Just how close are the Lions?
That's the question we need answered before we start hoping the Lions make the playoffs.
Maybe even more important is how close to what?
Should we be hoping they are .500 or are we hoping they are building towards a Super Bowl?
Even then the question is are they building towards a Super Bowl or trying to build a dynasty?
It seems simple—you have to be .500 before you make the Super Bowl and you have to win the Super Bowl before you can be a dynasty—It's just the natural progression.
So what's with all the questions?
By now most of you are saying what's with all this Super Bowl talk—we have won two out of the last 32 and three out of the last 40 .
It seems kind of stupid to be talking about Super Bowls and Dynasties—a five hundred record sounds good to me right about now.
Hey, I hear you. Eight wins seems like a dream to me, too.
Should give the team some confidence to build on, and maybe the guys at work would stop laughing every time I wear my Lions cap.
Fortunately, they are mostly Cowboy and Panther fans, so the mere mention of Romo or Delhomme is enough to get them quiet. Even the Steeler fan I know seems strangely quiet this off-season.
Note: I only use Roy Williams for extremely obnoxious Cowboy fans. Come to think of it, that describes most Cowboy fans, so I get to use him a lot. Now if only Pettigrew and Derrick Williams could get it together. Then I'd have a real weapon.
But that's the whole point.
Always close, but no cigar.
We can name plenty of teams that were right there—formidable teams that had to be beat if someone wanted to win a championship.
But they were beat.
Always climbing that mountain to only lose their footing just inches from the summit. When you are a fan of that team, you make that plunge with them while bouncing off every rock on the way down.
And it hurts.
You can even win a Super Bowl and have a disappointing era.
You think the Colts are happy with the way the last ten years have gone?
For comparison, we have to switch sports if we want a Detroit fan to appreciate it. It's like following the Tigers in the eighties and even the recent Pistons. Sure, we won a championship, but doesn't it seem like they could have done more?
Of course the Alumni ran off LLoyd Carr when he had a record that pretty much every coach in college football history would love to have. Don't remember any major NCAA violations along the way either—but don't get started on that.
It seems silly to say this, but if the Lions get six to eight playoff appearances and maybe even a championship over the next ten years, they will have fallen short of their goal.
If the belief is that this Mayhew and Schwartz duo are the answer and Stafford is the real deal then the goal is a dynasty. We want a team that lives on forever in the record books and that takes multiple championships.
So what's the difference between a McNabb era Eagle team and a Brady led Patriot era?
It's simple—it comes down to talent and character. You have to have a lot of both to build a dynasty.
The Patriots had that solid core of leaders like Mike Vrable, Teddy Bruschi, Troy Brown and Dan Koppen, who are vital in building a dynasty. We could name a dozen or more Patriots that fit this description during their run. Every team that sustained a high standard for a period of time had this solid core to build around.
While that core is the heart, muscle, and brains of the team, you still need a little pizazz—a little something extra that says you can win the big games. You got to have some difference makers—players who when things are even they make things uneven.
You don't need a dozen of them like the Steelers in the 70's, but you do need three or four of them. If you want to maintain things for a while, you might want five or six to cover the inevitable injuries.
That's where the Eagles fell just short. They had plenty of character—they just needed a couple more big time players.
I don't think it was just a coincidence that the only Super Bowl appearance was the year TO showed up.
I don't count the QB, that's a given. You can't even think about a dynasty without a top QB. But even with a great QB, you still need a few more studs spread out around the team a little. It's nice to have complimentary great players, like two or three defensive linemen, but you still have to score some points. Therefore, adding a top WR or RB would be a pretty good idea.
So if the goal of the Lions is building a dynasty and we identified what we need to reach that goal, where do the Lions stand?
How close are we?
First, we believe they have the quarterback. Stafford has given every indication that, barring injury, he will be a top QB in this league—maybe among the great all time QBs, but that can only happen if they have the rest of the team.
Right now, the only player we can say is a difference maker is Calvin Johnson. I really believe he is about to explode for the reasons I stated in a previous article . That's a great place to start, but we need more.
We have a few players that could be great, such as Delmas and Pettigrew, plus the rookies Suh and Best. If they pan out the Lions will be in good shape with a nice mix spread around the team.
That kind of stuff is contagious, too. Usually if you have a great player or two, a couple of players around them feed off of it and turn into great players in their own right. Hanging around great players, they tend to pick up their work habits and dedication.
A couple of players that might fit that role are DeAndre Levy, Cliff Avril, or Sammie Hill. Probably not good enough to be great on their own, but talented enough that they can take advantage of their situation.
The Lions could really be in decent shape for studs or difference makers. It wouldn't hurt to add a couple more, like a stud OL guy or a DE and DB. You can add a piece or two like the Patriots did with Rodney Harrison and Randy Moss. You get close and players like that will return your calls.
So, what about that core of 15-20 players that will be there day in and day out?
