Detroit Lions 2012: 3 Reasons Why Re-Signing Jeff Backus Was a Horrible Move
The Detroit Lions front office said the main focus of free agency was to bring back their own personnel. General manager Martin Mayhew was involved in heavy negotiations with all his free agents, including veteran left tackle Jeff Backus.
Looking towards winning right now and in the future, it was imperative for the Lions to bring back key players like Stephen Tulloch and Cliff Avril. Jeff Backus shouldn't have been on that priority list.
Without Backus, the Lions have very little quality depth at left tackle. That being said, Detroit needed to move in an opposite direction without the lifelong Lion on the depth chart.
Here are three reasons why resigning Jeff Backus was a major mistake by the Detroit Lions.
1. No Match vs. Competition
In today's NFL, the most important position on the field is the quarterback. The second most important is the left tackle—the quarterback's main blindside protection.
Since Matthew Stafford's reign as the Lions' franchise quarterback, Jeff Backus has been anything less than reliable in protecting Stafford.
Backus is a decent blocker when running the football. However, the Lions being a pass-first offense with a running back core recovering from injuries, it's critical for the Lions to have a legitimate left tackle.
The NFC North is loaded with elite pass-rushers. Chicago Bear Julius Peppers, Green Bay Packer Clay Matthews, and Minnesota Viking Jared Allen have all been nightmares for Backus.
Allen racked up six sacks on Stafford last season, and everybody recalls the 2010 Week 1 shoulder shot Peppers put on Stafford. With Backus not getting any younger at 34, he's not getting any better, while their division rivals are currently in their prime.
The San Fransisco 49ers also had a chance to challenge Backus in Week 5 of last season. The offensive line surrendered five sacks, but the main offenders were Aldon Smith with two sacks and Jason Smith with 1.5.
The duo rotated along the line and found the most success when lining up in front of Backus. Stafford never found a comfortable rhythm, and he spent way too much time running from pressure or getting hit.
In 2010, the Lions traded for left guard Rob Sims to take pressure off Backus on the left side. Sims has easily been the most consistent linemen and has made a positive impact on the overall line play. Despite his help, Backus continues to struggle, especially against elite talent.
In fairness, many other teams struggled to contain these premier rushers like Backus. But the logical thought is to upgrade at the position, especially considering how bad he struggled. Bringing back an aging regressing tackle for another two years will only slow down the Lions' progression.
2. Lions/Backus on Different Paths
Backus returning to Detroit seemed unlikely as the Lions expressed interest in free-agent tackle Marcus McNeill. McNeill was brought in for a visit with the Lions saying he'd "love to come play tackle for Detroit."
After all the speculation of signing McNeill, Mayhew pulled a pump-fake and signed Backus to a two-year deal worth $10 million.
There was plenty of negative uproar from Lions fans about the re-signing of Backus—and for good reason. Lions fans have spent too many years watching their quarterback run to escape pressure because of a blown assignment from Backus.
In his 11-year career, Backus has never missed a single start for the Lions. However, he's definitely overstayed his welcome with this team. Playing at 34 years old, Backus is playing way past his prime.
Backus would be best used as a rotational depth player on a veteran team, not trying to be a franchise left tackle for a budding team attempting to turn the corner.
The Lions are on the edge of becoming a special team, but that transition had to be made without Backus. Detroit is entering a stage with this team where they need to have building blocks at about every position, and Backus is not that.
Mayhew would have been better off gambling on Marcus McNeill coming off his injury instead of derailing progress by re-signing Backus. A change was needed, but the Lions settled for the same route of below-average football from Backus.
3. Must Look Toward the Future
Now that Backus is re-signed for two more years, that doesn't make the Lions' offensive line a finished product. It's without a doubt still a major concern and must be addressed through the draft.
The Jason Fox project has backfired quite a bit for the Lions. Fox's progression as an NFL pro has been paused due to injuries since being drafted in the fourth round by Detroit in 2010. This upcoming season will be a big test for Fox in his return to the team.
To the Lions' credit, re-signing Backus does help their depth, but the Lions still need help on the line. The Lions could take a prospect like Stanford tackle Jonathan Martin and groom him under Backus. It's time for Detroit to begin thinking of the future of the offensive line.
Backus has struggled a great deal during his 11-year run with the Lions, and that will only continue with him playing on his last leg. His best days are far behind him, and the Lions front office needs to understand that. It's time for the Detroit Lions to move in a different direction without Backus.