Just as the officials sometimes need to check the spot of the ball — to the good or bad, depending on which side you are on — this week the Lions Congregation checks where the Lions are on the field right now as free agency slows to a trickle, and the real buildup to the draft begins… (hint – look for draft related topics starting on Friday)
This week’s congregation:
(Steve of Detoit Lions Weblog also submitted his response just after I posted, and it has now been included as well)
1. Taking into account all the free agent moves to date, where do you feel the team is at? Are they “set” at any positions? What glaring holes remain?
NetRat: First the moves (from www.detroitlions.com) with some comments by me.
03/22/2010 The Detroit Lions sign DE Jason Hunter, LB Landon Johnson and S Marquand Manuel. Depth
03/17/2010 The Lions re-sign Restricted Free Agent CB Kevin Hobbs. Depth
03/16/2010 The Detroit Lions acquire QB Shaun Hill via trade from the San Francisco 49ers. Backup VET QB, a need filled
03/16/2010 The Detroit Lions re-sign LB Zack Follett, T Corey Hilliard, TE Jake Nordin and RB Cedric Peerman Depth
03/16/2010 The Detroit Lions re-sign DE Copeland Bryan and CB Deangelo Smith. Depth
03/13/2010 The Detroit Lions acquire CB Chris Houston from the Atlanta Falcons. Depth, possible starter, will fight for a position
03/11/2010 The Detroit Lions re-sign LB Vinny Ciurciu and T Jon Jansen. Depth
03/10/2010 The Detroit Lions sign CB Jonathan Wade. Depth, possible starter, will fight for a roster spot
03/08/2010 The Detroit Lions re-sign TE Will Heller and sign free agent WR Brian Clark. The Lions also release DE Dewayne White. Needed Backups/Depth
03/06/2010 The Detroit Lions sign unrestricted free agents WR Nate Burleson and DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. Great moves, starters
03/05/2010 The Detroit Lions release CB Phillip Buchanon and DT Grady Jackson too much money to keep for results
03/05/2010 The Detroit Lions acquire DT Corey Williams and a 2010 seventh-round draft choice in exchange for a 2010 fifth-round draft choice via trade with the Cleveland Browns. Depth, possible starter in rotation, will fight for a position
02/23/2010 The Detroit Lions release DE Jared DeVries. Injured/age/bonus due.
02/19/2010 The Detroit Lions claim LB Ashlee Palmer from the Buffalo Bills. Depth
02/10/2010 The Detroit Lions sign RB De De Dorsey Depth
All guys labeled as Depth are bodies who will be fighting for roster spots along with other free agent pickups and draft picks. The only pickups that are guaranteed to be on the roster are the two March 6th moves (Burleson and KVB). All the other moves are players that might stick, might not, didn’t cost much to get, and won’t cost anything to cut.
So what holes are left? First you have to define “hole”. They have bodies at cornerback, they could play the season with those bodies, but it would be better to add draft picks to the bunch and hopefully upgrade the group with that pick or picks. So is cornerback a hole or just in need of more talent? I say the latter. A hole is when you do not currently have the player on the team to man the position at all.
For me then, the holes are Left Guard, Starting Running Back, Cornerback and Defensive Tackle, with the last two closer to the “in need of an upgrade” category.
Other spots in need of an upgrade are Kick/Punt Returner(s), Safety, Defensive End, another Cornerback for depth/competition and another Defensive Tackle to rotate in.
They might be able to fill the DT, RB, CB, LG and Returner in this draft (possibly even in that order), if it’s as good as last years draft was (hard to do once let alone twice in a row). They might even get lucky at the end of the draft and hit another DT and CB or Safety but I’m not figuring on it. Instead, I figure they have alternate free agent options for every single one of those spots and will start pulling the trigger on them after the draft when they see what they end up with.
They will likely over acquire for several positions that are highly uncertain, such as cornerback for example. The best 4 or 5 will make the roster. Should the Lions ever get lucky with a cast-off from another team, a 7th round pick, or some undrafted guys the whole process would speed up immensely.
