2009 Detroit Lions: Is There a Road to Recovery?

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2009 Detroit Lions: Is There a Road to Recovery?

Maybe it's the economy. Maybe it's the prospect of losing the state's greatest corporate icon. Or maybe, just maybe, it's the abundance of lousy football.

What started as optimism quickly turned to rationalization, then to blind faith, and finally, to madness. While the Detroit papers have simultaneously attempted to rip down every aspect of the Lions organization and offer weekly hope that they might somehow eek out a singular win, this week some national pundits joined in the fun, suggesting that because the Saints lost to the winless '99 Browns, '98 Panthers, '77 Buccaneers, and even the '07 Rams, the Lions had a prayer.

The teams were a combined 0-34.

But none of that matters, and it showed. The Lions far surpass each and every one of those seasons in terms of futility. Even the Bucs were starting to truly become an NFL team at the end of their second season, going on to beat the Cardinals in their finale and finish 2-12.

Even now, the truly indoctrinated Lions faithful will tell you that things could have been different. It's a game of inches, after all, and if Gosder Cherilus had lined up just a few inches closer to the line of scrimmage, the game would have been tied at seven, thus creating a "whole new ballgame."

But this point is moot.  What this team has shown everyone for years, and especially this season, is that they will line up incorrectly. They will commit that holding penalty as soon as the offense finds some rhythm. If it weren't for their kicker's tremendous range, they'd be regularly shut out.

This team has one more chance to avoid immortal infamy this week when they visit Green Bay, a place where they haven't won since Brett Favre was a Falcon.

Their prospects are slim, and the outcome won't change anything in the interim, anyway. To borrow a line from President-Elect Barack Obama, this season is "the final indictment of eight years of failed policy."

So, with the offseason starting in Detroit in a week (and there isn't even a Michigan bowl game to distract the distressed state from its troubles), let's take a look at what Detroit needs to compete:Quarterback

Projected starter: Daunte Culpepper

If they have to, the Lions can probably get through next season with Daunte Culpepper under center, assuming they plug the majority of the other holes in their leaky ship.

Nonetheless, even in this down economy, the Lions saving grace might be their ability to spend money.  Speculation abounds that the NFL will be implementing a rookie wage scale in the new 2010 CBA, which means this will be the last season for rookies to truly cash in. 

By all accounts, this factor is weighing heavily in the decisions of underclassmen across the board.

Heisman winner Sam Bradford is draft-eligible this season as a redshirt sophomore.

The Oklahoma signal caller is the cream of the QB crop this season, surpassing names like Matthew Stafford, Mark Sanchez, and Graham Harrell in the minds of most.

The biggest knock on Bradford is probably the defenses he faced in the Big XII. Offenses ran wild throughout the conference, so it may be difficult to properly gauge some of the offensive talent.

On the upside, Bradford has showcased superlative decision-making abilities.

For him to be successful in Detroit, he would need a new offensive coordinator that can get receivers open for him, but such an arrangement would give Bradford and the Lion offense every opportunity to score points.

Bradford is accurate, smart, and a play-maker. In a sound offensive scheme with a receiver like Calvin Johnson, he could do great things.

Other options at quarterback could include Donovan McNabb or Derek Anderson, both of whom may be looking for work after this season, or potentially unrestricted free agent Matt Cassel, of whom the Lions should be wary.

 

Running Back

Projected starter: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith has been the recipient of some well-deserved praise recently for his fairly rapid maturation as an NFL running back.  Even early detractors, such as myself, have to be reasonably impressed with his ability to elude tacklers with so little help from his teammates.

Still, Smith has only shown bursts.  Fair or not, the first thing most fans in Michigan will notice is that he is not Barry Sanders, and he's never going to be. 

At this point he is not a back that an offense can be built on and there is no clear sign that he'll ever be that guy.

Smith has just two 100-yard games this season, coincidentally the number of games Barry failed to hit the century mark in 1997. 

Still, this may be attributed to splitting carries with Rudi Johnson early on and to the fact that the Lions have made a habit of getting hopelessly behind.

His overall numbers are solid, posting over 1,000 yards from scrimmage, 884 of them on the ground.  He's averaged 4.2 yards per carry, found the end zone seven times, and has only fumbled twice. 

Given what Matt Forte did to Green Bay with the game on the line this week, there's no reason that Smith can't get the last 116 yards he'd need to become the latest No. 34 to hit 1,000.

