With the Free Agency period pretty much over and the NFL draft on the horizon I figured now might be the right time to recap the retooled Lions. Now, generally any Lions front office moves are a clinic in incompetence (still waiting on approval of that Matt Millen restraining order), but this year I’m feeling fairly confident (which certainly means something terrible is about to happen. Somebody go check on Calvin Johnson’s knees! Can we take out another insurance policy on them? Maybe protect them with 4 armed guards?) BUT IN ANY EVENT! Let’s take a look at the damage.
Things started out in typical Lions fashion. Ask any Lions fan what the team needed to prioritize after the Coach Schwartz firing and they would have said improve the secondary (which has needed repair for a decade but that doesn’t prevent the team from avoiding top level corners in the first round like the plague) and add a legitimate #2 threat alongside Calvin Johnson to make teams AT LEAST think twice about triple teaming him before ultimately decided “screw it… give him the triple team.” So… of course… with these two concerns in mind what does Detroit do? They cut Safety Louis Delmas, their best secondary player who, by the way, WAS ONLY 26 YEARS OLD!!! Yes he had injury history, but he played all 16 games last season… so… this was smart… And then, in order to improve their receiving corps, they cut their #2 receiver Nate Burleson. Awesome. Now I know Nate injured himself last year as a result of his unhealthy love of pizza, but this does not seem like the way to build your receiving corps… unless they just thought everyone else on the field was getting in Calvin’s way…
That was all before Free Agency had even started. Free Agency made things worse. One of my biggest fears with losing Coach Schwartz is that this dominant defensive line he built will take a huge step back. However, I tried to convince myself that, hey, we still have all the players from that unit so even without the coach we should still be able to produce on some similar same level. Buuuut as it turns out… Mayhew did not think those players were as important as I did… We lost defensive end Willie Young to division rival Chicago (which has shades of the Cliff Avril to Seattle loss… except worse because the Bears are in our division) and we also lost defensive end Israel Idonije to the Bears (less important loss, but its the principle that matters!) We also lost Shaun Hill to St. Louis which is fine until you realize that we replaced him by bringing back Dan Orlovsky.
HOWEVER thankfully that is where the bad news stops and I get to put on my Honolulu Blue Fan Goggles!!! Prepare yourselves for wreckless optimism! The first big move (and really the Lions only big free agency splash in recent memory) was signing Golden Tate away from the Superbowl champion Seattle Seahawks. At first I was a little unsure of this signing because Tate is undersized and he’s never really put up huge numbers in Seattle. However, *fan goggles* that was in an offense which ran the ball 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and only thought to pass as a 4th option. If Tate can put up 64 catches, 898 yards, and 5 TDs in that Seattle offense, there is absolutely no reason he shouldn’t be able to dwarf those numbers when playing next to the walking triple team that is Calvin Johnson. I’m thinking around 80 catches, 1,200 yards, and 8-9 TDs. Plus if Tate really can put up numbers like that its just gonna free up Calvin Johnson even more. Not only that, but Tate’s leaping ability makes up for his size so he can play #2 BUT if we decided to draft another receiver in this loaded WR draft, we could probably slide Tate into the slot. He clearly has no fear going over the middle. This is a major improvement over Nate (as much as I loved him).
However, the biggest positive about bringing in Tate is the fact that he never. drops. passes. Ever… Tate has only dropped 5 passes in the last three years combined. Last year alone the Lions dropped more balls than a Scarlett Johansen nude scene.
SO after filling their self made hole at receiver, the Lions had to address their self made hole at safety. They did so admirably in my opinion by signing James Ihedigbo, even if it is just a bandaid solution. Whereas Delmas was only 26 and Tate is only 25, Ihedigbo is already 30. This makes it clear that the Lions are in win now mode, and honestly they probably don’t have more than a 2-3 year window anyway. Calvin Johnson is 28 and Reggie Bush is 29 so this window isn’t as wide open as it used to be. Plus the Lions are already strapped for cash and pushing up against the salary cap, so within a couple years they’ll probably be in the same terrible problem the Panthers found them in this offseason where they need to cut valuable players year after year just to stay under the cap. So while it would have been nice to grab someone younger, Ihedigbo is still a serviceable player, he’s familiar with Coach Caldwell, and he’s generally stayed healthy throughout his career. Paired with Glover Quinn that should give us some solid leadership at the 2 safety positions. In this same vein, the Lions brought back Rashean Mathis (thank God) to bring some veteran experience to the worryingly young secondary led by the disappointing and troubled Chris Houston and Darius Slay (who will hopefully look 100% recovered this year from an injury late in his college career). They also brought in Cassius Vaughn for the same reason so hopefully between the talent of the young guys and the skill of the old guys we can duct tape together a pass defense.
Those were really the 2 major stories in the Lions offseason moves. I also think its interesting to point out that our new OC grabbed a Fullback off of the Saints (his former team) to come with him and help implement his schemes. The Lions haven’t used a Fullback consistently for maybe 8 years as far as I can remember. So I don’t know if this is good or bad or if it will even change anything, but hey… thats new. They also brought back Joique Bell which is a great story (Michigan kid who went to Wayne State right in the city and has experience working with our new OC Joe Lombardi from his time in New Orleans along with Reggie Bush) but also a solid move. I love having a two back system to protect Reggie’s legs as much as possible. Moreover, the offensive line is looking young (outside of Raiola) and solid with the addition of Larry Warford from Kentucky last season, which is a Godsend for Stafford.
All things considered I’m cautiously optimistic about all these moves. The draft will hopefully address some other concerns. The Linebacking corps could use an influx of talent so I wouldn’t mind UCLA LB Anthony Barr. But I’ve also praying for a 1st round corner for the last 7 years so I would love to see Justin Gilbert as well. And like I mentioned earlier I wouldn’t mind drafting another receiver at 10. Maybe someone like Mike Evans if he’s still around, but if they end up trading up for Sammy Watkins I think thats a mistake, because they can’t afford to give up draft picks that they need to use to add talent other places.
Either way though, this is a competitive team. At its ceiling it could probably win 11 games but that would definitely require a slip from either Chicago or Green Bay within the division. There’s probably no chance that they win less than 8 games, but I think the team really needs to do whatever it takes to make it to the playoffs this year. You can’t continue to waste the greatest receiver of all time (shut up Jerry Rice). I know this team can’t win a Superbowl, but the core of Johnson, Stafford, Bush, and Suh should at least have won a playoff game by this point. We have a three year window to make some noise here so I’ll be polishing up the Honolulu Blue Goggles and preparing to go down with the ship.