. . . and so it goes

>> 2.05.2009

Detroit News writer John Niyo, amongst others, is reporting that CB Leigh Bodden won't be retained.  Mlive.com's Tom Kowalski has an excellent piece on it here.

Group A: Cory Redding, Kalimba Edwards, Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola. 

Group B: Roy Williams, Shaun Rogers, Jeff Hartings . . . Leigh Bodden?

Group C: Kevin Jones, Johnnie Morton, Luther Eliss . . . Leigh Bodden?

Much has been made of the Lions' consistently poor drafting.  After all, it seems evident: so few of the many high Lions draft picks are still with the team!  Yet, as bad as the Lions' drafting has occasionally been, I actually don't think the Lions' pattern of first-day failure has been extraordinary.  Go look back through NFL Draft history: every first round, from every year, has some stars, some decent players, quite a few disappointments, and several laugh-out-loud busts.  What slot in the first round you're talking about doesn't matter--I believe the figure most often quoted is that 50% of all first-round picks are busts.  And when you consider that first-rounders are both theoretically the most talented of all draftees, and definitely command the greatest financial commitment from the franchise that drafted them, that means that the other rounds probably have similar--if not higher--percentages of failure.  Think about it, folks: every team invites 80 players to training camp; 2,560 guys enter July with a shot at an NFL job.  By mid-August, that number has gradually shrunk to the 53-man active roster--that's 1,696 real jobs to go around.  The NFL draft is seven rounds long, times 32 teams, plus compensatory picks; let's call it 250 rookies drafted every year.  Plus, most teams bring in 5-15 undrafted free agents.  That means that every year, ~350 kids come looking for one of 1,696 jobs--and many keep coming year after year, bouncing around the CFL, Arena League (now defunct), NFLE (now defunct), XFL (now defunct), UFL (supposedly starting up), and AAFL (supposedly starting up) . . . the vast majority of new hopefuls will spend years trying to break onto an NFL roster.

The question becomes, when will they let the incumbent go?

The Lions' biggest problem, to me, hasn't been the multiple high-profile misses at the top of the first; it's been the inability to identify and retain the talent it does develop.  Look at Group A up above: Cory Redding, Kalimba Edwards, Jeff Backus, and Dominic Raiola.  All were high Lions draft picks.  All of their performances showed both downside and great upside through the duration of their rookie contracts--and for all, the Lions chose to retain them by paying them what they'd be worth at the peak of their upside.  Redding, Edwards, Backus, and Raiola all signed massive extensions, as if they were amongst the best in the league at their position.  And, the truth must be told, all of them had at least flashed that level of on-the-field play at that point.  Even the biggest disappointment of those four, "Kalimbust", had an overlooked-by-most sensational rookie year, highlighted by a game against Atlanta where none other than Mike Vick was unable to escape his relentless pursuit.  These are the players people think about when they assert that the Lions consistently "overpay to keep mediocre talent around".

Let's look at Group B: Roy Williams, Shaun Rogers, and Jeff Hartings.  Each of these three were obvious "hits" from the day they took the field as Lions.  Each reached the highest level of performance right away.  Each had some struggles with either injury, discipline, or inconsistency, and each was either traded or allowed to walk away.  Each has gone on to (or "will go on to"--I'm sorry, but Roy will be sweet in Dallas) great success elsewhere.  These are the players people think about when they assert that the Lions consistently "won't pay to keep good players".

Finally, Group C: Kevin Jones, Johnnie Morton, Luther Eliss.  All Lions first-round picks.  All acheived great success with the Lions, albeit for varying lengths of time.  At the time each was released (or allowed to walk away), Lions fans were stunned.  These were valuable contributors who had productive years in front of them!  Moroever, each individually had many rabid fans amongst the Lions faithful.  To send them packing--and get nothing in return--seemed ridiculous.  And yet . . . Eliss was nothing more than cheap depth in New England.  Johnnie Morton picked up his monstrous paychecks in KC with a mask and a gun.  KJ was a mostly-invisible backup to workhorse rookie Matt Forte in Chicago this year, and will be lucky to ever start again in the NFL.  These are the players nobody ever thinks about, because the Lions got it right.

Notice there's not a group D: players that the Lions took a chance on keeping, and got it right.  Obviously, Morton and Eliss each recieved multiple contracts with the Lions through their veteran careers, but each were clearly productive veterans who had a well-defined role on the team.  It didn't take much talent to decide to extend a perennial Pro Bowl DT in his prime.  Also, the Lions get no cookies for cutting obvious busts like Joey Harrington, Mike Williams, and Charles Rogers.  Instead, look at the way New England tap-dances around their roster:  Wes Welker gets extended, Deion Branch gets shipped off.  Mike Vrabel is kept, Roosevelt Colvin is released.  Production is rewarded, inconsistency punished.  Youth is not seen as a virtue of itself, yet veterans who are too old to produce are treated mercilessly (see: Brown, Troy).  Easy-peasy, right?

