With five nationally televised games scheduled for the 2012 season, the NFL has recognized the Detroit Lions as having turned the proverbial corner. What remains to be seen is if they can continue moving up the street.
Tom Lewand and the finance department did their part, getting creative with their debits and credits, allowing Detroit to get under the salary cap and keep their young core intact.
Restructuring deals kept the proven talent; it is now up to Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz to thieve undervalued ability.
The Lions have preached “best player available” (BPA), since Mayhew and Schwartz were given the keys to the Lions “War Room” and there is no reason to think the trend will not continue.
But the key to optimizing this philosophy is manipulating the allotted draft picks to create the perfect yin yang combination of BPA and position of need.
Sometimes, this value system requires no movement and warrants only patience to remain in the pre-draft position to reap a worthy position of need.
In Dean Holden’s recent mock, he has the Lions selecting outside linebacker Levonte David from Nebraska.
The slight “Will” linebacker with elite athletic ability is a nearly perfect selection for Detroit at pick No. 54. David is projected somewhere in the mid-50s.
With Justin Durant in the final year of his deal, this pick would be a solid marriage of BPA and need, while providing some financial freedom if Durant requests a huge salary bump.
With Matthew Stafford expected to receive a new mega deal that assuredly will have a baseline above the contract signed by Calvin Johnson a few weeks prior, the Lions must budget wisely, and that starts with getting the most out of this year’s NFL fiesta inside Radio City Music Hall.
Unfortunately, the past two drafts have found the Lions guilty of window shopping and pulling out the ol’ AMEX card to get what they want without having the draft dollars in the bank.
By jumping up the draft board twice to obtain their best RB available, the Lions have given away three draft picks along the way. The selections of Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure have cost this team multiple picks in the heart of the draft; essentially they’re robbing Peter to pay Paul.
It’s similar to purchasing a call option on a stock rather than the stock itself. If the stock goes up or down, you live with the gain or loss. But with a call position, the stock must gain in value or you lose everything.
Having one running back with multiple concussions, another without an NFL carry and a possible suspension looming, combined with three empty draft picks, is not my idea of a positive return on investment.
Do you realize the Lions have had only three picks in rounds three through six in the past two drafts? The middle rounds, where the scouting department truly shows its ability, has been essentially bypassed for the last two years.
Overall, they had 14 natural selections available the past two years, and the Lions have claimed only 11 players, six in 2010 and five in 2011.
Of the five players drafted last year, three have had run-ins with the “po-po” this offseason regarding marijuana. A batting average of .400 for players not having an illegal substance infraction is nothing to write home about.
Granted, these players aren't the only ones that have dated Mary Jane while on an NFL team, I know. But when a player is busted for burning leaves, it’s a red flag and takes recreational use to another level.
It’s no different than the person who received a DUI, yet claims it was the first time he had driven while inebriated.
The miraculous coincidence is unlikely and the reality is the driver probably cruises intoxicated often and likewise the player identifies “4/20” as something other than April 20th.
Instead of heading up the draft board again, to justify the BPA philosophy, the Lions should try putting the golf cart in reverse and attempt to slide back in the draft.
Michael Schottey and his crew gave us a great example of the value that can be obtained by moving back in the draft with a recent Twittersphere mock draft.
Getting four picks in the first 103 selections is a great use of resources, but what I like even more is that this mock gave Detroit two third-round and two fourth-round selections.
Even if you’re not enamored with the actual selections, you should be able to see the intrinsic value of the moves.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated is also on board with the idea of stockpiling draft picks.
King has the Ravens moving up to take linebacker Dont’a Hightower. A true pimp slap to their AFC North rival Steelers, as Pittsburgh holds pick 24 and Hightower would be an instant impact player in Dick Lebeau’s 3-4 scheme.
Jim Schwartz could fill many holes and improve the depth of the roster, by ripping a page out of his old boss’ playbook.
Remember, this team is not merely a player or two away from the Promised Land.
Even though they finished the season 10-6, they were still 0-5 against playoff teams. Let’s not forget how far they’ve come or how far they still need to go.
Detroit does have plenty of star power. Stafford, Johnson and Ndamukong Suh provide Pro Bowl-caliber talent and merchandising sales of Honolulu Blue and Silver gear has never been more brisk.
But what the Lions really need, to continue their ascension in the NFC, are glue guys.
Yes, guys with little fanfare but are quality players that fill a void on the roster or can be the "next man up" with little drop-off in performance when the inevitable injury bug attacks.
They both have three or four superstars, led by a franchise quarterback, but the rosters are loaded with mid-round talent that fits their individual systems.
Nobody should be popping the Cristal or firing up the Cohibas just yet, Detroit has seen winning seasons before.
The Lions do appear poised to break the 18-year drought of back-to-back winning seasons in 2012 and perhaps get their first playoff victory since Eric Kramer was under center. But to continue the improvement of this team, it will need to score, and score often, via the draft.
The best way to go about this is not by offering additional picks to move up in the draft, but rather staying put or receiving extra picks from willing trading partners targeting specific players.
If the Lions can execute this plan and find value at positions of need in the middle rounds, their rise to the top of the NFC will not be stunted.