Detroit Lions: My Offseason Gameplan

Scott RiegerAnalyst IFebruary 26, 2009

I’ve taken a small break from writing about the Lions, partly due to the fact that not much was going on, and partly because others were doing a good job of publishing countless draft articles and off-season free agency pieces.

So, I’ve decided that my hiatus should come to an end now as I discuss the Lions’ needs and how they can address those needs in Free Agency and/or the draft.

Most of you are aware that the Lions hold two first-round draft picks this year, the No. 1 overall and the No. 20 selections. They also hold a second-round pick, two third-round picks, a fifth-round pick, two sixth-round picks, and a seventh-round selection.

Combine that with the over $30 million the Lions find themselves under the cap, and it makes for some high drama as the free-agency signing period approaches.

The Lions' brass, GM Martin Mayhew, President Tom Lewand, and Head Coach Jim Schwartz have been both tight-lipped and open about different aspects of the teams approach over the next few weeks/months.

On one hand, they are doing a good job of keeping people guessing as to who will be the starting QB, who they are targeting at No. 1 overall, and what type of guys they will go after in free agency.

I have pulled the following conclusions.

  • Daunte Culpepper is expected to be healthy and well-versed in the offense and will be given every opportunity to be the starter.
  • Coach Schwartz and Defensive Coordinator Gunther Cunningham want to get bigger and stronger as a football team, particularly on defense.
  • Mayhew and Lewand want to bring in as many solid players as possible in free agency instead of targeting one or two high priced free agents.
  • Mayhew would like to move Backus inside to guard and will do so if they acquire a capable LT.

It is no secret that the Lions need a lot of help but they are certainly better on the offensive side of the ball than they are on defense.  Detroit ranked last or next to last in almost every defensive category last season.

A quick analysis of the depth chart reveals the following:

QB (C+) – Culpepper is a proven vet who can perform at a high level given the protection he needs.  Stanton is likely to be retained as is Henson. They could use a young QB to compete and learn for the future, but could easily wait until next season to get that guy.

Scott’s Solution: Wait until next season to draft a QB, allowing Linehan to see if he can rekindle the magic with Culpepper.

RB (B) – Found a gem in the third round last year in Kevin Smith, who looks poised to be the feature back in Detroit for years to come. The backup position is not solid though. The Lions would be well served to sign a quality change of pace back to complement Smith. They look to have a good young FB in Felton.

Scott’s Solution: Look to the draft in the later rounds for a guy like Ian Johnson out of Boise State.

OL (C-) – Backus is an above average LT but would likely be better inside due to his propensity for getting beat off the edge. Peterman is a decent depth guy but shouldn’t be starting at G.

Raiola is a solid vet but can be pushed around quite a bit.  Would be better with more capable guys around him.

Manny Ramirez is a young, strong guy who shows some potential but is still a few years away from being a solid starter.  Gosder Cherilus showed marked improvement as the season went on and his repetitions increased.  He looks like he’ll be solid for years to come. 

This is a big need position where the Lions would be well served to acquire two starters as well as some more depth.

Scott’s Solution: The draft is loaded with standout LT prospects.  I would try to target Michael Oher at No. 20 overall, who may fall there because of a combination of his so-so combine performance and some of the other prospects strong performances.

WR (B) – If we were just grading Calvin Johnson, this would be an A+, but considering that all of our other receivers that played a role last year aren’t on the team anymore, the Lions need a new No. 2 and No. 3 receiver going into next year.

At TE, they are decent with Michael Gaines but could use a young guy that could stretch the field.

Scott’s Solution: Target Michael Jenkins in free agency, providing another big, fast target for Culpepper in the vertical passing game.  Look to the draft for a capable slot guy in the mid-to-late rounds. Draft TE Travis Beckum or Cornelius Ingram in the late rounds.

DL (C) – This group is full of average players who at times can be above average.  The exceptions being an underachieving, but talented Cory Redding, a decent DeWayne White, and two quality up and comers in Andre Fluellen and Cliff Avril. 

After that, it’s hit or miss as to whether guys can develop into NFL players. The Lions really need a big DT to man the middle and a pass rushing DE to rotate with Avril and White.

Scott’s Solution: Look to free agency and sign either Gabe Watson or Tank Johnson for the DT slot. Follow that up with a mid round selection in the draft (ex. Terrance Taylor, Roy Miller, Ricky Jean-Francois).

Target DE Michael Johnson with the second round selection if available, if he’s not there wait until later and select Lawrence Sidbury.

LB (D) – The Lions have Ernie Sims and that’s about it. Jordon Dizon has some potential as well but isn’t there yet.  The Lions desperately need to get a starting MLB and SLB via free agency or the draft.

Scott’s Solution: Target Jonathan Vilma for the MLB position and furthermore, make him the top Free Agent priority.  Follow that up by selecting Aaron Curry No. 1 overall for the SLB slot.

CB (F) – The Lions cut both of their starting corners from last season, Bodden and Kelly, leaving them with backups as starters. Therefore, the Lions are in the market for at least two starting cornerbacks and a couple more for depth. Rumor is that they are trying to trade for one starter, and apparently almost had Carolina's Ken Lucas but he refused to play for the Lions.

Scott’s Solution: Target either Dre Bly, Bryant McFadden, or Chris McCalister in free agency and follow that up with at least one cornerback selection in the draft as well as a possible trade.  My favorite draftable guy is Joe Burnett in the third round.

S (D+) – The Lions would like to upgrade this position but they do have some talent there in Daniel Bullucks and Gerald Alexander.  One issue is that both of the aforementioned players are injury prone.

Scott’s Solution: This position could be addressed in either free agency or the draft.  If Michael Johnson isn’t available at No. 33, I’d target SS William Moore and supplement that with a free agent pickup as well.

If the Lions can exit free agency with starters at MLB, CB, DT, and WR, they would be set up nicely with well-defined needs and attainable possibilities to finish retooling their roster and acquiring starters in the draft.

That would allow them to take the BPA and address needs simultaneously in the draft and set them up to be better next year and a possible playoff team in 2010.


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