Even given the hope Smith provides desperate fans, there are still issues.  His ankle is currently in the "tweaked" category, and while there's not yet any cause for questioning his durability, no one wants to see a repeat of the Kevin Jones scenario. 

Far more troubling is that, despite his tough running style, he still runs more upright than he ideally should, and perhaps worst of all, he tends not to keep his feet moving when he hits the hole.

Smith looks like the type of back that could be very productive in tandem with another so-called "feature back."  Considering that a two-back system is the direction in which the league is moving anyway, Detroit should make a real effort to supplement him with another young back.

Detroit missed out on Michael "The Burner" Turner last offseason, and it doesn't look like they'll be able to make any big free agent splash at the position this time around, either.

Giants Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward are the most attractive names on the market, and New York might be hard-pressed to retain them both, but they have experienced the combination of winning and a superb run-blocking offensive line.

These are things they can't be promised by the Lions in good faith, and it seems doubtful that, even if they decide on a change of address, they would trade in those comforts for a go with Detroit.

The rest of the market is largely made up of true backups that won't change the face of an offense.

There are a few intriguing names that figure to be available.  J.J. Arrington has never seemed to get the chance one might have felt he deserved out of Cal, Darren Sproles is a scat back extraordinaire, and Correll Buckhalter might have been Brian Westbrook had he not had so many knee problems. 

Nonetheless, these are all clearly second-tier guys.

The Lions best shot to improve the backfield likely lies in the draft, as well. While drafting Spartans hasn't exactly worked out recently, Javon Ringer isn't likely to be taken early but has the skill set to be a first-day pick. He is a complete football player that will be able to catch passes, pass block, sell fakes, and yes, carry the football.

Many have questioned Ringer's ability to carry the load for an NFL team, and it is true that he has slowed down late in seasons, but by splitting carries with Smith both backs figure to stay fresh throughout the season and really bolster what hopefully will become a balanced Lions attack.

Other highly-touted prospects include Chris "Beanie" Wells from Ohio State. Wells has far too much potential to stay injured for the Lions to go that route.

Georgia's Knowshon Moreno has gotten more than a few come-hither glances from NFL scouts, as well. One of the knocks on Moreno and Ringer alike is their height, or more appropriately lack thereof, but the same was said last season of Steve Slaton, and he's doing just fine.

As for the rest of the backs, Rudi Johnson is just about at the end of his rope, almost every Lion fan must be praying for the departure of Aveion Cason (for good this time), and Brian Calhoun has spent nearly three full season on IR.

It looks increasingly likely that Calhoun's potential will never be tapped and that he could be replaced by one of those second-tier free agents.

Tight End

Projected starter: Michael Gaines?

The Lions really haven't had a viable option at tight end since David Sloan flew the coop to New Orleans in 2002.  The free agent market will offer no relief.

As for the state of the current Lions tight ends, Casey FitzSimmons has a great motor and does a lot for the team, but is no better than a reserve to be used here and there.

John Owens is a great blocker, but does nothing for you in the passing game.

Finally, Michael Gaines is simply nothing special. The Lions need a real option over the middle.

If they dip their toe into the free agent market, Leonard Pope and Desmond Clark will be there.  Not exactly overwhelming.  Oh, and Pope is a restricted free agent.

Browns tight end Kellen Winslow might be available via trade after the season, but the situation in Cleveland is very much in flux.

Winslow is something of a malcontent, and the last thing Detroit needs is more dysfunction. They should only consider Winslow if they bring in a strong, successful personality at head coach.

Oklahoma State's Brandon Pettigrew seems to be the consensus at the top of the tight end draft board.  He's huge, has steady hands, and can block. 

Physical and athletic, on the field he's everything you want.  However, there are serious character concerns as he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer.  He could also run more crisp routes.

The other possibilities at tight end look to be Oklahoma's Jermaine Gresham, South Carolina's Jared Cook, and perhaps the most intriguing name, Florida's Tim Tebow, whom some figure as an H-back in the NFL.

It might be worth it for Detroit to spend a mid-round pick on Tebow to see if he can add some versatility to their attack (and maybe even play a little wildcat).

 

Wide Receiver

Projected Starters: Calvin Johnson and Mike Furrey

Despite the list draft busts, the second half of the 2008 season is the first time in a while that the Lions have been truly thin at receiver.

