- 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?
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.