Well, no.  Belicheck and Pioli ran circles around the rest of the league in this area for years--and with the billions being thrown around to chase those two, they'd have been caught if it were easy.  Yet, just last year, the Patriots were a dude catching a ball with his helmet away from going 19-0.  

This is the first of the real "crossroads" decisions the Lions' new brass have had to make: Bodden is a young veteran in his prime, and came to the Lions with all the indicators of success--physical tools, confidence, some real time starting, and some real production in that time.  However, it's indisputable that Marinelli's desire for "53 gym rats" didn't mesh with the acquisition of Bodden, that Bodden's skills weren't ideal for the Tampa 2, and that Marinelli's stick-and-bigger-stick approach to motivation did nothing but DE-motivate him.  So a talented, young-but-experienced player at position of desperate need is sent packing, more because of the Lions' mishandling of him than because of his failure to produce.  Make no mistake, though, Bodden DID fail to produce.  If he is half as skilled as he thinks he is, he should have been able to perform better than he did in 2008.  Putting 8.5 million dollars in his pocket, and committing to him for three more years--when he was already publicly dissillusioned with the franchise--certainly seems like a gamble.

So Lewand and Mayhew are put to the test.  Will Bodden be the next Jeff Hartings, a perennial standout for an elite franchise?  Or will he be the next Johnnie Morton--a bitter disappointment to a team that thinks they're getting a standout starter just entering his prime?  At this point, only time will tell.

17 comments:

Anonymous,  February 5, 2009 at 11:11 AM  

I don't know...I think with group B the only one they should have retained was Hartings. Rogers was great when he showed up, but was ready to leave. Roy "reached the highest level of performance right away"? Will be "sweet in Dallas"? Um...yeah...

Ty February 5, 2009 at 4:00 PM  

What's interesting is that you cede that Rogers was "ready to leave" . . . most are conveniently glossing over the fact that Rogers had quit on the Lions no less assuredly than Manny Ramirez had quit on the Sawcks last season. He HAD to go, and the fact that Millen got a young veteran starter at a need position, PLUS a third-round pick, when he had essentially no leverage was impressive. The problem was, his coach had no use for the skill set or approach of said young veteran starter, which is something a REAL football executive would have realized.

As far as Roy goes, his rookie year, he started eleven games, and caught 54 balls for 817 yards and 8 TDs. In 2006, Roy's third season, he went to the Pro Bowl. Here, have some nuggets (thanks to Mlive.com's Highlight Reel blog):

* WR Roy Williams led the NFC with 1,310 receiving yards and was tied for third in NFL. He was one of only four players in the NFL in 2006 to record 1,300 yards.

* Williams' 16.0 yards per reception was highest in NFL among receivers with at least 65 receptions; he also led the NFL with 24 receptions of 20+ yards.

* Williams' 1,310 yards is fourth-highest in team history and the most in seven years since Germane Crowell garnered 1,338 yards in 1999. He was only the fourth player in team history to record 1,300 yards.

* He set a career-high with 82 receptions, which tied for seventh-most in team history.
Williams registered a career-high six 100-yard games in 2006, and he tied for a league-high in this category.

* He was the first Lions' receiver in team history to record four games in a single season of at least 135 yards, and he was the only receiver in NFL season with four 135-yard games.

In WR terms, Roy absolutely produced at the highest level right away. He may have frustrated some Lions fans with his third-down concentration lapses, but there is no doubt that he was amongst the league's best about as fast as any WR not named Randy Moss ever has been.

I think Roy's ceiling in Dallas is Dallas itself. If Romo gets back on track, and especially once TO gets the heave-ho, Roy will have all the talent in the world around him--and what's more, he'll be home and happy and on the biggest stage in the world.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 5, 2009 at 9:37 PM  

His rookie season was nice for a rookie WR, but nothing special. All those stats you cite are from ONE season. So he had one what I would call decent season (certainly nothing spectacular). Look, I'm not saying Roy is a bad WR...I would even say he is a good one. But he will NEVER be in the elite class of a Moss, T.O., or even a Larry Fitzgerald. And when you factor in the other things a WR should be able to do (like blocking), it takes him down even further. There are probably a good 30-40 WRs in the NFL that are better than Roy.