There is no discussion necessary on Calvin Johnson. He is a bona fide superstar that can takeover games if necessary.  He just needs an offense to be put around him.  He's the best Detroit receiver since Herman Moore, with a perfect attitude to boot.

Mike Furrey's future probably depends heavily on the incoming coaching regime, but he is under contract for next season. Furrey has seen a sharp decline in productivity since catching 100 passes and going over 1,000 yards in 2006, but that is as much the fault of those around him as it is his own.

Furrey has a spectacular motor and can be that possession receiver that gets you eleven yards when you need ten.  He has great awareness and runs good routes. 

He won't stretch the field or win a lot of jump balls, but if used properly he can be an effective weapon.  His success is largely contingent on the scheme he plays in, and you can bet that he's missing Mike Martz as much as anyone.

Basically, the entire Saints receiving corps will be hitting some form of free agency come March. Most teams, the Lions included, would be happy to add Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, and/or Lance Moore to their receiving corps.

Michiganians should be somewhat familiar with the Moore family.  Lance is in his third NFL season and is the Saints' leading receiver.  He attended the University of Toledo where he holds several receiving records.

But it's his brother Nick who has most recently drawn the ire of Michigan football fans, torching the Wolverines for 162 yards on 20, yes 20, receptions en route to one of the worst losses in school history.

Finally getting his shot, Moore has surpassed the productivity of the more well known Colston and Henderson this season.  He fits into a passing attack nicely on intermediate routes because of his excellent acceleration and crisp change-of-direction skills. 

He's small and lacks strength, but if Detroit decides to part with Furrey, Moore would be an ideal replacement.

And why not spend a late-round pick on his brother for good measure?

Marques Colston is the most accomplished receiver of the trio, plus he has exceptional size and athleticism.  But, Colston is a restricted free agent and is unlikely to be changing zip codes any time soon.

Devery Henderson, on the other hand, could be had for the right price.  He doesn't have great size, but he more than makes up for it with elite acceleration and speed, as evidenced by his 21-yard-plus average yards per catch over his career. 

The Lions would almost certainly have to overpay for his services, but he can divert attention from their star receiver and give them a deep threat to stretch secondaries and open up routes for possession receivers.

One of the better receivers on the market this year will be Lion Shaun MacDonald, but it seems unlikely that he would be interested in continuing what he's already been through in the Motor City.

A pair of Buccaneers, Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton, are likely to generate some interest, but there's been quite enough signing of former Bucs in Motown of late.  There are other options the team should look to first.

To fill out the receiving corps, the Lions might be well-served to build from within.  John Standeford has worked hard and played about as well as he can be expected to, and might work out well as a depth receiver, and Keary Colbert is not a player you want to feature in your offense, but seems good enough to hold down a roster spot on what can only hope and pray to be a mediocre team.

There are a few notable names in the upcoming draft, but assessing where these players might fall and how they could fit into Detroit's plans depends heavily on the combine and their pro days, amongst other things.

Just keep Mohamed Massaquoi, Brian Robiskie, Percy Harvin, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Derrick Williams, and Juaquin Iglesias on your radar.

Offensive Line

Projected starters: Jeff Backus, Edwin Mulitalo, Dominic Raiola, Steven Peterman, Gosder Cherilus

The Jeff Backus lie has to end.

I have said it many times before and I will say it again:  the Lions will never consistently win with Jeff Backus at left tackle.

You might say that the above statement is true simply by virtue of time, and you might be right.  After all, it isn't exactly as though the Lions are on the cusp of the Super Bowl here.  But I don't mean it that way.

The national media has somehow bought into the illusion that Backus in an NFL-caliber left tackle.  In reality, you can probably find several clips from any Lions game that make Backus look good.  He is a pretty large man, and that counts for something in this league.

But the truth about his effect on the game lies far from these images.  He is and has always been a sub-par run blocker.  He plays the game upright and just doesn't have the strength to overpower defensive ends that play low to the ground.

He has decent range, but elite pass rushers (like division rivals Jared Allen, Aaron Kampman, Alex Brown, and Adewale Ogunleye) toss him around like a rag doll.

The real issue is that he has trouble with bull rushers and speed rushers.  He doesn't properly bend his knees and gets his feet out from under him.  On runs, the line collapses in from the left, and on passes, too often the quarterback is completely blindsided.  This was especially concerning with the fumble-prone Jon Kitna behind center.

