martin mayhew mercantile

>> 7.23.2009

Yesterday, the St. Louis Dispatch reported--and expounded upon (in a brilliant article authored by a true gentleman)--a trade between the Rams and Lions.  The Lions sent recently-signed WR Ronald Curry to the Rams--which, according to my last count, makes for eighteen wideouts on the Rams' camp roster.  In return, the Lions got DT prospect Orien Harris, a two-year vet who's seen five different NFL rosters.

Harris, unfortunately, is not the answer to the Lions’ prayers at defensive tackle.  According to a beautifully in-depth scouting report done by the Sports Xchange on, Harris possesses the wingspan, hands, and frame to be a two-gap nose tackle, but lacks the bulk needed to truly anchor the point of attack.  He also doesn’t play with great technique, not using his long arms and big hands to their full potential.  It notes that while he’s not a firebreather, he’s a “competitive type” who was the “heart and soul” of the Hurricanes’ defensive line his senior year.

Why, then, can’t he keep a job?  He was drafted in the fourth round of the 2006 draft by the Steelers, a 3-4 team who’ll eventually need a nose guard to replace Casey Hampton.  Unable to make the stacked Steelers roster, he was signed before the season by Cleveland, and he saw action in a couple of games there.  Brought in by first the Bills, then the Saints in 2007, he made a huge impression in the 2007 preseason.  Saints head coach Sean Payton:

”He's been one of those guys that's been durable. He's been steady. He's a try-hard guy that gives a lot of effort on each play. Even today, he made some plays in practice. So he's caught the attention of a lot of us, the guys on defense and myself included. He comes to work every day, and he showed that last week in the game."

In the first two preseason games, Harris had 11 solo tackles and a sack . . . and yet, on a team where there ought to be an opportunity on the defensive line, Harris wasn’t retained.  He ended up with the Bengals, and he saw 14 games’ worth of action, starting twice and garnering 14 tackles.  Earlier in the offseason, the Rams—in a similar depth-for-depth move—dealt RB Brian Leonard to the Bengals for Harris’ rights.  Before Harris ever donned pads as a Ram, however, he’s become a Lion.

All of this is more evidence of the Lions’ 365-day strategy of improving the roster.  Every single chance they get, they’re going to make a move to get the best 80 in camp, and the best 53 on the roster.  They’re scouring other teams rosters, anticipating possible cuts, and—just like in the days leading up to free agency—negotiating player-for-player trades.  These trades nullify the Lions’ chief offseason handicap: a player who has a choice of signing anywhere is unlikely to choose a team coming off an 0-16 season whose stadium is north of Canada.  Moreover, they wring blood from a stone.  With the arrival of Dennis Northcutt—a veteran slot WR who could also return kicks—Ronald Curry was likely to be cut.  Rather than simply let him walk away, the Lions brought in a player who’ll have a chance to contribute. 

Harris is a young DT with the raw physical tools—short wide frame, big wingspan, big hands, lower body strength—to develop into the player the Lions so desperately need right now.  Maybe the Lions’ coaching staff is the catalyst he needs to reach his sizable potential, and he starts the season as a starter.  Maybe he flashes enough production in preseason to hold a rotational spot while the Lions wait for the return of Grady Jackson from suspension.  Or, maybe, he simply makes the team over a Marinelli holdover who didn’t fit the plan, and an Ikaika Alama-Francis or Landon Cohen gets shipped off to another team, to improve the roster yet again.


wwpope,  July 23, 2009 at 2:41 PM  

trading a mediocre WR for a mediocre DT on a team with very little need at WR and a whole lot of need at DT is a good move. i wonder what the salary cap implications of this move will be?

Anonymous,  July 23, 2009 at 5:50 PM  

I like this move as well. Since the workout program for the Lions has been all about putting on weight, I wonder if they are going to be able to put a few pounds on Harris. If he can get from 6-3 300lbs to 6-3 310lbs, that could make a big difference. He could then share time with Jackson.
I'm still really hoping that alama-francis works out at DT because I think that there is potential for him to be solid in that role.


