as the Colts came within a few weeks of repeating the Lions' 0-16 season. That's not Felton's fault, nor is it Sims' or Orlovsky's, but they certainly didn't help anything.