Before I took a little vacation, if spending four days in temperatures over 100 degrees at a hot track with little shade as a vacation, I started a little examination of future core players on the Lions who could lead them through a sort of Golden Era over the next ten years or so.
If you haven't read Detroit Lions are Building Something yet it is recommended reading for this assignment as I define what the Lions will need to be a dynasty and where they are at defensively.
The whole premise of this exercise is any dynasty has to have a hand full of studs plus 15 to 20 core players and the question was where are the Lions?
How close are we?
While the first article was about a total rebuilding project that is just getting started this article is about the offense and we find a large part of the structure already in place.
So who are the core player that the offense will be built around for the next eight to ten years?
Matt Stafford, 22 - It obviously starts with him. Every great team has had at the very least a very good QB, helps if he is great but he can be the type who piggybacks a little off the other players. For example we would never compare Troy Aikman to Dan Marino nor would we compare him to Trent Dilfer.
There is a certain minimum standard you need out of the QB position and that has probably more to do with the intangibles than physical skills. That big arm helps but Stafford has to be the coach on the field too.
So far Stafford gets straight A's in everything from leadership abilities to preparation and for those who want a little more depth on Stafford I refer you to a previous article of mine about the little things with Matt.
Calvin Johnson, 25 - Ten years would make him 35 and that is getting up there in WR years but he is probably the type of player who will play well into his late 30's. Needs to be among the top 3-5 WRs in the game over that stretch and he seems more than capable of doing just that. If all things go right he might go down as top 3-5 all-time WR and some season and career TD records could be in his sights.
Brandon Pettigrew, 25 - He is a little old for a second year player but his game should hold up pretty well over the next ten to twelve years, tell me loses a step and I ask who was he beating on speed anyways.
He will probably end up being an over looked part when future Lion fans look back on the Golden Age but we can be sure his contributions won't be overlooked by Stafford or the coaches.
I don't see a lot of 100 reception seasons in his future because his blocking skills are too important but he will play a large role in the passing game, especially in the red zone.
His real value will be if he is match-up nightmare for defenses. I see I need a future article about him and his role.
Jahvid Best, 21 - This is way too soon to put him this high on the list but he has the talent to be a true impact player so he has to be mentioned among the future star category. I could see him with the career of a Brian Westbrook more than the traditional workhorse type RB like Emmitt Smith. That big play ability fits the new NFL better anyways
Injuries is of course the question but he could just as easily play in 90 percent of the games over his career as not. He wasn't injury prone in college until he had some pretty impressive plays that caused a couple of injuries late in his career.
The concussion thing is a little scary, especially considering the current and well over due emphasis on concussions, but that very league wide concern could be our saving grace. We can expect the NFL to attack the issue with a combination of medical expertise and technology that could help keep Jahvid Best playing for a while.
That pretty much covers who we believe can be stars or future Hall of Famers on the offense but what about those future core players that every dynasty needs?
Kevin Smith, 23 - You might be thinking that Jahvid Best is the starting RB in this scenario I am painting so how can a back-up be a core player?
We only have to look at the most recent dynasty and the way the Patriots have used Kevin Faulk for the answer.
Kevin Faulk has only started 42 games over his eleven year career and the Patriots have had some pretty good RBs like Corey Dillon and Antowain Smith among a never ending stable of backs in New England.
Yet, over the Patriot run there have been very few important plays where Belichick didn't have Kevin Faulk lining up with Tom Brady, just look at who they trusted to throw the ball to on the infamous 4th and 2 play last year.
To me Kevin Smith fits that role perfectly as the smart, all around back who might be hauling in a long pass over his shoulder just one play after picking up the blitzing LB or stretching exactly enough to get a crucial first down.
Is that a core player?
Well Kevin Faulk is one of the few players to ever sign multiple contracts with Belichick and he has been among the top ten Patriots in pay over most of those years.
That sounds like a core player to me.
Stephen Peterman, 28 and Rob Sims, 27 - It's the age thing with these two that I question, it's not unheard of for a guard to play into his late 30's but it is a little unusual. I could see one of them making it but not both if only because teams don't usually want to pay two big veteran contracts at guard.
The Lions have struggled at guard since the Andolsek tragedy following the 1991 season and it seems strange to think they have two established players now. It should be interesting to see how much difference that makes.
The Peterman injury last year showed just how much he is an important player and he was just starting to reach his potential as that veteran junk yard dog type player. Don't overlook that he was starting to call some of the line signals just before the injury, that could be vital in the development of the right tackle position.
Some might bring up that Sims has a one year contract but we don't know the future of free agency right now and we would have to consider the Lions as the most likely team he plays for in the future if he is as advertised this year.
I will pencil in one guard position as having a core player and we will let time decide which player it is.
Jeff Backus, 33 and Domonic Raiola, 31 are too old to be considered core player for the next ten years. I guess Dom could make it but it's extremely unlikely.
Many Lion fans expect the Backus era to end after the last two years of his contract are up but I doubt it. He might not resign for quite the big bucks he is making but if the Lions are headed in the right direction I got a feeling Backus will want to see this team building process right through to the Super Bowl. I also would expect the Lions to want him.
Still, that is two positions the Lions will have to change mid way through the golden era.
Gosder Cherilus, 26 and Jason Fox - Both have the talent to stick around but at this point we can't put either in the future core category yet.
It might seem reasonable to count the two of them as one future core player but let's hold off a little on this one. For one example it's possible the Lions land a franchise LT someday and Backus moves to RT to finish out his career.
Nate Burleson, 29 and Tony Scheffler, 27 - Both could be core players for the early part of the decade but the Lions will have to rework the complementary players for Calvin Johnson to finish the era.
Derrick Williams, 24 - Lousy rookie season but this would hardly be the first time a WR struggled before turning in a great career.
I almost hate to admit it but I was hoping that some how the Lions would draft him last year because I like the way he could fit playing with Megatron. Team player with excellent athletic skills and seems to have the mental toughness to succeed in the NFL over the long haul.
I can't put him down as a future core player right now but he has the potential to be a very valuable player, maybe even an occasional pro bowl type player.
Handful of other potential prospects like Jerome Felton and Dan Gerberry but they all have a very long way to go before we can mention them as core players. Most likely there is a player or two on the roster who will develop but right now it's not possible to nail down exactly who those players are.
I do have a little bit of a sleeper in Dan Gronkowski, 25. He will never be a star but I could see him developing into a ten year guy who plays a lot and catchs some big touchdown passes over the years. I'm not counting him, I'm just mentioning him.
So looking over the future of the offense during what we hope will be the Golden Era the Lions can count Stafford, Calvin Johnson, Pettigrew, Best and K Smith plus I added a guard and a hopeful with Derrick Williams as potential 10 year pieces. The odds are against all of them reaching that goal but as long as one of them is Stafford and most of the rest pan out the Lions have a nice core to build around.
They also have a nice collection of core players like Backus, Raiola, Burleson and Scheffler that should help get this decade started and the Lions can concentrate on replacing these players after they get done building the defense.
If we look at the two article together maybe a little bit of the path this will take emerges.
It certainly is apparent that the offense will led the way into the decade and while it may take a year we expect them to be championship quality soon.
That leaves the defense and as I talked about in the previous article the Lions have started to inject some good young talent into the mix and we can expect the Lions to continue to build on things for another draft or two.
It might be three or four years down the road before they reach true championship quality and that puts the defense right in line to hold things together while the offense reloads after some of their veteran core players are phased out.
In a perfect Lion world that would be after a Super Bowl or two, say around 2014 or there about and the Lions would ride that defense and Stafford into a couple of more Super Bowls down the stretch of the Golden Era.
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