Leadership Questions Are Front and Center for the Detroit Lions This Offseason

Chris Madden@@christomaddenAnalyst IIFebruary 24, 2013

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 30: Matthew Stafford #9 of the Detroit Lions looks on during a stop in play while playing the Chicago Bears at Ford Field on December 30, 2012 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Earlier this week, fans of the Detroit Tigers engaged in an interesting debate about the importance of leadership. The question basically boiled down to this: Does the best player on one's team need to be a leader?

The issue was raised when Octavio Dotel, the Tigers' journeyman reliever, said that his teammate Miguel Cabrera, reigning American League MVP and Triple Crown winner, wasn't a leader.

Here's Dotel's quote from Eric Adelson of Yahoo!:

You have to step up and say something. Miggy’s more about his game. I don’t see him as a leader. ... Everybody has their eyes on Miggy Cabrera

I suppose as an encore Dotel is going to tell us that Justin Verlander is a great pitcher and Jim Leyland is ornery.

Dotel's statement was obvious and unnecessary on many different levels, but that's a discussion for the Tigers page. The debate he stirred up is just as applicable to the Detroit Lions.

In fact, leadership is much more of an issue at Ford Field than it is at Comerica Park. Ongoing disciplinary issues over the last few years have made fans wonder if there were any leaders in the Lions locker room at all.

There wasn't enough that's for sure. Even though the Lions have three superstar players in Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson and Ndamukong Suh, the cornerstones of the franchise, none of them are natural-born leaders. 

Johnson leads on the field with his dominant play but barely says a word off it.

According to NFL.com, Suh says he wants to be a leader, but he didn't exactly set a good example during his first two years in the league.

Out of the Lions' three stars, Stafford has proven to be the biggest leader. He's rallied the troops more than once, but is he consistently vocal enough? No, he's not. The Lions have relied on veterans like Nate Burleson, Kyle Vanden Bosch and Corey Williams for that.

While those three have been great influences, their presence hasn't been enough. None of them could corral Titus Young or keep Mikel Leshoure and Nick Fairley off the police blotter last summer.

More importantly, none of them could rally the troops enough to bring the Lions out of their funk last season.

So, the question remains: Does leadership ultimately need to come from the best player(s) on the team?

The answer for the Lions and every other professional sports team is definitively, no. Just look at the Baltimore Ravens. Joe Flacco demonstrated that he is one of the best players on that team by leading them to victory in the Super Bowl. He earned the MVP award, but he isn't the Ravens' leader.

They were led by Ray Lewis, who was well past his prime and wasn't even the best player on the defense anymore. Yet no other player had more command of his team. His teammates followed him because he'd earned their respect with years of dominance and continued to inspire them with his words.

Lewis proves that leadership isn't about being the best player on the team. However, it's obvious leadership can't come from the long snapper or a third-string safety either.

In other words, it's got to come from someone who makes a consistent impact on the field, and that's why the Lions might be in trouble. Vanden Bosch is already gone, and Williams, a free agent, might be next.

Burleson will remain, but how much impact can he have in 2013? The 11-year veteran is coming off a major leg injury, and his starting spot could go to Ryan Broyles when he returns.

Even if Burleson is impactful, he's not the kind of guy to lead a whole team. He's a nice guy who sets a great example, but he's not the type to come down on a youngster who gets out of line.

That's exactly what the Lions need. Unfortunately, they don't have anyone on their roster who can step into that role. There's a good number of veterans, but if they were capable of it, they would have done it already.

No, Dominic Raiola cannot do it all himself.

The Lions better find leadership somewhere, or their playoff hopes for 2013 will fade quicker than last year's. They can't go out and find leadership on the waiver wire though. Even if they were to pick up a talented veteran who's proven to be a leader on other teams, there's no guarantee he'd fit into the Lions' mix of personalities.

Finding leadership via the draft is even less likely. How can a rookie lead the team when he's carrying everyone's bags and doing their laundry?

It takes time with one team for a true leader to be cultivated, and that's why the Lions desperately need Stafford to step into the role. He's proven he can rally the troops on a number of occasions, but they don't just need a leader on the field during games. They need a vocal presence to guide them through the offseason, training camp, preseason, off days, practices, pregame and postgame.

They have enough players who lead with their feats on the field; they need one who can lead with his voice off it.

The NFL Scouting Combine is upon us, and for the next several weeks everyone will be focused on bench-press reps and 40-yard dash times, but don't underestimate the importance of leadership. Talent and skill only get you so far in the NFL these days.

Every team is rife with talent, but it's the ones who have the most focus, who out-prepare their opponents and minimize their mistakes, who are champions. Those teams have leaders who set the tone that makes that possible.

The Lions hope they find someone to set that tone for them very soon.


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