On March 13, the Detroit Lions inked veteran CB Chris Houston to a five year contract. The collective sigh of relief among Lions fans was palpable as it was widely acknowledged that the best defensive back on the roster couldn’t be allowed to walk as an unrestricted free agent. However, signing Houston so soon might have been a strategic blunder.
It’s not the signing, per se, as all Lions fans can get behind Houston’s return; it’s the timing of the signing that I call into question. Allow me to explain.
The Lions own the rights to the fifth overall selection in this year’s draft. Over the past two months, the two offensive tackles coveted by Lions fans—Luke Joekel and Eric Fisher—have been off the board. Untouchables. The draft stock of defensive ends Bjoern Werner and Ezekiel Ansah have taken a major hit. What’s a draftnik to do?
I’ve been mocking CB Dee Milliner to Detroit for several weeks. While I do believe that drafting Milliner would solidify the secondary for the next five years, his greater value to the Lions is in draft-day trade scenarios.
When you consider the number of CB-needy teams who would love to have shot at Milliner, the first “skill position” player available in a 2013 draft that is bereft of elite QBs, the trade market for him appears very robust.
Then, there’s the unsettled matter of UFA CBs Derrelle Revis and Quentin Jammer. The trade buzz on Revis alone has been an offseason sideshow.
Clearly, the Lions were perfectly positioned to deal the pick. Milliner would never get past the Browns, who own the next draft pick and would love to pair him with stud CB Joe Haden.
By signing Chris Houston so early in free agency, GM Martin Mayhew sent the message to the league that Detroit's interests lie elsewhere.
The Lions could have signed that contract with Houston discreetly. Both parties could have held their signed contract copies until April 26, the day after Round 1 of the draft. Submitting the contract to the NFL at that time for approval should have been the first public exposure that a deal had been struck.
By not doing so, the Lions have made a crucial mistake, losing a golden opportunity to obtain additional draft picks for a prospect that they will pass on should OT Eric Fisher drop to them anyway.