Mike: Ahh, the state of the team…
I like to think of myself as a realist, not jaded enough to be a full blown Lions pessimist, yet smart enough about football not to drink the Kool Aid and partake of the cornbread every time a player is picked up.
Still, it is hard to argue about a lot of the moves Mayhew and Co. have made. The addition of Shaun Hill (essentially for nothing more than the signing of Kevin O’Connell last spring) was genius. The fleecing of Atlanta for Chris Houston, reportedly by having him fail his physical, was shrewd if not a full-blown “dick move.” The trade for Corey Williams who would never have signed with Detroit had Cleveland cut him post-draft, was a no-brainer that no one would have thought about before it happened.
That isn’t to say he hasn’t had some help. The scouting background of Schwartz along with the tireless efforts of Shack Harris (who has to be leading the NFL in frequent flier miles) have helped. Prospects like Sammie Lee Hill are missed by lots of teams who don’t send their own scouts to small colleges, the Lions send VPs. The Lions have also been helped by other teams willing to give more than market value for commodities–Dallas to get Roy Williams and Cleveland to get rid of Corey Williams.
For a personnel department becoming known for secrecy, the Lions have done exactly what they’ve said they would do. The Lions added a few bigger names early–Williams, Burleson, Vanden Bosch, and are improving the depth with some shrewd signings of familiar players like Landon Johnson and Caleb Campbell (thanks Uncle Sam).
Yet, this team will be built through youth and the Lions have done themselves a service by turning lower draftpicks into players ill-suited for their old schemes. At 30, Corey Williams could have five or six more years of football left and Chris Houston could play for twice that. The youth movement continues with the flirtation of Pacman Jones who is a surprising 26.
What’s left? Even if Pacman is added, the coaching staff can’t be satisfied with he and Houston starting games. The Lions are likely to add one, if not two, defensive backs into that porous secondary. Jim Schwartz went on the record saying a defensive lineman is likely at number two, but if a trade down is possibly, Mayhew will pull the trigger. In that case, the Lions could look at Okung, Berry, or even Haden depending on the spot.
I expect a few more free agency signings pre-draft and more post draft as the Lions continue to build a roster, almost like an expansion team. What is clear is that Mayhew will turn over every stone to find talent which is a departure from the Millen era where the Lions GM didn’t even live in Michigan, let alone do the amount of work this personnel staff has done.
Al: Despite all of Martin Mayhew’s signings and trades, the Lions, as a whole, are still nowhere close to where they need to be. Which is, obviously, competing for a playoff spot. It will likely take at least a couple of draft classes to get to that point. So where is this team at going into the draft?
Coming off of a 2 win season, even after the signings in free agency and trades, this is a team still lacking in talent and depth at most, if not all, postions. Making the Lions, once again, a bottom feeder. They’ll be lucky to win 5-6 games. A decent 2010 draft, combined with the continued improvement of the ‘09 deaft class, might net them a 3-4 game improvement in the standings.
As for free agency? Sure, the Lions have filled some holes and added some depth before the draft. But have they added any stars? Impact players in their primes?
One word answer. No!
DE Kyle Vanden Bosch was once an impact player. But he’s on the bad side of 30. Vanden Bosch can still be effective, but not at the level of 3-4 years ago. DT Corey Williams is a good role player, anything more the Lions get from him is tasty, surprising gravy. I’m not expecting either of them to be the next coming of Bubba Baker or Jerry Ball (The last 2 Lions defensive linemen you could truly call consistently dominant. Not Shaun Rogers, who spent more time sucking oxygen on the sidelines than making plays.)
Shaun Hill is a very good pickup…but how many games will a backup QB win? Truthfully, you have to hope it’s none. Hill is the insurance you hope you never have to use.
CB Chris Houston was available for next to nothing in trade for a reason. CB Johnathan Wade was allowed to become a free agent for a reason. Their previous teams thought they already had better players on their depth chart. The fact Wade and Houston are sizable upgrades over the Lions’ 2009 corners says volumes about last season’s Lions defense…none of it good.
The rest of the Lions’ moves in free agency were to sign depth and special teams guys. Needed, but nothing game changing in the big scheme of things.
As for “set” positions, can a 2 win team really be set at any position? That’s a rhetorical question. Of course not!
