baby, it's cold outside

>> 2.09.2009

Yesterday, I took the minivan out for a desperately-needed car wash.  The family truckster was smothered in a chalky, dingy coat of salt and dirt; three straight rounds of "I'll wash the car when it stops snowing and warms up", only to have niether happen, had taken their toll.  Well, I happened to be out and about, it was a bright, beautiful day, and the little ones always enjoy the big floppy cloths and the "rainbow soap" and the roaring  flamethrower turbine dryers.  With the mercury rising dangerously close to what we Michiganderanians consider T-shirt weather--fifty degrees--it seemed like the perfect thing to do on a lazy Sunday.  Then, I got to the parking lot.

  Fifty other people'd had the exact same idea.  The line for the car wash extended all the way out into the street, and people were just parking in one of the driving lanes with their turn signal on.  Everyone had followed the same thought process I had: beautiful day, been putting it off for months, doing nothing else . . . wash the car.  It's one of the things about the long, cold winter--it synchronizes our thoughts and actions.  It adjusts our expectations.  It makes us thrill for the merest hint of warmth.  It messes with our heads.

It's been funny as this year's NFL Draft Circus puts up the big tent.  The mockers are mocking, the analysis is flowing, and guys are rising and falling up the chart as the only real piece of info anyone has to go on--the Senior Bowl--has created almost unstoppable momentum.  Some of you might remember, I'd identified  B.J. Raji as a guy we should look at with our 1.20 . . . he had a good practice in the Senior Bowl--he was completely invisible in the game--and he's now a lock for the top ten, according to most mocks.  This, despite the fact that he wasn't graded as a top ten guy mostly because of his inconsistency.

It's funny, because with all the Lions fan mocks, comments, analysis, reaction, blogpost, blog comments, forum threads and replies, texts, tweets, and smoke signals, they all say the same things: "we need linemen", "we need corners", and my favorite, "we need five immediate impact players in this draft".  It's the same thing we do every year: we look at the team, and we think about the team we wish it was.  It's part of where we've grown up: we want tough.  We want a vicious, stingy defense.  We want to be stout against the run and relentlessly attack the pass.  We want to control the ball, control the clock, control the game.  Hit people in the mouth so hard they can't hit back.  We all follow the same, reasonable thought process.  We look at the 2008 Lions, and subtract, at least, Mike Furrey, Leigh Bodden, Edwin Mulitalo, and Dan Campbell.  Then we examine the differences between the 2008 Lions and the mythical, "2000 Ravens + QB + Megatron" we wish they were.

Then, we look at the pool of available candidates and start trying to check them off.  Crushing OT: Andre Davis, check.  Dominant MLB: James Laurenitis, check.  Smothering cover corner: D. J. Moore in the second . . . check?  Pair of RB-eating defensive tackles:  Um, maybe we trade up for B.J. Raji?  And, uh, I guess we sign Haynesworth?  You're dreaming.  Double-digit-sack DE?  Brian Orakpo.  Come on, you've already spent your two first-round picks three times.  Well, uhm, uh, is Julius Peppers going to be available?  Not to the Lions he isn't!

Hey, nice to see the National Football Post has been reading and agreeing.  Hey, fellas, what's up?

Seriously though, some of the reaction I've gotten on my Freeman pick in the NSS Interblog Mock Draft has gotten me thinking.  It's funny, because I often take a rap as an "optimist", an "apologist", a "sucker", or even an "idiot" because I never stop cheering for the Lions.  I never call the players bums, I never call the coaches or morons or idiots.  I never loudly proclaim that "I'm done with them", threaten to kill them, or root for the Reaper to come swiftly for Big Willie Style.  But then a lot of the so-called 'realists', the loudest complainers and most aggreived moaners, are right in line with me at the car wash!  We're all in a big herd saying, we need OT, we need DT, we need CB, we need LB, we gotta get five impact players, we need more talent, we gotta get bigger, we need, we gotta, we need, we gotta . . . whoa, whoa, WHOA!  I'm going to say something I never say during the season:

The Lions suck.

They suck, folks!  Our team, the Lions?  They suck out loud.  They blow goats.  You cannot add enough 23-year-old fatsoes to this roster to turn them into the 2000 Ravens.  You have to step back.  You have to take a breath.  Throwing rookies at pressing needs is not going to help--rookies, for the most part, can't fill those needs.  If you need Ray Lewis now, you can draft eleven MLBs and not get the one Patrick Willis that would help.  If you need Jonathan Odgen now, you can draft eleven offensive tackles and not get the one Jake Long that would help.  SO FEW rookies make an immediate impact!  First-rounders play like top starters as an exception, not as a rule.

Well, what about free agency?  Not much better.  This isn't the 90s anymore--good teams aren't shedding veteran starters in their prime for the rest of the league to gobble up.  The great dynasties of this era are all ten or twenty million under the cap.  Nowadays, almost by definition, if free agents were worth the amount of money they're asking for, they'd still be with their original team.

So . . . what, then?  You build for the future, because it's all you can do.  You have to take the players that you want to build up.  That you want to build your team around.  Coming into the 2011 training camp, these players should be the core of the team.  But coming into the 2009 camp, these players should--and will--be learning, and growing.  One or two of them might catch fire and contribute right away--but they will be hope for the future, not the foundation of a contending team.  We can't grade the players drafted this April by what happens on the field this September.

What we WILL get to grade, though, is the way Martin Mayhew and Tom Lewand handle this draft.  We can see how they feed the roster, what positions need attention, if they appear to be working with the coaches, if they make trades, if they stand pat, how they react to the board unfolding in front of them.  THAT is what we should really be anxious to see in April--not eleven new Lions, but the performance of the men charged with drafting, teaching, coaching, and leading them.