As for the rest of the line, Mulitalo and Peterman are serviceable guards, but to become an efficient offensive machine, both must be upgraded.  Despite this, Peterman is a free agent the Lions should strongly consider bringing back, as things get even thinner behind him.

Dominic Raiola is an undersized but crafty player that more often than not gets the job done. His biggest detriment as a professional has been the lack of cohesion the interior line in Detroit has seen.

Finally, Gosder Cherilus was a first-round pick, and as such will actually have to play and prove himself a bust before he gets thrown out.

With a real bookend anchoring the line instead of the soft Backus, maybe the line can at least become a neutral force on the game instead of a tremendous detriment.

There are some free agent options the Lions should take a good look at to improve their long-suffering blocking game.

The Panthers are going to have to franchise somebody, and it might well be left tackle Jordan Gross.  Gross is everything Backus isn't.  He's physical, aggressive, dynamic, and a top ten guy at his position. 

He has a huge frame but is still athletic enough to always be in position and can even recover having made a mistake.  If he is let go, he will be one of the prizes of this free agent market.

Marvel Smith is a complete tackle and has played with an exceptional unit in Pittsburgh.  A long-term deal with Smith might yield a few good years on the blind side before he shifts to right tackle to finish out his career.

Khalif Barnes just endured a tremendously disappointing season with Jacksonville and both he and the team could be looking for a change.  Barnes has the same skill set as Gross except he is larger but less able to create movement.

It is worth noting that he doesn't play with the same mean streak as Gross, nor is his footwork quite as polished.  He is the youngest of the top tier of tackles and might be Detroit's most realistic target at the position.

The upcoming draft is not short on tackle prospects. Names like Andre Smith, Michael Oher, Jason Smith, Phil Loadholt, Eugene Monroe, and Alex Boone could get called early and often.

The good news here is that Detroit might not have to use a first-round selection to secure a starting-caliber player. Andre Smith, out of Alabama, is a massive man that exhibits surreal quickness and agility.  Detroit would likely have to spend the first overall pick on Smith or trade down a few spots to have a realistic shot at drafting him.

Ole Miss's Oher is not far behind Smith's skill set, though is 20 pounds trimmer. The chances he'll be available when Detroit spends Dallas's pick are slim to none.

Jason Smith, a Baylor product, could be a realistic second-round target for Detroit depending on how things go for him between now and the draft.

He isn't as big as some of the other prospects and doesn't have ideal speed, but has adequate footwork and athleticism and shows an insatiable aggressive streak on the field. 

The biggest flag on Smith is his upright playing style, something that might be a little too close to Backus for comfort.

Loadholt, from Oklahoma, is a hulking presence.  He is a true mauler with no limit to his strength. He is physically gifted, but has trouble with consistency and footwork. He also has had trouble in the past with speed rushers, leading to questions about his pass blocking abilities. 

He would certainly be able to shore up the ground game, and a poor showing at the combine might have him slipping into "value pick" territory.

Monroe would be considered a pretty big guy in most draft classes, but at a mere 315 lbs, the Virginia tackle is a lightweight this year. His strength is not on par with some of the other prospects this season, but everything else is there. 

Depending on the all-star games and his workouts, Monroe could go in the top five or drop an entire round. With so many quality prospects on the offensive line this time around, it figures that at least one will experience a free-fall in the draft, and a bad workout could make him the odd man out.

Boone, another 315-pounder from Ohio State, has an above-average skill set but needs to work on his leg strength to drive his man. His stock ranges from late-first round to third round status.  He needs good showings at his workouts and would do well to develop a more pronounced streak of aggression.

At guard, Elton Brown, Chris Kemoeatu, Mike Goff, and Stacy Andrews hit unrestricted free agency, Jahri Evans and Mark Setterstrom will be restricted free agents, and Oklahoma's Duke Robinson, LSU's Herman Johnson, and Tennessee's Anthony Parker merit consideration in the draft. 

All should be somewhere on Detroit's radar.

As a backup/utility type, the Lions should also consider making a contract proposal to the bitter fruit of the Dre Bly trade, George Foster.

Defensive Line


Projected starters: Dewayne White, Cory Redding, Chuck Darby?, Jared DeVries?

The 2008 Detroit Lions defense, top to bottom, is one of the worst football units I have ever witnessed, and a lot of people can honestly say the same.