Ty February 6, 2009 at 8:44 AM  

I actually think he does have the physical potential to be in that Moss, TO, Fitz class--and the fact that he has had one season of actual production amongst the league's elite elevates him above the rest (#3 in the NFL in yards is a "decent" season?). Now, you say there are 30-40 recievers better than Roy? You're suggesting that he's worse than every other team's #1 reciever and some teams' #2s? Just on size and speed alone, he's better than that. I'd say "Name me forty wideouts better than Roy", but neither you nor I have the time. Seriously, by the time you get to #28 and you're waffling between Kevin Walter and Devery Henderson, my point will have been made.

Peace
Ty

Steve February 6, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

If only Bodden had been willing to grab a mop, or a shovel, or pound on rocks..?!?

Actually, I am certain that Bodden will, at the very least, perform much better elsewhere than he did in Detroit. He will be happier, more appreciated, and won't be misunderstood, which is great for him.

Here's the two things though which will ultimately determine his future success:

1) Will he embrace fully a new coaching staff and system, which is his responsibility once he signs on the dotted line? He didn't in Detroit.

2) Will he be surrounded by better players on defense, as a collective whole? It would seem that it would be impossible not to happen, but it indicates a lot. Players are better, when they have support from better quality players. Bodden is no Champ Bailey or Namdi Asomuogha.

Bodden's performance could have been an aberration, as a result of the Lions defense being undermanned, poorly prepared, and just plain awful by design.

I feel worse for the Lions than I do Bodden, given how dire their secondary situation is now. They are going to have to sign at least 1 or 2 db's in free agency, and likely draft another 1 or 2, if this situation is going to improve at all.

The Roy Williams argument is moot. He was the prototypical Lion, loads of unmet promise, mind-numbing lack of consistency and focus, and basically a like-able guy.

Ty February 6, 2009 at 9:34 AM  

Steve--

I'm really curious to see Bodden's next move. I think we'll have a pretty good indicator of what his future holds the instant he signs with another team . . . if it's the Patriots, Steelers, or some other class organization, you can bet he'll be outstanding for years.

Given the way he was coming on on 2007, I have to believe that he has the potential to be as good as anyone--yet, for a player whose confidence is such an integral part of his playing style and personality, I wonder if his time with the Lions permanently damaged his game? I guess we go back to the boring answer, only time will tell . . .

As far as the Lions being the loser in this deal, of course you're right. As much sense as this makes from a "clean house" perspective, from a cap-and-contracts perspective, and from a "bad blood" perspective, from a football perspective the Lions are looking at starting two #3 CBs next year. Even if they bring in Chris Carr, that just adds a player who's never gotten it done as a starter--and even he pans out as a starter, then you don't want your #1 starting CB returning kicks! We'd be gaining a corner and losing a returner.

Damn.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 6, 2009 at 2:50 PM  

Funny that you mentioned Kevin Walter. Classic example of an underrated guy that I would much rather have as a WR than Roy. Sure, he doesn't have the natural talent of Roy...but he runs crisp routes, shows up on every play, and can block. People get too caught up in the name and draft status of players in the NFL. But don't worry, you're not alone...Jerry Jones is the same way...

Ty February 6, 2009 at 3:05 PM  

Well as I've said before--our roster is full of "lunch bucket guys" who "come to play" but can't make plays. There are many examples of beloved #2 WRs who thrive in the shadow of a true standout--Walter and Andre Johnson, Wes Welker and Randy Moss, Furrey in 2006 with Roy, Wayne Chrebet and Keyshawn Johnson . . . none of them are really "better" than the natural talents they play against, even if their numbers look better, if they run better routes, or if they block harder. Of course, I certainly love guys who put their heads down and work, but they have their role. A blue-collar #2 who runs good routes and goes over the middle can rarely stretch defenses and break games open. As the Giants found out this season, when you subtract a field-stretching elite WR, you can ride his lack of brains or effort all you want, but your offense is going to be much easier to stop.

Give me Hines Ward--a real #1 wideout who can run, jump, catch 10 TDs AND knock somebody's head off.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  February 6, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

"Give me Hines Ward--a real #1 wideout who can run, jump, catch 10 TDs AND knock somebody's head off."

That we can agree on!

Ty February 6, 2009 at 5:09 PM  

Cheers, Anon. Thanks for the honesty! FWIW, Hines anchored my 2002 fantasy squad, and I had him in at least one (and sometimes both) of my two main leagues for like five years afterwards. I'm a big Hines, so don't think I value flash over substance.