Pacer,  July 23, 2009 at 11:33 PM  

Ty-I too like this move. You get something for someone you probably were going to cut. Aside from that, this guy is young, about the right size and has not seen a series of releases during his 2 year career. It seems as if he is "on the bubble" and I suspect if given a shot at playing he will be at least "serviceable" if not better than that. I don't think this guy is a nose tackle "at all". Pittsburgh and Cleveland are 3-4 teams. In a 4-3 scheme he is about the right size and strength to handle a DT spot assuming his obvious talent in college shines through. Regardless, this fits with the "smart" article I sent you 2 weeks ago-Mayhew doing everything he can to improve the team in really "smart ways". As always, I appreciate this site.

Ty,  July 24, 2009 at 10:27 AM  


Man, I'd think/hope the cap ramifications would be minimal; Harris was signed as a free agent by the Bengals last year, then got traded to St. Louis (therefore the Bengals would take any bonus acceleration hit). When he was again traded to the Lions, I don't think either St. Louis or Detroit took any hit.

As for Curry, I believe he was on a one-year deal, so there shouldn't be any cap implications.


Ty,  July 24, 2009 at 10:35 AM  


I agree. I really want Alama-Francis to work out; not only would it mean a recent second-round pick actually panned out, and reduce the need to burn resources to acquire a DT, but the kid seems like a good dude. I want to know that it's possible for a kid to be hanging out at Hawaii, playing a little hoops, and have an ex-NFL head coach spot him, put pads on him, and get drafted in the second round, and have a ten-year career in the league.


Ty,  July 24, 2009 at 10:52 AM  


Right, exactly. I don't think Harris is a born nose tackle--however, he has the body type where he could develop into an athletic two-gap run stuffer, and not every DT does. He's a project/scrub/backup/depth guy who fits the long-term plan--which makes him worth bringing in to compete with some of the project/scrub/backup/depth guys who don't.

BTW, thanks! I really appreciate your reading and commenting.


DrewsLions,  July 24, 2009 at 4:00 PM  

Ty - Good spin on what Mayhew is doing. I think he is very opportunistic and I think long-term it will pay off. Orien Harris may not make an impact with the Lions. Heck, he may not make the team. But the simple fact remains that neither was Curry, so they made a move to try another player out. Very smart.


wwpope,  July 25, 2009 at 10:37 AM  

it makes you wonder though.... trades are very rare in the NFL and yet mayhew is making trade after trade. i would venture that he has made more trades already than ron wolf has in his entire tenure...

my point is, are trades rare because they just don't work out very often, because the cap is usually too big of a factor, or because the traditional "Good Old Boys Club" of the NFL GM circuit is just too conservative?

Anonymous,  July 27, 2009 at 1:00 PM  

Pope - I would only assume its rare because its so hard to find a good, win-win situation both sides would be willing to go through with.

just my $.02


Ty,  July 27, 2009 at 1:02 PM  


Agreed completely. Similarly, I am cracking up at your Maywheel the Pirate analogy! Mayhew donning an eyepatch, parrot, and poofy sleeves is the funniest mental image I've had in a while.


Anonymous,  July 27, 2009 at 6:33 PM  

He might be another Buster Davis....someone who looks good, a good player, but can't stick right now. I hope that unlike last year if he works his way on the roster he can stick. I like this signing, we got him for nothing and he might do something. If he does nothing and we cut him then no harm no foul. Win-win for us either way.

Anthony W. Gibbs

Anonymous,  July 27, 2009 at 9:40 PM  

Buster Davis was good enough to start for Indy when he was cut.

Ty,  July 28, 2009 at 8:48 AM  


You're exactly right. He's apparently both talented and a hard worker, and if he develops well he fits a huge need for the Lions. Win-win, indeed.


Ty,  July 28, 2009 at 8:49 AM  


If by "start for Indy" you meant, "get cut by Indy two weeks after we cut him", then yes, you are correct.


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