Save for Matthew Stafford as thestarting QB (more so due to money owed than performance, though I hope that changes), Calvin Johnson at WR,Louis Delmas at S, and maybe Brandon Pettigrew at TE, the Lions could draft an upgrade at every other position. Not even the best kicker in Lions history, the ancient Jason Hanson, is irreplaceable.
As for needs, the Lions must find quality players at CB, RB, DT, OG, WR, and DE. Not necessarily in that order.
The most glaring hole on the Lions? They have long needed a big-time defensive playmaker, one who could wreak havoc in offensive backfields. That is the sort of player, be it a defensive tackle, end or linebacker, you can only find via the draft. Once teams find themselves a player other teams have to gameplan, they rarely hit the open market.
Which is why this is such an important draft for Mayhew. He needs to find that defensive playmaker, and may have a shot at one in DT Ndamukong Suh. Every time I see his name mentioned, I think back to his one man wrecking crew act in the Big 12 title game (4.5 sacks, 7 tackles for loss, 9 tackles for zero or negative yards, 12 tackles, putting the fear of God in Colt McCoy). Proof interior lineman can be impact players, and why the Lions should draft Suh. But that’s a subject for another Lions congregation.
So that’s the state of the Lions as they head into the draft. A bad team that’s slowly getting better, but remains a long way from respectability. A very long way.
Phil: With a team like the Lions, I’d never say they are set anywhere. OK, except for starting quarterback, wide receiver and tight end.
Literally every other position could be upgraded. Delmas, of course, is a lock at safety, but Detroit could use another strong starter. The
linebackers look good, but more depth is never a bad thing.
That said, you can’t do everything at once. In light of the moves the team has made, I’d say this is the list of positions that the Lions
still need to address:
1) defensive end
2) defensive tackle
3) cornerback (another starter, as well as depth)
4) running back (with blazing speed)
5) left guard
6) wide receiver (with blazing speed and who could be a returner, too)
7) starting safety (depth, too)
9) linebacker depth
I’ve tried to put them in order of priority, but that doesn’t mean I think Martin Mayhew should draft this way. You never know how the draft
board is going to fall, so that obviously has to be taken into consideration.
While I think the Lions have done a solid job, overall, in free agency, I don’t think any of the holes they’ve plugged are with long-term
solutions. Therefore, I think all the positions cited above are fair game.
Joshua: The Lions have been active in free agency, but thus far most of the moves have merely been to replace special teams guys with better special teams guys, or special teams guys with potential. Of the major free agent acquisitions, Williams and Houston are both long term possibilites to help the team, but neither are “locks”.
As far as positions that are “set” — the short answer is none. Quarterback and Linebacker are the only two positions that have solid starters at every place. In every other position grouping there are huge question marks.
Are the Lions better than a month ago? Yes – they have better depth. Is every position outside of #1 QB open to be drafted? Definitely. Talent is still this team’s biggest need, and that can’t be filled in just one ifseason, or even two or three when you are coming from where the Lions were: Nada.
Even though many upgrades are needed, glaring holes would be: Left Guard, Safety, Conerback, Runningback,
Steve: I believe that Martin Mayhew has performed an adequate job addressing the Lions voluminous needs this off-season. Should the Lions be able to procure DL Anthony Hargrove and DB Adam “Pacman” Jones, even with their respective character concerns, the Lions will be in very good shape entering next month’s draft.
The Lions still have a lot of personnel holes. For instance, it is clearly unreasonable to expect for their secondary to be repaired during one off-season. However, a beefed up front seven, with genuine talent, would allow the Lions to continue to work upon improving their secondary, even if it is somewhat patched together, in the end.
The Lions also have major concerns at running back and along their offensive line. I am of the opinion that each of these positions can be adequately upgraded in the middle rounds of the upcoming draft, if need be.
The team is clearly set at the wide receiver position, quarterback, center, kicker/punter and tight end. Otherwise, they can fill in the remaining personnel cracks with draft picks. The Lions have indicated that they will draft based on talent, regardless of position. With a lot remaining unsettled, this seems to be a foolproof plan.