2011 NFL Draft Results: Not the Finish Line for Detroit Lions

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2011 NFL Draft Results: Not the Finish Line for Detroit Lions
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Mikel Leshoure

Stay tuned. The 2011 NFL year hasn’t even begun and already the Detroit Lions have acquired three starting impact players in the draft, four if you count special teams.

No one knows how long it will be before teams are allowed to pursue free agent players and make trades.

However, one thing is certain: when the starting gun is finally fired, the Lions will be prepared to move swiftly to upgrade their talent at a number of positions, especially at linebacker and cornerback.

The team of Mayhew-Schwartz-Lewand is becoming renowned for finding and adding value to the Lions roster. Credit is also due the Ford family for supporting the team’s new talent acquisition brain trust by opening their checkbook to make deals happen.

This is a big year for the Lions. They are building on an impressive momentum gained at the end of last season. There is a palpable sense of optimism in Motown based in large part on how the team’s roster is being built and has performed under head coach Jim Schwartz.

There isn’t a whiff of panic coming from Allen Park. The Lions have managed to strike a great balance between building for the future and steadily improving its record from year to year.

The Lions aren’t in crapshoot mode. They aren’t flailing around and spending like drunken sailors on overpriced free agents and draft divas in a desperate attempt to leap through a closing window of opportunity.

Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Titus Young

They are not jeopardizing the team’s future to get an extra win today.

The team of Schwartz and GM Martin Mayhew has begun to create some real magic on the playing field.

Detroit’s window of opportunity is just beginning to open. And the way the team is being built, it will stay open for a long time to come.

 

Free Agent Acquisitions

Detroit’s first order of free agent business will likely to be to re-sign cornerback Chris Houston. The Lions have already given a one-year qualifying offer to Houston in the event that he remains a restricted free agent. He’s not a shut-down corner, but he can be a solid No. 2 across from a good No. 1.

Given the post-draft news that the Lions offered Arizona their first-, second- and fourth-round choices for the Cardinals No. 5 overall pick in a bid to move up and draft Patrick Peterson, its possible that Detroit could be in play to acquire a first-rate free agent talent at cornerback.

Don’t count on Detroit to get into a bidding war over 30-year-old Nnamdi Asomugha, but acquiring someone like the Bengals’ 27-year-old Jonathan Joseph is not out of the question.

The Lions have also given a one-year qualifying offer to free safety John Wendling and it makes sense to keep him on the roster going in to the upcoming season. Likewise with exclusive rights free agent defensive tackle Andre Fluellen.

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Nick Fairley

There are a number of solid free agent linebackers that Detroit has already no doubt evaluated.

This group includes some talented 4-3 weak side guys like the 49ers' 27-year-old Manny Lawson and 28-year-old Redskin Rocky McIntosh.

Another possibility is 27-year-old Panthers’ strong side linebacker James Anderson.

And don’t forget the potential bounty that will be available to the Lions when the league is allowed to sign players from among this year’s crop of undrafted free agents. Last year, the Lions signed UFA cornerback Aaron Berry and safety Randy Phillips and both showed promise.

 

Trade Opportunities

Trades are difficult to predict. On defense, good trade opportunities can be found between teams that run a base 4-3 scheme like the Lions and teams that have recently converted to a 3-4 defense like the Washington Redskins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills.

The Lions are in a new competition for trade targets with teams like the Cleveland Browns and Denver Broncos who just recently switched from a 3-4 to a 4-3 configuration. San Francisco may also switch back to a 4-3 scheme.

Over the past couple of years, the Lions have developed trade relationships with several teams that have worked out equitably for most of the teams involved. Detroit and Seattle have done numerous mutually satisfactory trade deals, for example.

Detroit has also worked trades with Denver, Atlanta, Cleveland, Jacksonville, Dallas and Buffalo. Some of those trades have worked out very well for the Lions. Rob Sims, Tony Scheffler, Chris Houston and Corey Williams, for example, are great fits in Detroit.

The trade with Dallas allowed Detroit to acquire Brandon Pettigrew, Derrick Williams and Aaron Brown in the draft.

Williams may become trade bait this year, but assuming that the Lions carry six running backs on their roster again, Brown could remain on the roster along with Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, Jerome Felton, Jake Nordin and Mo Morris.

Trust is an important component in putting successful trade deals together. The Lions have established good relationships with a number of NFL teams that will pay dividends going forward.

 

The Waiver Wire

In the past few years there have been very few teams that have worked the waiver wire harder or better than the Lions. As head coach Jim Schwartz put it, “We might as well take advantage of being bad.”

Detroit will no longer enjoy easy pickings off of the wire, and that’s a good thing because it means that the Lions are no longer one of the lousiest teams in the league.

Rest assured, however that Martin Mayhew will not let any potential upgrade via the waiver wire fall through the cracks.

Many players claimed on waivers are brought in, evaluated and then released or traded. But some stick.

Last season, the Lions claimed linebacker Ashlee Palmer and wide receiver/return guru Stephan Logan off the wire. They also snagged tackle Tyler Ploumbus off the wire and promptly traded him to Seattle.

The year before, the Lions claimed defensive end Turk McBride.

Look for the Lions to continue to scour the waiver wire once the season begins. Despite being 13th in the pecking order this year, Martin Mayhew’s commitment to finding value among other team’s castoffs is as strong as ever.

 

Mayhew’s Pledge—Take it to the Bank

Martin Mayhew has said "The draft is not the finish line for us as far as our personnel department. We have a lot of work to do in a lot of areas where we can definitely improve. We'll continue to work at those things."

The finish line for Detroit Lions fans is a Super Bowl victory. Getting into the playoffs by winning a Wild Card slot would be acceptable progress. Winning the NFC North would be even better.

It may not happen this year, but few fans in the Motor City still doubt that one day not too far from now, the Lions will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in triumph. Thanks to Martin Mayhew’s pledge and Jim Schwartz’s leadership, you can take that to the bank.

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