While the struggles of the offense can largely be blamed on complete and utter coaching ineptitude, the strength of Rod Marinelli is supposed to be defense. 

He and much of his staff migrated from Tampa Bay, where defense is God. And yet, this team can't tackle, doesn't understand the system, and has been the picture of everything football shouldn't be.

More so than on offense, Detroit is playing football games with a pack of defensive backups. Looking at this team, perhaps five players on this defense might compete for starting jobs on the majority of NFL teams. 

On the defensive line, only Dewayne White and Cory Redding would have a shot elsewhere, and only if they were healthy, which is rarely the case.

Jared DeVries is a high-energy guy that flashes the ability to make plays. He is a superb rotation end. However, he isn't a guy I want on the field every play.

He is at his best when he spells a true starter, and if the Lions continue to trot him out there every Sunday masquerading as an every-down player, they can expect running backs to shred them for triple digits and quarterbacks to sit back and comfortably exploit their undisciplined secondary.

Shaun Cody has been a supreme disappointment since being selected out of USC in the second round.  He was drafted to be a starter but has proven himself to be nothing more than a career backup. It's unlikely that he or the Lions want to continue their relationship.

Given the team's demonstrated inability to develop young players, if Chuck Darby is still around next season, he'll probably begin the year as a starter. However, with proper instruction, Andre Fluellen stands a chance of being a force the Lions can use up the middle.

Fluellen is a high-character guy from Florida State, a school once not considered a very high-character place. Men like Fluellen and Myron Rolle are working to change all that.  He has had mature, measured things to say about his ordeal in Detroit this season and truly shows some potential on the gridiron.

He takes sound angles to the ball-carrier, works hard all week, and contrary to most of his teammates, he is a good tackler. He's got quickness and is active enough to make himself tough to block. 

We haven't seen much of this kid, but he has shown some flashes, and hopefully whomever coaches him in the future sees it.

Cliff Avril is in a similar boat to Fluellen on the end.  Someday he could perhaps be an adequate starter in the NFL, but for now is best suited to rotate in when starters tire.

The defensive line has been abysmal this season. What should the Lions do about it? It might seem like a pipe dream, but the Lions No. 1 target this offseason should be Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers.

Peppers in an elite pass rusher that disrupts plays, drives, and games.  He is a household name with NFL fans and for good reason.  The Lions should spare no expense in attempting to bring him in. 

Much like the Tigers and Pudge Rodriguez, the Lions need to do something to show that they're serious about winning.

While Pudge himself didn't transform the team, that signing is the single biggest reason that team made it to the 2006 World Series.

With enough money, Peppers could be that guy for the Lions.

But why stop there?  The Lions have never been shy about paying defensive tackles; just ask Shaun Rogers and Cory Redding. So, why not pay Albert Haynesworth?

Haynesworth should be the number two target for the Lions. They should be getting a fleet of armored vehicles prepped as we speak to drive millions upon millions of dollars to Peppers' and Haynsworth's doorsteps.

The Lions should outbid everyone in the marketplace for these two linemen.  After all, what's the harm in trying?  There are lower-end options on the market if they can't get deals done with the top guys, but this should really be their focus.

And if they were to succeed, this defense and this franchise would truly be transformed.

Linebackers

Projected starters: Ernie Sims, Paris Lenon, Ryan Nece?

At the moment, the Lions have one linebacker set for next season, Ernie Sims.

Paris Lenon has over-performed since becoming a Lion, but he isn't a true force in the middle.  He would make a nice backup—but then what becomes of second-round choice Jordan Dizon, who at this point is looking like a backup at best and a bust at worst?

The Lions have no attractive options at the strong side linebacker position and this void has contributed to their complete lack of run defense.

A good place to start on their linebacking makeover would be with the top draft choice they acquired from Dallas for Roy Williams.

Ohio State's James Laurinaitis is a ball hawk and a play-maker. His stock seems to have slipped when compared to last season, perhaps due to Ohio State's lack of competitiveness in marquee games.

Still, Laurinaitis is great at the point of attack.  He has outstanding instincts and recognition and is a tremendous tackler.  He gets good depth in pass coverage, plays sideline to sideline, and exhibits good speed the position. 

All he really needs is some additional bulk and to refine his ability to shed blockers.

He could be available when Detroit takes their second pick, and if he is the Lions would be crazy to pass on him.

