I'll admit I was wrong -- Cap wise, after getting Darby I didn't think that the Lions would be able to beat out the Giants for Kelly. I underestimated three things, I think:
1. Rod Marinelli's influence over now former Tampa D players. The Bucs wanted to re-sign White last year to move into a full time role replacing Simeon Rice. Instead, he came to Det for about the same money Tampa was offering because he wanted to play under Marinelli again. The interest other ex-Bucs, or current Bucs, have shown in coming to Detroit just underlines how much they respect Rod Marinelli. Remember, besides being the Dline coach, he was also an Assistant Head Coach - Defense (or something close to that - I didn't look it up.)
2. The influence of former Tampa coaches Marinelli brought with him. Smith cited Lake, Barry and Marinelli as big reasons he signed here - essentially stating that with those guys in charge, especially Marinelli - you knew you were coming into a program run right and headed in the right direction. Considering Millen's reputation, that says a lot about the respect Marinelli has earned.
3. Kelly's desire to stay in the system that he knows, and prolong his playing days. Detroit has young players in Stanley Wilson, Keith Smith, and now Leigh Bodden whom they think are (Bodden) or will develop into (Smith, Wilson) starting corners for the Lions. Kelly will start and teach as the young guys rotate in more and more, and still be able to have spot as a veteran backup for a coupel of years after they take over starting full time. Already knowing the system means no new learning curve at the later stages of his career.
I've read a lot of columns about how the Lions have "fumbled" FA (VanOchten, Parker, Sharp, The Entire Det News/Free Press). I however, do not see it that way. As I saw one poster on Mlive put it -- You can't blame Marinelli for 5 years of Millen's boneheaded moves.
What is obvious to me this off season is that Rod is pretty much getting it his way, and his guys. Period. No Martz influences, no Millen ooh-ooh-fast-like-choo-choo Flashy signings.
Rod has some good young players in the D backfield and on the Dline (Smith, IAF, Redding, Wilson, Bullocks, Alexander). What he didn't have (with the exception of the White-IAF combo on the ends) was any veterans who knew what the heck they were doing in the system to help drastically cut the learning curve for the younger guys; veteran mentor-ship was sorely lacking. Now, due to the cap -- both the cost of ditching players on the roster, and the cost of FA from the system, this is the first off season Rod was able to bring in a few system savvy vets to mentor his youngsters.
Bullocks and Alexander both have one season of starting under their belt. But does anyone think that Dwight Smith isn't going to have a thing or two to show them -- he will accelerate their development, and help keep them focused.
Darby and White will help Redding and IAF in a mixed line do the same thing.
Unfortunately, T2 MLB's don't grow on trees, so it will be trial and error there, but there's no help for it. Vilma didn't want to come to the Lions because he isn't interested in mentoring a youngster, or providing veteran leadership -- He didn't rework his deal after the trade. he wanted to start one year for a high-national profile team and get himself set up for a HUGE payday next FA period. Mark my words -- if he plays even halfway decent this year he will be looking at BIG BUCKS next season. The Lions would have had to trade a 2nd or 3rd to get him in that bidding war, and he didn't want to be here. Not worth it.
Their strategy to bring in veterans has led to a good mix of older and younger players on their roster right now;
In the secondary, I think there will be a fight between Kelly, Fisher, and Smith to start opposite Bodden. Wilson may be the odd man out in the CB battle. I see them carrying 5 S and 4 CB so someone is going to get cut. My guess is Wilson.
Despite what some have stated, I don't see them going for a CB early, if at all, this year. Bodden is only what - 26? They can do fine with Kelly-Fisher-Bodden-Smith and see how it works out -- and upgrade next year if the opportunity is right, or if Smith is not progressing, and to replace Fisher. The key is, the CB position is no longer a must fill with multiple picks hole. If they find a guy who beats out Fisher, Wilson, and/or Smith, there is only a marginal -- if any -- cap hit as no significant SB were announced, and there is little if any guaranteed money in the contracts. They may be signed, but looking at the situation there will be some heated off season battles to win the 3rd and 4th CB positions on the roster - especially if I am wrong and they do draft a CB early.
I was going to talk about a few other positions and FA acquisitions and re-signings (including False Start Foster) -- but I will save that for tomorrow and this coming week. The Lions are bound to run out of cap space soon (if not already) so conversations will move more and more into the draft.
I will point out that at this stage, I usually stick with areas of need, and possible positions to draft in certain rounds. Specific names are something I don't look at til later -- after reading up on them more, and getting an idea of what other teams are looking for to gauge who may realistically be available. Just how I approach it.
BTW - Great comments -- keep it up, even on older posts. I do respond to comments, so look for those as well. Thanks again for your readership.