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.