Much has been said about the 0-16 record the Lions put together last season, the horrible track record of ousted GM Matt Millen, and the over 50 years of futility of the franchise, but things appear to be changing in Detroit.
The Lions, under new GM Martin Mayhew, ended last season with some good personnel moves that included getting value (draft picks and players) for Roy Williams and Jon Kitna, two players who were either on their way out this year or next. They also signed Daunte Culpepper to compete for the starting QB job.
They made some key coaching moves, replacing the inexperienced and unsuccessful staff from last season with one of the hottest defensive assistants available in Jim Schwartz for Head Coach, and two guys with very nice track records as coordinators, Scott Linehan and Gunther Cunningham, to run the offensive and defensive units.
Mayhew also went out and brought in a proven personnel guy in James "Shack" Harris to assist him with evaluating talent, which I believe was a brilliant move and says a lot about Mayhew realizing that he doesn't have a ton of experience and could use some assistance.
Mayhew began the free agency period by picking up some good veterans to replace underachievers and malcontents. Some of these moves included acquiring or signing Grady Jackson (DT), Phillip Buchanon (CB), Bryant Johnson (WR), Daniel Loper (OL), Anthony Henry (CB/S), Eric King (CB), Maurice Morris (RB), Ronald Curry (WR), Terrelle Smith (FB), and Julian Peterson (OLB).
They went into the draft with a multitude of draft picks, including two in rounds one and three and the No. 1 overall selection.
The No. 1 pick turned out to be the quarterback of the future, Matthew Stafford. I was originally against the selection, but, in hindsight, now believe they made the right pick given what they did during the rest of the draft and post draft.
They also selected the best overall tight end (Brandon Pettigrew) and safety (Louis Delmas) with their next two selections that addressed immediate needs.
Later in the draft, they got great value and possible contributors in Sammie Lee Hill (DT), Derrick Williams (WR), DeAndre Levy (LB), Lydon Murtha (OT), and Zack Follett (LB). Their other selections were Aaron Brown (RB) and Dan Gronkowski (TE).
Most people agreed that the Lions had a great draft, although some were surprised that the Lions passed on James Lauranitis and Rey Maululaga, who were the best two MLBs available; some thought that this was the Lions' most problematic position.
The Fine Tuning
Mayhew seemed to know something that others didn't as hometown product and two-time Super Bowl champion MLB Larry Foote was released by the Steelers and subsequently signed with the Lions. The addition of Foote, along with incumbent Ernie Sims and the acquisition of Julian Peterson, turned a presumed weakness as a unit into a strength and, arguably, one of the NFL's best LB units.
They also made moves to solidify the Offensive Line, which was another perceived problem area that wasn't addressed until late in the draft. These moves were the signing of Toniu Fonoti (OG) and Ephraim Salaam (OT), followed by another hometown product, Jon Jansen (OT).
In addition to those already mentioned, the Lions claimed three players off of waivers from other teams and signed another veteran in Marquand Manuel (S). They also signed undrafted free agent RB Antone Smith to a contract.
Smith is a bit of an enigma because he is viewed as undersized and didn't perform up to expectations in college at FSU, but was formerly the No. 1 overall running back coming out of high school and impressed the Lions in their mini-camp with his speed.
The Lions needed a huge shake-up coming off of such a dismal season and years of mismanagement, and they got it. Many of the veterans and draft selections are projected to be starters and others will be "first off the bench" to sub for those starters.
Approximately 10 offseason additions should start, meaning the turnover rate for the team is around 45 percent. That is a large number for any team and virtually unheard of for an NFL franchise, but is something that had to happen for the tide to start to change in Detroit.
I like the way the team is shaping up and am eager to see how all of the new pieces gel come game day.
The Bottom Line
The Lions appear to have addressed quite a few of the needs that they had going into the offseason and have added to the talent level, experience, and speed of the roster while bringing in some very solid players. The players will be surrounded by experienced coaches and will have a good mix of youth and proven veterans. They certainly will not go 0-16 again and I believe that they will probably surprise a lot of people while finishing around .500 (8-8).
If they are able to pull that off, not only should Schwartz get Coach of the Year, but Mayhew should win the NFL's Executive of the Year.
Front Office: A
They've done a masterful job with the hires made and players brought in. This could even go up to an A+ if they are able to add another key veteran like Greg Ellis or Chris McCalister.
Free Agency: B
The signings of Larry Foote, Phillip Buchanon, Bryant Johnson, Grady Jackson, and Jon Jansen were huge. None of these guys were A-List free agents, but getting solid guys like that to come to Detroit is a huge challenge and they found a way to make it happen. The key is that virtually all of the guys brought in were upgrades.
Trading Roy Williams for a first, third, and sixth round selection was awesome considering that he was likely to have left after this season in free agency. Likewise, Kitna likely would've been released anyways but they managed to get a starting quality defensive back (Henry) for him.
The trade of Cory Redding for Julian Peterson was great, too. Redding had done all he was going to in Detroit and was a good but not a spectacular player. Peterson is a perennial pro-bowler. Enough Said!
Obviously, it's difficult to judge a draft until a few years down the road, but based on talent and need, the Lions did a great job. They added talented, versatile players, and a potential franchise QB. This draft will likely hinge on how Stafford performs, but I believe that quite a few guys drafted like Pettigrew, Williams, Delmas, and Hill are destined to be very good players.
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