Then again, I added Chad Johnson to the squad in 2003 and won it all, and Ocho Cinco helped my team win another ring in 2007, AND I have a Bengals #85 hanging in my closet to commemorate the victories, so . . . I don't mind a little flash. ;)

Peace
Ty

DrewsLions February 6, 2009 at 11:03 PM  

Lots of good facts here, Ty. I think what we can take away from this is that the core of the Lion's problems don't always lie with the personnel decisions. With the Lions, it seems to be with the initial talent evaluation process. In many cases, the Lions HAVE gotten it right with personnel moves. You pointed out many of these situations. But it's the initial drafting of the players is where we got it wrong. Even with some that are deemed successes.

Were guys like Roy Williams and Shaun Rogers good draft picks? I would say no. Especially Roy. He was picked number 7 overall. That player has to be the cornerstone of your team, not a lower tier number one wideout. He should be putting up huge numbers, not dropping balls and running sloppy or wrong routes.

So the Lions got it right only by trading him, which seems to be the only thing the Lions do right consistently... finding a way to get rid of their past draft mistakes. This year, the Lions need to start getting it right the first time around and get value for their picks. The kind that make it to a second contract... and are worth that contract!

Ty February 7, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

The Lions DID do the right thing by trading Roy, because he and quit on the Lions. He'd quit because Martz marginalized him. He'd quit because he had no respect for the coaching staff. He'd quit because he had no real quarterback throwing him the ball. And of course, he quit because the Lions couldn't win a game.

We can boo and hiss him for that all we want, but reality is that he is a special talent that could--and would--have been a cornerstone of our franchise if our franchise had not been so pathetic. Also, the notion that top wideouts never drop routine catches is silly Lions fan-ness. TO drops WAY more balls than Roy, yet he's the first guy everyone says they wish Roy had been like. Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes, immediately before making the jaw-dropping circus catch that won Pittsburgh the Super Bowl, stone dropped a routine fade pass that hit him right in the hands. It literally happens to the best of them.

And need I remind you that Millen traded DOWN to the bottom of the second round to pick up Big Baby? He was a stone cold steal at that point in the draft, and again: if the Lions had been a respectable franchise with a competent staff, he'd still be here as the foundation of our defense. The Lions have made some terrible draft choices, it's true. But all teams have busts. I maintain that it's the Lions' inability to handle and retain the great players they DO draft that has left the cupboard so unbelievably bare.

Peace
Ty

DrewsLions February 10, 2009 at 5:44 PM  

I'm not sure I agree with you here, Ty. I think that you are saying that Roy was a good pick. He was not. He was the seventh overall pick in the draft and has never played up to that level. He wasn't a bust, because he was a serviceable player, but he was not worthy of that pick.

If the Lions would have taken him, say around pick number 25... that would constitute a good pick. His production has never matched his seventh overall salary. I think I'm right on this one. Potential means nothing unless it's realized. Williams was alway a "potentially" great player, but has yet to realize the potential that would have made him worthy of the high pick and contract.

As for Shaun Rogers... he would have easily been a first round pick, but he was injured and had weight issues. Well, the weight issues are still there, but the injury situation panned out well for the Lions, so production was above draft status - which is good. However, the player still didn't gel with the staff, so again the choice to pick a guy like Rogers is questionable. I won't argue as much on this one, because the Lions got value for the pick. No one disputes Roger's talent... but again, it was not realized because the player was not a good fit - thus not a great draft choice in hindsight.

Ty February 11, 2009 at 12:12 PM  

See, and this is what I'm getting at with the draft and people's expectations. If you take a guy with the #7 overall pick, and he catches 8 TDs as a rookie, and catches 12 TD and goes to the Pro Bowl in his third year--YES, he is a good pick. Let's take a look Pro Bowls for the last ten #7s with three years or more under their belt:

2006: Michael Huff (never)
2005: Troy Williamson (never)
2004: Roy Williams (once, 3rd season)
2003: Byron Leftwich (never)
2002: Bryant McKinnie (never)
2001: Andre Carter (never)
2000: Thomas Jones (once, 8th season)
1999: Champ Bailey (eight times, 2nd-9th seasons)
1998: Kyle Turley (never, but made one All-Pro team)
1997: Ike Hilliard (never)
1996: Terry Glenn (once, third season)

So according to your seeming criteria: a seventh overall pick *should* immediately ascend to the forefront of the league at his position, and stay there (with his original team) for years afterwards. The only "good" pick #7 overall, then, in the past ten years, has been Champ Bailey.