Detroit might look to the free agent market to fill the strong side linebacker spot. The best available option looks to be Detroit native and former Raven Bart Scott.

There's always the possibility of a letdown when a linebacker ceases to play alongside Ray Lewis, and Scott has been productive for the Ravens, but Baltimore churns out so many defensive stars that they might not put up much of a fight to keep him.

The potential trio of Sims, Laurinaitis, and Scott would really give that defense a new look, and a new attitude.

Other options include Jonathon Vilma, Karlos Dansby, Channing Crowder, Michael Boley, Angelo Crowell, and Leroy Hill.

 

Secondary

Projected starters: Leigh Bodden, Travis Fisher?, Dwight Smith?, Gerald Alexander?

This secondary is perhaps the worst portion of any team in NFL history. They can't tackle, they can't cover, and they are completely useless in run support. It's a sad state of affairs for the last line of defense.

The only player on the unit that would be competing for a starting job on most teams is Leigh Bodden. Unfortunately, his most memorable moment as a Lion thus far is the questionable pass interference he was flagged for against the Vikings, enabling them to escape with the first of two undeserved wins against the Lions this season.

I guess that's fate.

Travis Fisher was one of the more highly regarded cornerbacks on the free agent market a year ago and it was considered a minor coup to retain him. Now, he's staring dime duty in the face if Detroit is able to make any moves to improve the secondary whatsoever.

There simply are no safeties on this team. Gerald Alexander, Kalvin Pearson, and Daniel Bullocks are serviceable backups, but should not be counted on to start or make plays.

Dwight Smith appears to be a shell of his former self, constantly playing out of position and missing tackles while not contributing against the run and being a liability in coverage. He probably doesn't need to be back, but Detroit will need to find a superior option before cutting ties.

Stu Schweigert was a passable safety in Oakland and could retain a role as a backup on the team.

There are some decent defensive backs available on the market this coming offseason.  Perhaps the biggest prize has already been plucked as Chris Gamble signed a rather hefty contract extension with the Panthers.

That leaves Raider Nnamdi Asomugha as the best available man, and he's likely out of Detroit's price range.

Bodden is good enough to start in this league, so the Lions only need to target a single impact corner to get by. 

Despite some injury problems, Dunta Robinson is back on the field this year and could come at a reasonable price given his history.  Detroit would be well-served to try and lure him north.

After Robinson, younger corners see something of a drop off, but there is still talent to be had.

Justin Miller has not exactly set the world ablaze in his first four seasons as he has been completely unable to stay healthy.  Even with his durability issues, he is more than talented enough to garner consideration from a team of the Lions' caliber and could come at a reasonable price.  He is also an effective return man.

The other likely options are veteran Phillip Buchanon, Eric Green, Bryan McFadden, Jabari Greer, Ricky Manning, Jr., and Dominique Foxworth.

A youth movement at corner is a must, and Detroit should make a concerted but thrifty effort to obtain two of the aforementioned defenders.

At safety, perhaps the two most enticing players, Atari Bigby and Dawan Landry, are restricted free agents and don't appear to be likely candidates to be on the move.

Detroit could consider Cleveland's Sean Jones or Tampa's Will Allen, but the main target should be Oshiomogho Atogwe.

The Rams say Atogwe is a priority, but St. Louis has little if anything on Detroit as a football team and as a city, so for the right price he could likely be lured away. If the Lions make some other positive moves, their commitment to defense could further sway the young safety.

The draft looks to be another source of safety prospects for the Lions, should they so choose that route.

Taylor Mays from USC and William Moore from Missouri look like studs that could go in the first round.  Detroit could take one of them should Laurinaitis be off the board with their second pick.

Michigan State's Otis Wiley is reasonably talented and thanks to a strong safety class could fall to the middle of day two. He is excellent in man-to-man coverage, has good return skills, and would be considered much more physically impressive in most years. 

As a late-round pick, Detroit could get a great value here while using their higher picks on other positions.

Coaching

Given what has happened in 2008, it comes as no surprise that to be competitive, the Lions would have to start a number of rookies as well as new signees next season.  Change is a must.

But the changes cannot stop with the players on the field.  The Lions need a new way of doing things. Something is very wrong when losing becomes such a habit. Practices aren't being run properly, interactions throughout the week are not being properly managed, and really, the entire schedule is in some way off.