Still a little lacking there. This takes a little time because you can't afford to go out and buy it. This is where your draft really kicks in—you need to add two or three players every year just to maintain, and when you have nothing to start with, you better make that four or five if you want to catch up.
So far it looks like the Lions are doing great. Their draft last year was outstanding and if the Lions finish this off by building a dynasty, the 2009 Lion draft could be considered among the best drafts ever.
Think about it.
They might have added the QB, two studs with Delmas and Pettigrew, plus what could be long time core players like Levy and Hill. That's five right there and there could be more to come with Follett and Derrick Williams.
They did have a few young players left over from Millen like Kevin Smith and Cliff Avril, plus some older veterans like Jeff Backus and Dominic Raiola who could be around for a little while yet. Maybe Backus and Raiola aren't there for the back end of the run, but they can help you get the run started.
Let's do a little run down of what future core players they have right now. We will start with the defense because we ain't selling tickets, we are winning championships.
Ndamukong Suh, 23. He almost has to be great for this to work—we need a Reggie White or Warren Sapp kind of contribution to the defense. DT might be the most important position in this defense and if the Lions get the contributions they hope for out of Suh, everything else becomes a lot easier on defense.
Cliff Avril, 24. Still pretty young for going into his third season already—maybe we were expecting too much too soon. It wouldn't surprise me a bit if he started putting up double digit sacks every year. It also wouldn't shock me if he was never more than a situational pass rusher, but for now, I have him penciled in as a core player.
Sammie Hill, 24. Surprising rookie season. With all things considered, I doubt the Lions expected to get that much out of him last year. He is extremely talented and could benefit the most by playing next to Suh. If he latches on to that Suh and KVB work ethic he could be great.
Kyle Vanden Bosch 31, Corey Williams 30 and Jared DeVries 34 are a little long in the tooth to be considered for this list. Great additions that will help this team grow, but not long term core players.
They've got a handful of young possibilities like Turk McBride, 25, Landon Cohen, 25, and Andre Fluellen, 25, who could turn into core players. I like the seventh round pick Willie Young. Chances are one or two of them will stick around for a while. And that's how you do it—you always want a handful of young players to develop.
That DL looks to be in pretty good shape, but what about the linebackers?
DeAndre Levy, 23. There's a lot riding on this guy as the Gun and Schwartz appointed leader of the defense. He doesn't have to be a stud, but he has to be a top core player for this to work. I liked what we saw in his rookie season and he seems to be well on his way to filling that Chris Speilman or Teddy Bruschi type role.
We got some real unknowns from there. We can believe that Zack Follett, 23, and maybe even Jordan Dizon, 24, or Caleb Campbell, 24, will be there. We have a long way to go before we can count them as core players.
Still—not too bad at linebacker. Along with the guidance of Julian Peterson, 32, it is reasonable to think at least one of those guys will team with Levy for the long term.
The front seven looks to be in pretty good shape for the long term. They have some studs with a good amount of young core players. If they keep churning and developing those prospects, it will seem like a real football team around here.
What about the secondary?
Sorry, I had to bring them up.
Louis Delmas 23. It obviously starts here—let's hope it doesn't end here. He is playing the most important role in the secondary for this defense and we hear he did great with the signal calling for the unit. It is unusual for a rookie to have that assignment, but then again, who off that team last year could you count on to be here this year?
I like what they have done with the rest of the secondary by cleaning house and bringing in a bunch of young and talented players to develop.
Schwartz has said more than once that the secondary needs continuity to succeed and you can't get that by bringing in middle aged or older free agents all the time. Somewhere along the line, they need to develop three or four long term answers that they can add to, if necessary.
Exactly who might be future core secondary players?
I have tried to answer parts of that question with my articles on the cornerbacks and safeties , so I won't go into a lot of detail. I do have a lot of hope for a few of the newcomers like Houston, Wade, and Spivey. For the reasons why, please check out the articles I linked.
The plan for the secondary seems to be if they play half a dozen young guys, they might find a couple of players and we can go from there. Makes a lot of sense if we are looking at the long haul.
It may seem like the defense is far from dynasty worthy, but I like what they are building.
They are developing a nice young core built with Suh, Delmas, Levy, Hill, and maybe Avril.
They have a nice mix of young potential players like Follett, Houston, and Spivey. Getting a couple of hits out of these guys and add a player or two and this could be a top notch defense within the next couple of years.
That continuity thing with the secondary is the biggest issue and some of the core players need some more seasoning, but it can seem to change in a heartbeat or with one big time play at just the right time.
The important thing to remember is they are building with a solid foundation and now that some of the footings are in place, we can see the shape of the building. Might not know how high or what kind of accents this will have, but the structure looks strong.
Guess I will stop there. After all, it's the defense we have the most questions about.
If we can feel good about the future of the defense, my work here is done and I can save the offense for a rainy day.