There are more than a few Lions fans who were hoping that Detroit would sign a big name free-agent cornerback before the draft. Many of these same fans have expressed disappointment that Detroit didn’t use their first two picks in the 2012 draft to beef up their secondary.
Some long-suffering Lions fans—excited that their favorite team finally made it to the playoffs last season after an 11 year drought—actively campaigned on behalf of a “draft for need” strategy to improve the team’s record of success in 2012.
The problem with this approach is that drafting players who might be marginal upgrades at positions of need deplete your pipeline of high-quality talent at other positions.
Abandoning their “draft the most talented player available who fits our scheme” philosophy and drafting for need doesn’t guarantee the Lions a shot at the next Super Bowl and does potentially weaken their prospects for becoming consistent playoff contenders.
Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz were hired to build a franchise from the base up that would keep the Lions “window of opportunity” open for a very long time. They succeeded in going from two wins, to six wins, to 10 wins in three short years, proving that their talent acquisition strategy works.
Teams like the Jets have a “win now at any cost” mentality. Over the last several years, they traded lots of future draft picks to acquire players at positions of need (they ended up with only three draft picks in 2009 and four in 2010).
The Jets moved up from No. 17 to No. 5 at great expense to draft Mark Sanchez the year the Lions drafted Matt Stafford. And they robbed their team of young developmental talent by bringing in veterans with little gas left in the tank, all in a desperate move to win a Super Bowl before their window of opportunity slammed shut.
Last year the Jets went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
The last team to win a Super Bowl primarily because of their defense was the Ravens in 2000. Last year the Giants had the 27th ranked total defense in the NFL and they won the Super Bowl. The year before, Green Bay won the SB with the fifth ranked defense. The year before that, the Saints won the SB with the 25th ranked defense.
The definition of a “championship defense” is one that’s good enough to get a team to the Super Bowl and win it, period.
Have the Lions done enough on the defensive side of the ball to make the playoffs again this year and have a shot at the Super Bowl? Well, they tagged sack master DE Cliff Avril and added, re-signed or drafted a lot of young, talented players who can make important contributions at linebacker, in the secondary, and on the D-line.
That list so far includes LBs Stephen Tulloch, Deandre Levy, and Ashlee Palmer, CBs Erick Coleman and Jacob Lacey, DE Everette Brown and DT Andre Fluellen. Then the Lions drafted three CBs, three LBs, and so far have signed three DTs, two DEs, two LBs, one cornerback and one safety who were undrafted free agents.
The Lions won 10 games with the defense they had last year after a preseason shortened by the lockout. Going into this season, they lost only one defensive starter to free agency. The 2012 season hasn’t started yet and the Lions are certain to work the waiver wire hard and maybe make a key trade or two.
It would be hard to make a credible argument that their defense won’t be even better this year.