Yesterday, the Lions acquired former Bills OLB Ashlee Palmer. Palmer, a 2009 undrafted free agent out of Ole Miss, played 14 games for the Bills last season, including two starts. The Lions’ interest was probably piqued in fourth preseason game, when Palmer started against them, and had five solo tackles, an assist, and a pass defensed.
That's quite the season for an undrafted rookie. Check out his performance against the Jets in week 6: he got the start, six solo tackles (none on special teams, all as an LB), and a pass defensed. So what would cause them to let such a promising young player go? The Bills’ new head coach, Chan Gailey, wants to switch to a 3-4. Quoth Gailey:
There’s two things involved here. One, 3-4 personnel allows you when you start there to create more problems for the offense. That’s the No. 1 thing. You are creating more problems. I know the problems it gives us offensively to have to prepare for that. You get to some nickel situations and now it’s back to 4-2 with the nickel guy in there. Now you’ve got to prepare for that.
A 3-4 defense doesn’t cause an offense a lot of problems—a good 3-4 defense does. A bad 3-4 defense sucks just as much as a bad 4-3 defense does—likewise, a good 4-3 defense causes just as many problems for an offense as a good 3-4 does. The schemes have different inherent strengths, but what matters most is the talent and execution.
The Bills's 4-3 has been somewhere between pretty good and really good over the past decade or so; their problem has been an inconsistent running game and terrible quarterback play. Dismantling the only part of a team that was working makes no sense to me—but I’m glad Chan Gailey decided to do it, because their loss is our gain.
Gunther Cunningham caused a bit of a flap recently, when he hinted that Kansas City’s switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4 was forcing them let good young players go—players he knew well, like Turk McBride. Jason Hunter’s another young Lions role player, and he was ousted in Green Bay when they switched alignments.
It’s true that Ashlee Palmer isn’t going to step in and outperform Ernie Sims—he may not even make the roster. But this is a kid who stepped in and made himself valuable in a good defense, with no expectations whatsoever. If DeAndre Levy really is going to start in the middle this year, then a committed, driven young player like that will doubtlessly be a factor in relief of Sims.
It’s good to see Martin Mayhew using and abusing that waiver priority again. Lions’ll continue to have dibs on almost everyone when good young players are trashed due to a scheme change—here’s hoping that sifting through them all uncovers some treasures.