As Lion fans we have a fascination with franchise left tackles, and a virtual tsunami of comments rip through Lion forums anytime a perceived answer to all of our problems is available.
The current tidal wave is named Jared Gaither. 6'9", 350 pounds of immensely talented left tackle, and he’s only 24 years old. What’s not to like?
Apparently he can be had for a second round pick. Make the deal, Martin Mayhew; franchise left tackles don’t grow on trees, and we need to protect our golden child.
Yet there is something about those last two sentences that makes me pause.
If Gaither is so talented, why is Ozzie Newsome shopping him and at a reduced rate? The popular answer is Gaither will be a free agent next year and the Ravens have Michael Oher now. Makes sense; no salary cap has room for two franchise LTs, so they want to get something out of him before he bolts.
Still, there are a lot of teams looking for a left tackle, yet Gaither is still a Raven. Maybe as fans we should step back a little and see if we can understand why.
First off, we can’t say it’s the price. A second round pick for a franchise left tackle is discount shopping, especially when he is only 24. After all, it was just last year when the Eagles traded first and fourth round picks plus a sixth this year for Jason Peters.
The Ravens made it clear they intended to trade Gaither when they gave him a first round tender instead of a franchise tag, and the rumors were he could be had for a second round pick by the draft. Something doesn’t add up here; there has to be a negative number somewhere to balance this equation.
Fortunately in this day and age, we have Google to answer our questions, and a quick search might give us some answers.
At first glance we can see a lot of interest in Gaither. It seems like half the NFL is after this guy, or should we say the fans from half the teams want him.
However, once we get past all the fan interest, a picture emerges of Gaither, and the headline reads lack of work ethic is holding back a very talented player. Buried deep among the many “we have to have Gaither blogs” are quotes from his coaches and teammates going back to his Maryland days that question his desire and heart.
Check out this quote from his college coach, Ralph Friedgen. "Sometimes he wouldn't work," Friedgen said in 2007. "I think I have to have some credibility there with my players. ... There were some days he didn't feel like practicing.”
It’s that statement that points out the crux of the problem with bringing Gaither to the Lions. This is only the second year of the Mayhew and Jim Schwartz era, and they have made it clear they are taking on the losing culture head on this year with a premium placed on hard work as the answer.
You don’t bring in Kyle Vanden Bosch because you believe he is going to give you 15 sacks this year. You bring in KVB because you need leaders with a work ethic that you hope rubs off on the young Lion players.
Still, Gaither is extremely talented. If you can light that fire you just might have not only a Pro Bowl-type player; he has the talent of a Hall of Famer.
We know every coach believes he can be the one to motivate someone, but the Lions should consider where Gaither has spent his last three years. If it takes a strong locker room for a player like this to succeed, is there a stronger locker room than that of the Baltimore Ravens? If a leader like Ray Lewis and mentoring from Jonathan Ogden haven’t made a difference, how can we believe the Lions locker room will motivate him?
Neither the promise of a huge contract after this year nor the threat of Michael Oher taking his spot has done the trick for him.
The issue with bringing him to the Lions goes even deeper then that. The reason so many Lion fans want Gaither is to replace Jeff Backus at LT, and this makes sense from the “adding an ace helps the whole rotation” argument. If Gaither takes over at LT, Backus can move to guard or RT, and your whole OL is better.
Backus has been a target of Lion fans for years now and not totally without cause, though not all of it was Backus’ fault. While we can’t call Backus a true franchise LT, he is among the better LTs in the NFL.
While I don’t buy completely into Schwartz’s belief that Backus should have gotten votes for the Pro Bowl, I do buy into the idea that Backus is doing a very solid job. He is an outstanding run blocker, and while we all wish he was a little quicker on those edge rushers, he actually does a very good job.
He’s not a top-five LT for me, but he might be top-10 and certainly top-15. That doesn’t mean a team can’t upgrade the position, but it does mean you don’t count LT as a top need on a 2-14 team.
But it goes deeper then need or even want with Jeff Backus. For one, he is clearly respected among his teammates as one of the hardest workers who always does his job to the best of his ability. This is a guy that through various injuries, new schemes, and even an 0-16 season has always taken his spot as the starting LT for nine years and never missed a game. He’s a student of the game and tireless in perfecting his craft.
In other words, he is exactly what Schwartz is preaching to his team: The only way out of this mess is hard work and dedication to the cause.
If you bring in Gaither, the question is not can we get him motivated; the question becomes how we will motivate the rest of the team if we replace maybe the most respected player in the clubhouse with someone of questionable heart.
Players respect it when a fellow player is beaten out by someone who has put in the effort to earn it, but they have to question why they should work that hard if they believe the team would replace them with a player who merely flashes potential. The mantra has to be work hard every day and good things will happen.
I go back to Friedgen’s quote and how he saw Gaither’s work ethic as an attack on his credibility, and we have to wonder if it wouldn’t be the same threat for Schwartz. I have nothing against taking some chances on a talented player who was looking for a chance to prove himself. However, that is not the situation with Gaither.
First you have the compensation for the Ravens, and then you have to consider that he will want a long-term contract at LT price. Considering Drew Rosenhaus is his agent and he still has plenty to prove, I wouldn’t be in any hurry to sign him to anything.
The Lions culture is still evolving and far too fragile to endanger it by bringing in Gaither for my taste. In my mind I’m channeling Nancy Reagan, and I'm going to “just say no.”