Last time, I highlighted some of the different things to consider when talking about free agency. As with last year, I think the Lions are going to see what they can do with the lower-level of free agents and try for another solid draft. In the end, no matter what happens in free agency if the Lions don’t draft well then they will not improve.
At this point, the Lions only have a handful of draft picks left on the team from the last decade. The fourth, fifth, and sixth year players that should comprise the talented core of the team in its’ prime are nowhere on the Lions’ roster. After picking up 5 starters in the draft last ifseason (Stafford, Pettigrew, Hill, Levy and Delmas), they will still need another 2 drafts of the same quality to get a respectable core of 15 players in place. Any GM will say that getting 5 starting caliber players in one draft is an excellent draft.
The Matt Millen debacle left this team essentially devoid of talent. Mayhew said last year when he accepted the GM job that this was more than a one year project. It has nothing to do with “systems” or “3 years to get the Tampa 2″, or a “complicated offense only my players understand”. Bottom line with this building project is and has been talent, pure and simple.
Last year after 0-16, we tried to guess our 30 “roster locks”. On most teams, this shouldn’t be too hard — there are at least that many guys that you know aren’t going anywhere. With last year’s Lions, by the time the initial roster was published it was less than a week and there were another half dozen or more players turned over. The guesses were all over the place because there were a lot of guys close in talent level (below average) competing for spots.
Another way to gauge the 0-16 roster talent Mayhew and Schwartz started with is to look at last year’s roster turnover. At the end of the season, there were no more than 3 or 4 players that were consensus to bring back based on what they had done. This season, that number is much higher. Still, we are going to be looking at another 20 to 30 players churning on the roster.
So of the 35 or so players turned over last year, where did they go and how did they do? Only 5 started anywhere in 2009 - Paris Lenon was a backup who saw a little time on the field, and Mike Furrey was a rotational WR for Cleveland. The five starters were Roy Williams (Dallas), Leigh Bodden (NE), Gerald Alexander (JAX), Cory Redding (at DE, in Seattle), and Shaun Cody (Houston).
How did those players do? Leigh Bodden (5 INTS, 47 tackles) did well on a good NE defense. Gerald Alexander (2 INTS, 41 tackles) did well on a poor Jacksonville defense. After that, things go downhill. Redding had 18 tackles in 13 games and Cody had 12 tackles in 11 games. If you put Roy Williams and Mike Furrey together they combined for 766 yards and 7 TDs this season. (In 2006 they combined for 2396 yards and 13 TDs). So of 35 players on an NFL team in 2008, in 2009 only 2 had any real impact. A couple more made minor dents.
How about everyone else let go in 09?
The 2 QBs they lost (Kitna and Orlovsky) didn’t throw a single pass in 09.
The 4 RBs they lost (Rudi Johnson, M. Thomas, Calhoun, Cason) had 0 carries for 0 yards in 09.
The 3 O-Linemen they lost (Foster, McCollum, Mulitalo) didn’t play a single game in 09.
Four of the five LBs they lost (Lewis, Nece, Gardner and Lehman) didn’t play a single down in the NFL in 09.
Three of the 5 D-Linemen they lost (Alama-Francis, Darby, L. Moore) didn’t play a single down in 09.
Right now, the worst move I see (Bodden didn’t want to be here at all, roster bonus or not) from last ifseason was trading away Alexander. Other than that, who did they miss? Many other guys they picked up and dropped throughout the year also ended up on practice squads or out of football. The talent level was just plain that bad in 2008, and it bled over into 2009 and will still be impacting 2010 — and possibly 2011 in regards to depth. There just is no example to quantify how lacking the roster was in even average players.
There are going to be a lot of players let go this ifseason that are going to have similar statistics and futures in the NFL. Only so many players can be drafted and signed each year that are an improvement over what they had in the first place. Unfortunately, the Lions not only need time, but Mayhew to consistently pick as well as he did last year. Can he keep it up?