Free Agency, the Draft, & Uncomfortable Metaphors

>> 3.16.2010

As the Lions continue to improve the roster, I’m seeing reactions like these:

  • If the Lions sign Chester Pitts, they won't have to draft Russell Okung!
  • If the Lions sign Anthony Hargrove, they'll be out of the running to draft Ndamukong Suh!
  • Now that Larry Foote has signed with the Steelers, will the Lions have to draft a true middle linebacker?
There seems to be a fundamental misunderstanding of the Lions' situation.  Their roster, remember, has been stripped bare of young veteran talent.  Outside of Calvin Johnson, maybe Ernie Sims, and a few career backups/specialists, the Lions have only the 2009 draft class to build around.  Think like this: who will be on this roster in five years?  Three years?  Heck, who’ll be on it next season?  “Larry Foote” is not, and probably never was, an answer to any of those questions. 

The Lions have a "hole" at left guard.  Neither 2007 4th-rounder Manny Ramirez, nor free-agent signee Daniel Loper, nor anybody else played the left guard position at a consistently acceptable level last season.  Therefore, the Lions are looking to upgrade at left guard for 2010:

"We had a revolving door at left guard last year and we need to settle that down this off-season. We need to find a starter and we need to get continuity,'' Schwartz said.

Would Chester Pitts represent an upgrade at left guard?  If he’s fully recovered from microfracture surgery by the start of the season, without a doubt.  He’s a 6’-4”, 310-pound former second-rounder, who’s started at both tackle and guard in his seven-year career.  By all accounts, he’s a wonderful, funny, multifaceted guy.  He’d be a great addition to the roster.

If, however, the Lions draft Russell Okung with the #2 overall pick, they'll be paying him thirty million dollars, guaranteed to protect Matthew Stafford for the next five-to-fifteen years.  They’ll be sinking a jawdropping amount of money into their three top offensive tackles.  If the Lions decide to draft Russell Okung, they’re not just investing in Okung, they’re charging off the fortunes they’ve sunk into Jeff Backus and/or Gosder Cherilus.

Chester Pitts, meanwhile, is fungible.  You can sign a Chester Pitts—almost 31, coming off an injury, talented-but-aging, versatile—any offseason you want.  There will be a Chester Pitts analogue, or possibly several, at every position, every single offseason.  Moreover, you can release a Chester Pitts at any time; he won’t command a lot of guaranteed money.

But drafting a player with a #2 overall pick?  That’s a massive investment.  If the Lions stand pat and draft Okung—or Suh, or Berry, or whoever—then that player must be a cornerstone of the roster for years to come.  If the Lions are convinced that one of those players is going to be a perfect fit for the team, on and off the field, with Hall of Fame upside . . . well, they’re going to take him, Chester Pitts be damned.

Even the big money thrown at Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson doesn’t mean the same as drafting a guy #2 overall.  Those players are veterans, professionals, mercenaries.  They were brought in to immediately play at a high level—and if they don’t execute as expected, they’ll be gone the instant the team can replace them, money be damned (see Delhomme, Jake).

Here’s the bottom line, folks: “Building through the draft” doesn’t mean you take the best available guy at the position of highest need with every pick, thereby improving your roster via the draft.  It means you spend several years selecting and combining foundational players who’ll develop and mature together; building a core of talent that will last for years.  When the Lions—these Lions—select a player in the draft, it’s not a blind date; it’s a marriage.


*I just wanted to say "damned" again.

Technorati Tags: detroit lions,nfl free agency,nfl draft,nfl,russell okung,ndamukong suh,chester pitts,anthony hargrove


odds75to1,  March 16, 2010 at 12:40 PM  

That is one disturbing picture!!

Ty,  March 16, 2010 at 12:55 PM  

Yeah, you can see the seeds of the messy divorce to come.


A Lion in ViQueen territory,  March 16, 2010 at 1:55 PM  

Check out the cover - busts galore! Ditka at Saints, Williams at Saints, Drew Henson (Yankees Phenom?), and Jonathon Bender? really?

dang, cursed cover.

