Lawrence Jackson Trade Proves Detroit Lions Still Have Work To Do

Dean HoldenAnalyst IAugust 20, 2010

Meet Lawrence Jackson, the newest Detroit Lion.
Meet Lawrence Jackson, the newest Detroit Lion.Nick Laham/Getty Images

First things first.

Well done, Martin Mayhew, for bringing in a first-round pick with a sixth-round pick. And thinking back to the 2010 NFL Draft, Mayhew traded a seventh-round pick to Philadelphia for a sixth next year, so really, 2008 first-rounder Lawrence Jackson has found his way to the Detroit Lions in exchange for a 2010 seventh-rounder.

And Jackson is far from a bust. His best years are most likely ahead of him, and the cost for obtaining him was close to nothing.

But there's some writing on the wall when it comes to this move. Jackson plays defensive end, which is not necessarily considered a position lacking depth when it comes to the Lions.

Especially not after last Saturday, which saw backup middle linebacker Jordon Dizon leave the field with a season-ending knee injury.

It was assumed that the Lions would make a move in response to a key injury at an already-thin position like linebacker.

Since Jackson is a defensive end, those assumptions were almost correct. But the fact that the Lions made a move outside their immediate needs is very telling.

It means the Lions understand where they stand. And where they stand is "not quite there."

Jim Schwartz, after taking the reins of the Lions last winter, said something that really stuck with me and has summed up the Lions' woes over the last decade.

"Our biggest need is talent," Schwartz said in response to a question about what positions he would focus on in the 2009 NFL Draft.

It was true. The Lions went 0-16 because of an overall lack of talent. Nearly every position on the football field and the sideline was being manned by someone who was physically and mentally incapable of doing their job properly.

It has only been a year-and-a-half since then (think about that for a minute), and the team has come a very long way. But it seems that Schwartz and Mayhew are still valuing talent over positional needs, and this is the move that proves it.

If the Lions were a team built to win now, filling that vacant linebacker position would be top priority. A team expected to compete for a Super Bowl would be working tirelessly to fill any injury-related holes on the roster, even second-stringers.

The Lions are still making moves to bring in value at a low cost, and it doesn't matter where. In other words, they're still in rebuilding mode.

That should come as no surprise to anyone who saw the team play last year, despite vast leaps in talent and depth. But that's okay, and in this case, they've made the right determination.

What would you rather see the Lions do, bring in a young player with upside who could potentially bring value to the team for years to come, or sign a 35-year-old veteran for a year or two in order to max out the roster in the short term?

The answer is obvious, and Lions management understands for the first time in a long time. For a decade, the Lions were consistently treating each offseason as though they were only a player or two away from serious contention, when everybody else knew that wasn't true.

The result was a steady regression of the Lions's overall talent level, and the failure of those players to reach their potential with the team.

Now, it's the Chicago Bears' turn to misjudge the state of their team, while the Lions behave like a team should in their situation.

The Lions' window isn't open yet, and making a knee-jerk reaction to the loss of a significant role player is what a team does when they're worried about the window closing.

Instead, Detroit pulled in Jackson, a talented young player and victim of a defensive scheme change. Most GMs would not even have known he was on the trade block, much less cared when the team was facing a gaping hope at linebacker.

But Mayhew did, because he knows the Lions still have a long way to go, and he's staying the course to get them there.