8 comments:

Steve February 9, 2009 at 5:01 PM  

Ty--you are correct, patience is a virtue. Unfortunately, for even the staunchest of Lions fans, the last 10 years have caused patience to grow a little thin.

The Lions will almost surely be picking in the Top 10 again next season. I think that the reality of that fact, along with the reality of how completely unformed and discontinuous their roster currently is, stimulates EVEN MORE debate, since there are so many different directions they could go.

I do believe that the new regime will have to make an immediate impact in order to right the ship. Adding a Albert Haynesworth, Nnamdi Asomugha, or Anquan Boldin would go along ways towards sending the message that they mean business, and things are going to be different.

Unfortunately, the big impact type of move would be imprudent. As much as I want to see them add a lot of big-time talent, it is timeworn and well-proven that the real path to glory is through a much more directed, thoughtful means. As you suggest.

In my own case, I just don't want to see them replace "stop-gaps", with "stop-gaps". If you cut Dwight Smith let Gerald Alexander, Stu Schweigert and co. get their shot.

The Lions will have to be active, since they are going to have so many holes to fill!

Reverend Spielman February 9, 2009 at 7:16 PM  

I gotta say, I'm impressed with the front office so far and their activity level. I've grown tired of the Lions being reactive and not proactive, but it really seems like Mayhew and co. are a breath of fresh air. I love all the cuts today, possibly with the exception of Furrey. I think he could be a useful piece at a decent price.

I'm all for avoiding the big names in free agency, possibly with the exception of Asomugha(who probably will be franchised anyway). I'd rather sign multiple mid tier free agents, I think that'll do a lot more in the long run.

Ty February 10, 2009 at 8:49 AM  

Steve--

I don't intend to squelch debate or discussion--just the opposite. I'm hoping to open people's eyes to the fact that the Lions' needs are not limited to OL and DL, as much as we'd all like to see the Lions build an awesome OL and DL. There basically is not a spot on the field the Lions couldn't use at least one, and maybe two of! Moreover, with the bar set at "win at least one game", and a bounty of picks in the first three rounds, there is absolutely no reason to NOT draft a QB high.

As to this bit:

"In my own case, I just don't want to see them replace 'stop-gaps', with 'stop-gaps'. If you cut Dwight Smith let Gerald Alexander, Stu Schweigert and co. get their shot."

I think you might see some mid-level guys that are not long-term solutions (e.g., Larry Foote). You need veteran leadership--and this team has very little of it, especially after yesterday's cuts. I think the trouble Rod got into was pursuing less-skilled players who fit his system, for the sole purpose of "bringing the system along". That should NOT happen with this staff.

Peace
Ty

Ty February 10, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

Rev-

I am sad about Furrey because A) 2006 made me think he was more than he was, and B) I bought a youth Furrey jersey for my eldest. I actually think the biggest loss was Dwight Smith--he wasn't productive at all, but both Gerald Alexander and Daniel Bullocks have cited him as being a great teacher and a very positive influence. I would rather have him on the roster than a dude who (allegedly) chokes a woman pregnant with his baby.

Steve February 10, 2009 at 4:57 PM  

Larry Foote, Michael Boley (read Killer Kowalski), and guys of that ilk, they aren't "stop-gaps", they are glue guys like Jared DeVries, and well, few other guys on the current Lions roster come to mind immediately.

I guess my point is, they knew Brian Kelly and Dwight Smith were familiar in the system, but they also knew that the guys they signed were long-in-the-tooth and would have no future. Foote, though not an All-Pro, at least still has a future.

I am okay with Paris Lenon filling a Donte Curry-type of role, but guys like that, can't be counted among the regular playing group like seasons past.

If they can't upgrade, I hope they find players who have a future with the organization.

Ty February 11, 2009 at 11:47 AM  

Steve--

Saw that Killer piece on Boley and LOVED it; great work by Killer. Also, kudos on the Donte Curry reference, I see Lenon filling a very similar role.

I am bracing myself for the signing of some flat-out scrubs, just because our current scrubs are undersized, under-talented "system" scrubs, and we need some bigger, tougher scrubs that will work in whatever new defense we're trying to build.

*sigh*

Peace
Ty

Neil February 11, 2009 at 8:00 PM  

They appear to be razing the ruins of this team to the ground so they can rebuild it exactly how they want it from the ground up. Part of me wants to see this as like what happened with the Cowboys when Jimmie Johnson showed up in '89, where they built the team through the draft but were forced to deal with a season where they essentially had nothing. The good news there is that it worked, the bad news is that it took an almost miraculous number of draft picks to make it work, and that they still had to suffer through a season of horror and chaos. Maybe the Roy Williams trade can serve as a mini-mirror of the famous Herschel Walker deal that the Cowboys pulled off, but there is still a ton of work to do and it will require patience, which is something that unfortunately a lot of people don't have left with this team. I am optimistic about the future, but this next season is going to be rough.

Ty February 13, 2009 at 8:23 AM  

Neil--

I think your '89 Cowboys comparison (remember the SI cover where he was standing on a spiral staircase looking all "descending from the heavens"?) is quite apt. I agree that this season is going to require a lot of patience from the staff; making panicky win-now moves will lead to disaster. Here's the funny thing about Big Willie Style though: say what you will about him, but he is one patient guy. Unfortunately for our wishes, it really doesn't matter if the fans are or aren't patient--Ford isn't listening either way. I'm not sure how, after eight years of Millen, people still think our expectations have any control over what goes on on the field.

I think this next season will be rough indeed, but the first 'W' is gonna feel great. In fact, if the first game is a win, I think Schwartz's year is made, and even 4-12 will feel like a big step forward.

Peace
Ty

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