The problem has spanned head coaches, coordinators, players, and yes, even GMs.  Detroit has fostered a culture of losing.

There will be some attractive coaching candidates out there this season, and there is no bigger fish in this pond than Bill Cowher.

Cowher has the working man mentality.  Pittsburgh and Detroit are similar cities in many ways.  All things considered, Bill Cowher is the ideal coach for this organization.  He is the one man that can almost assuredly wash away the stench of failure and rid Allen Park of its demons.

There are three men the Lions should simply throw piles of money at:  Julius Peppers, Albert Haynesworth, and Bill Cowher. 

It doesn't sound possible, but if the Lions were able to land that trifecta, this becomes a new franchise overnight.

Of course, the man has made a habit of verbally bashing the Lions all season, so the probability of this scenario coming to pass seems low.  Let's just all hope the man loves a challenge.

However, there will be other candidates available.

Brian Billick has been one of the more discussed possibilities for the vacancy.  Like Cowher, he brings Super Bowl experience and a level of instant credibility, but unlike Cowher his personality isn't sure to click with the fans in Detroit.

Billick could work with Peppers and Haynesworth (and Laurinaitis and the new crew) to reinvent the Lions defense.  The marriage does seem to be made in heaven. Plus he could help in recruiting Bart Scott to the cause.

Herm Edwards says he'll be returning to Kansas City, but we all know how things change—just look at Billick and the Ravens. He's been somewhat tarnished after a rough go of it in KC, but he is a quality coach from the Dungy coaching tree and might be a candidate if he does decide to leave Missouri.

Steve Spagnuolo is fresh off a Super Bowl win and lord knows what else this season, and the Lions could take a stab at the Giants defensive coordinator. Whether the head job in Detroit is a step up from an assistant position in New York is debatable.

Jason Garrett will probably be the next head coach of the Cowboys, but in the miracle event that Wade Phillips is retained, Garrett can almost assuredly expect a call from, well, whatever mystery employee will be leading the coaching search.

Jim Schwartz is going to be a head man somewhere. He's highly thought of in football circles and has the Titans playing exceptional defense. But you just get the feeling that Detroit won't want to go with another hot defensive assistant. But to be fair, Schwartz is at least a coordinator.

Andy Reid could be let go in Philadelphia depending on how all the relationships work out after this disappointing (I think, anyway) season. Reid would certainly be high on Detroit's list, as well as pretty much every other one. The irony of the whole situation is that Marty Mornhingweg would likely succeed Reid in Philly.

If we see Martyball in the NFL again, it will almost assuredly be in Cleveland. We had Marty's brother Kurt Schottenheimer around here once, and that didn't work out so well. Thanks, but no thanks.

William Clay Ford, perhaps the worst but most well-intentioned owner in sports, simply has to change the way he runs this franchise. 

With the announcement that Tom Lewand and Martin Mayhew will be returning (though notably no mention of their roles was made), Ford has made yet another gesture that he simply doesn't get it.

Ford might believe that his legacy is that of a man that "sticks to his guns," doing what he believes is right and never wavering.

In reality, Ford's legacy is going to be that of the Ford that didn't even get the chance to sink Ford Motor Company and ran a once-proud sports franchise into the ground.

It isn't going to be the "steady leadership" people remember him by, it's going to be the losses.

Tom Lewand is the team's Chief Operation Officer. Basically, he's the money guy. As long as he's not involved in personnel decisions, Lewand's presence doesn't mean much.

It's the retention of Mayhew that is disturbing.

Ford's team just set the record for most consecutive losses in a single season, and they're probably going to extend it this Sunday.  This team was largely assembled by Matt Millen, but Martin Mayhew has been in the personnel department for the past eight years. He is in no way innocent in this entire matter.

The team's top executives need to reverse the way they view hiring football people.

“Let’s see who’s available and what experience they have and see if they fit in any of our slots.”

Let's not.

Let's start to view things in a more realistic light.  Let's stop acting like the Lions would be doing Bill Cowher a favor by allowing him some input into Mayhew's personnel decisions.  To attract the top talent, the Lions need to realize that it is a privilege to employ the top football minds, not the other way around.

Enough with the hubris.  Simply put, people don't want to work for this organization.  This team will have to bend over backward to bring in good executives, good coaches, and even good players.

And if Ford wants to keep his team in his city, he'd better start doing just that.

Or, maybe this piece should have been called "Dreams and Delusions."

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