This is, again, the problem with us Lions fans. We zoom in on everything we hate about the Lions, and imagine that every other franchise is ringing up success after success after hit with every signing and draft pick. Every other franchise's QBs don't throw bad INTs, every other team can stop the run, every other team's coach knows when to call time outs and when to challenge. That ONLY THE LIONS could be SO BAD that their "best" draft pick in the Millen era only managed to catch like 28 TDs and go to the Pro Bowl in his first three years. Obviously, the fact that his production fell off the face of the Earth when Martz decided that J.T. O'Sullivan to Corey Bradford was an unstoppable combination proves that he was never really good anyway.

The whole point of this article was to show that it's not just draft day when the bad decisions are made--and in fact, draft day might not be the day when the most bad decisions. Roy was horribly mismanaged by the Lions, both on the field and off, and his talent completely wasted as a result.

Peace
Ty

Ty February 11, 2009 at 12:25 PM  

Oh, on re-reading my comment, I need to make a correction. Relatively speaking, every other team CAN stop the run. We finished 32nd in rushing yards allowed.

Peace
Ty

DrewsLions February 12, 2009 at 1:49 PM  

Ty, I can see you're getting a little heated here, so I'll cool things down a bit. I think Roy is a good player and a great guy. I don’t think he was a great draft choice for the Lions, but he is a nice player to have. Because I ask myself the question: what is he giving the Lions right now? Nothing…. and he’s only been in the league for five years. In fact, what did he give Dallas last year? Again, the answer is nothing. There’s just not a good return on the investment. Your comments seem to indicate that you believe my standards or expectations are too high for players drafted in the top ten. I disagree. Look at the outrageous money we invest in these guys. Our expectations should be high. Look, I’ve never said that Roy was a bust. He’s a good player. But great players don't fade away this quickly. Roy had two good seasons for the Lions - his rookie year and his pro bowl year (where he caught 7 TD passes, not 12 - he never has had more than 8 TDs in a year). In his two other seasons, he had 45 and 64 catches as the number one receiver and was hurt a lot. That is much less production over five years that what we expected. You can find this kind of production from players in the second round. Again, Roy is talented, but it simply never translated to a “value meets expectation” pick for the Lions.

You have to admit, his career stats are relatively sub par for a top ten pick. I don't think that I insinuated that pro bowls are the benchmark for greatness; I didn’t really take that into consideration. I guess the question is: if he continues with similar stats for the rest of his career (he would average around 56 catches for 816 yds and 6 TDs a year), would people say that he earned his draft spot? I’m not so sure. For me, it’s always about value for the draft slot. Even though Roy was a decent player, the Lions could have gotten more production from a different player at the seven spot.

Ty, if you’ve read my posts or comments, you would know that I am a very optimistic fan. I also frown on people who treat the Lions like they are the only team to make bad decisions. That’s not what I am doing here. I’m just trying to take an unbiased look at the draft process and how badly the Lions have done here over the last 10 years or so. Hopefully, you are not reading malice into my comments. That’s not at all what I’m trying to convey.

Drew

Ty February 12, 2009 at 2:11 PM  

Drew--

Didn't mean to get heated! But hey, this blog is supposed to be about my burning passion for the Lions in the midst of their barren futility, so sometimes it's hard to hold back.

Note my us of the word "us" in there! As a Lions fan, I often get caught up--WAY up--in what's happening in Allen Park, like the whole sport turns around the comings and goings of these guys. But I think it's important to take a step back and look at exactly what other teams are doing right and what they're doing wrong. I see a lot of people viciously ripping apart the Lions' drafts--and while they've had a lot of high-profile misses, they've had enough "hits" that if they could coach, teach, and win they wouldn't be 0-16. Roy was a "hit", a player whose college production and measurables DID quickly translate into real NFL production--and if he were on a team with a good QB or a competent staff, or God forbid BOTH, he would have been a lot more than the pile of mostly-unrealized potential he is. However, you look at a guy like Mike Williams--HE was a true bust, a true miss, a guy who had no capacity to perform in the NFL, despite what his measurables and college career would indicate.

My contention isn't that a top shouldn't be a cornerstone of the franchise for years to come, he should. My contention is simply that the Lions had enough "hits", that if they groomed them correctly, and made the right decisions on who to keep and who to let go, the roster wouldn't be nearly as bare as it is.

Finally, Drew, let me say that I'm sorry if I came across as malicious, or if you think I thought you did. Malice has nothing to do with what goes on here, just passion. I have never minded myself a little heated debate--we all care too much or we wouldn't be on the internets debating about a team that didn't win a game last year! It's when it turns to insults and mockery that it goes too far, and I sure hope there was nothing in my comment that constituted any of that--it wasn't meant to be.

Peace
Ty

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