The subsequent celebration throughout the Lions blogosphere has been predictable. From speculation that Mayhew and The Grandmaster had this move in mind throughout the draft, to joyous shouts of "Aaron Curry who?" on forums (yes, really), the verdict from Lions fans is in: the signing of Larry Foote is an unqualified home run.
It's not that I disagree. Foote is a veteran inside linebacker, a proven run-stopper, and has been one of the leaders of the best defense in football--a defense which boasts two Super Bowl titles in the past three years. In those same three years, the Lions' roster has been completely turned over; only a handful of players were even here for the Mariucci days. At this point, the Lions' defense is a clean slate--player-wise, extremely young, and scheme-wise, they're starting from scratch. A "thumper" DeAndre Levy might be, but he has no idea what day-to-day life in the NFL is like. He's never had to take on a NFL fullback, get an NFL guard's hands off him, or square up and wrap up an NFL tailback. Foote, however, has been to the mountaintop--twice. His understanding of how to play, how to practice, how to expect victory, and how to execute under pressure, all of that will be absolutely invaluable to the young Lions linebackers. In the locker room, in the film room, on the practice field, on the gridiron, and in the huddle, Larry Foote will not only be a leader of and example for the talented greenhorns this defense is being built around, he'll also provide legitimacy to the other veterans who've just been added. Grady Jackson, Julian Peterson, Anthony Henry, and Philip Buchanon are not going to prick up their ears when DeAndre Levy speaks. However, when Larry Foote flashes his rings, you can bet he'll have their undivided attention.
That all having been said, let's be realistic. Foote is a very good player, but he has limitations. He'll be strictly a two-down linebacker here; he's notoriously weak in pass coverage. At 29, he's hardly over the hill, but the Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons to replace him--and that's exactly what Timmons is doing. Moreover, Foote is on a one-year deal, reportedly at his request. This is a 'prove-it' deal, where Foote is going to try to make a big impact, and then get paid. Will the Lions be the ones who give Larry Foote a lavish deal which he'll retire on--in what might possibly be an uncapped year? Not if they stick to their plan of building through the draft and financial prudence, they won't. No, this will almost certainly be DeAndre Levy's job in 2010. Foote will enjoy being at home for a year, and with luck we'll get everything he has left while he pads out his free agent resume. He has all the incentive in the world to have a career year . . . let's enjoy that fact, hope Levy and Sims and Dizon and Follett all learn everything they can from him, and move on.
Like Jackson, Henry, Buchanon, et. al., Foote is a stopgap; an older player who fits a need. He's a smart, cheap, temporary acquistion. The kind of player that he is, is the kind of player the Lions are trying to draft. He was available, the price was right, he filled a need, and Mayhew pulled the trigger. Today, we are not celebrating the cornerstone of the new Lions' defense being set--we're celebrating the raising of a really sharp-looking "Coming Soon" sign.