Good article, as always. I can probably copy and paste this as my comment for all your stuff.

How is the running going?

Weston Corbitt,  March 16, 2010 at 2:48 PM  

Amen man! If I hear one more time how us signing Williams means we don't need Suh/McCoy I will lose my mind. These moves help the team improve, but don't means we will win. Williams was traded for a late round pick for a reason.

Angus,  March 16, 2010 at 6:05 PM  

Time for a rookie pay scale.

Neil,  March 16, 2010 at 9:24 PM  

The wedding night, however, was spectacular.

Anonymous,  March 17, 2010 at 10:47 AM  

I'm starting to warm up to the idea that the Lions might draft Okung. They did take him out to dinner, and last year it was Stafford that they took to dinner.
For me the front office has earned my support over whatever pick (or trade) they make at #2. They earned it with a solid 2009 draft, picking guys like Delmas, Levy, and Hill, that were not on my radar as possible Lions.

Jim,  March 17, 2010 at 12:50 PM  

Nice job in succinctly 'splaining what the draft is about. It amazes me how so many self-appointed "experts", such as most of the bleacher report cats, can sensationalize and totally misconstrue the Lions recent moves. My choice, I'm not trading outta #2, I'm taking Suh, I'm hoping I have a DOMINANT front four(if things fall right for this guy the sky is the limit IMHO), and I'm grabbing a CB or guard in round 2, hopefully after a trade down.

DetFan1979,  March 17, 2010 at 3:02 PM  

Right on Ty! Free Agency is where you fill needs -- the draft is where you collect talent. BATFAN (Best Available That Fits Any Need) is what it's all about.

How things going? Sounds like you've been pretty busy!

OregonLion,  March 18, 2010 at 1:27 PM  

Right on Ty, keep banging that drum.

Extending the premise of Ty's post, rather than speculate unproductively about which player the Lions should take with which pick, maybe we ought to get some discussions (arguments?) going about what kind of roster the Lions really need to become a Super Bowl winner. Let's create a very rosy but not utterly unthinkable scenario: in 2010, we get 5-7 wins and are competitive most games. 2011, we have a top 10 offense, win 9-10, and lose in first or second round of playoffs. 2012, we ride an explosive offense and fierce pass rush all the way to the Super Bowl.

So, all you virtual GMs, which players on the Lions roster are good enough to be starters or situational starters (DL rotation, nickel/dime, 3rd down specialists, short yardage) for our hypothetical 2012 SB winner? Off the top of my head:

Probable: Stafford, Pettigrew, Delmas, Levy, Hill, Calvin Johnson, Sims, Corey Williams, Hanson, Jett.

50/50: Raiola, Peterman, Backus (as OG)

Questionable - guys with talent but with ?? (consistency, age, health): VandenBosch, Petersen, Cherilus, Avril, Kevin Smith, Aaron Brown, Derrick Williams.

Spot contributors: McBride, Hunter, Felton.

If anyone agrees with that analysis (fat chance!), we have 13 players with a 50/50 or above chance of playing for the Lions SB team, out of the 35 or so who need to contribute beyond special team blocking/tackling. That is the real "hole" on this roster, and the real gauge of our draft is how much that hole gets filled every year.

Isphet,  March 18, 2010 at 10:30 PM  

It's starting to look more and more like it's Okung in round 1. The financials alone argue against taking a DT with the second pick.

I think it's Okung in round 1, then the Lions take BPA in round 2. I wouldn't be surprised if it's Terrence Cody from Alabama. All he did was anchor the best defense in the NCAA last year, and no mock drafts I have seen have him taken in the first round. He's exactly the archetype the Lions are looking for: huge dude inside. Suh/McCoy have always struck me as not the body type the Lions are looking for on the interior of the line.

If it's not Cody, then it will be someone that's fallen a long way further than expected in the draft; like Delmas did last year. First round talent in the second round. Your guess is as good as mine; all we know is that it won't be a QB, after that all bets are off on position. Good bet it's someone on the D line since there's so much talent there this draft, one of those talents will slip into round 2.

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