Williams, Burleson, Vanden Bosch: Gasoline on the Lions' Little Blue Flame

>> 3.05.2010

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Last night, I posted, and we liveblogged, in anticipation—wondering, waiting, hoping.  What would the Lions do?  Who would they pursue?  Would their “selective, aggressive” approach net them real building blocks, stopgap solutions, or nothing at all?  Would we have reasons to jump for joy, and rekindle our hope, or trying to get over our disappointment?  Our impatience was rewarded: we didn’t even have to wait for midnight for the first move.

The Lions sent the later of their two fifth round picks to Cleveland, and in return got Corey Williams, and the Browns’ seventh-rounder.  Williams, a 6’-4”, 320-pound defensive tackle, was a sixth-round pick of the Packers in 2004.  He saw spot duty for two years, then—after notching two sacks against the Lions in 2006—took over the starting job.

Williams garnered 7 sacks in both ‘06 and 07, even being named the GMC Defensive Player of the Week for his 2-sack, 4-solo-tackle, 2-forced-fumble performance against Carolina.  Following a tough playoff loss to the eventual Super Bowl-winning New York Giants, wherein Williams had 4 solo tackles and 5 assists, the Packers placed the franchise tag on Willliams.

However, the Packers traded Williams to the Browns, in exchange for a second-round pick.  Williams was to move from his natural 4-3 tackle position to a 3-4 end spot, flanking fellow 2008 Browns acquisition Shaun Rogers.  Given his big-body size and pass-rusher speed, Williams seemed to be an ideal fit for what the Browns wanted to do.

Unfortunately, Williams simply failed to produce as an end.  Despite starting every game, Williams only managed a half a sack in 2008.  Relegated to the rotation for almost all of 2009, Williams was mostly invisible, but occasionally flashed his old form.  He got his first start of 2009 against Pittsburgh in Week 14—and responded with 5 solo tackles and 2 sacks, leading the Browns to one of the most improbable upsets of 2009.

Corey Williams, at age 29, with seven years of experience, is the kind of foundational veteran in his prime that the Lions have so few of.  With him as a pass-rushing 3-technique (and despite my confusion last night, that’s what he is), and Hill at the 1-tech, the Lions will have 650 pounds of beef in the middle of the line.  That could be the kind of “you won’t run against us” interior the Lions want to build.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether Williams will recapture the form that earned him the Packers’ franchise tag—but, given the pittance they gave up to get him—moving down from the middle of the fifth to the early seventh—it’s a huge win for Mayhew and the Lions.

Nate Burleson is a player I’ve always admired.  When the Vikings were at the peak of their Dennis Green, pinball-numbers, media-fawning-all-over-them, not-winning-anything-ness, Burleson stood out as a smart, tough, talented player who wreaked havoc in the margins between Randy Moss and Marcus Robinson.

In fact, in only his second year since being drafted in the third round, he led the Vikings in receptions and yards (68/1,006), and finished second only to Randy Moss in TDs (9 to Moss’s 13).  This was partially due to him taking over for Moss for a few games when Moss tweaked a hamstring—but production is production. 

Then, there was the whole Poison Pill fiasco.  Seattle, whose All-Pro guard, Steve Hutchinson, had been pilfered by the Vikings—because the Vikings had included a clause that made Hutchinson’s entire contract fully guaranteed if he was ever not the highest-paid offensive lineman on the roster.  Since Seattle was already paying LT Walter Jones more than Hutchinson’s offer, they “couldn’t” match the offer sheet.  In retaliation, the Seahawks signed Burleson to an offer sheet with a clause making the entire contract guaranteed if he played more than five games in one season in the state of Minnesota.

Burleson didn't quite match his 2004 performance in his first year as a Seahawk--but catching 50 balls for 694 yards and 9 TDs wasn’t too shabby.  He showed the burst and open-field moves that a receiver needs in the Bill Walsh offense; he took short passes from Matt Hasselbeck and stretched them out to an average 13.9 yards per catch.

In 2008, the sky was the limit—until Burleson tore his ACL in the season opener, putting him on the shelf until 2009.  He was on pace for an excellent ‘09 campaign, until he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 13.  Still, he finished with 63 catches for 812 yards and 3 TDs—right in line with his career pace.

When Burleson's healthy, he produces at a pace that’d net him 60-80 catches for a year, at 12-14 YpC.  This is a world apart from Bryant Johnson’s miserable 35-catch, 417-yard performance in 2009.  Moreover, Burleson has the quickness, route-running ability, hands, and toughness to make teams pay for single-covering him with their #2 corner.  He’s the perfect weapon to exploit the aerated coverage he’ll see when playing with Megatron.

With his tough-as-nails approach to the game, and his intelligence, Kyle Vanden Bosch is Jim Schwartz’ kind of player—and Jim Schwartz’s kind of man.  At Nebraska, he was a three-time Big 12 All-Academic selection, and finished his bachelor’s degree in finance with a 3.82 GPA.  He was also Nebraska’s three-time Lifter of the Year.  His 6-4”, 270-pound frame is a prototypical match to Schwartz’s ideal.

Perhaps, then, Vanden Bosch wasn’t surprised Schwartz arrived on Kyle’s doorstep at midnight.  They spent all the wee hours together sharing some vino, and talking some football:

"He said, 'We want to bring you in to be a big-time player,'" Vanden Bosch said. "Not a figurehead. ... He said, 'I watched the tape last year and you're still the same player you were two years ago [when he had 12 sacks for the Titans]. It's just one thing here or there.' ... It was good to hear that again."

The stats, of course, don’t really bear that out: Vanden Bosch had 31 sacks in 2005, 2006, and 2007 combined--but only 7.5 in 2008 and 2009 combined.  Part of that was due to a groin injury robbing him of 10 games in 2008, but as I said before: production is production.

Was Vanden Bosch just a beneficiary of the Titans’ great DT play?  Is he a shadow of his former self?  Will he be a teacher’s pet, a "system guy” whose skills have left him?  According to Tom Kowalski, the answer to those questions is “no”.

Obviously, we’ll find that all out soon enough.  For now, what matters is that the Lions have addressed three of their most important needs: DT, DE, and WR, with veterans who aren’t perfect—but are perfect fits for what the Lions want to do.

The Lions can’t—shouldn’t, anyway—be done.  With the release of Philip Buchanon, the Lions have exactly zero legitimate starting cornerbacks.  The free-agent pickings are somewhat slim there, with only Lito Sheppard catching the eye as a possible step-in-and-start UFA.  There are, however, a few interesting safeties available, and the Lions may yet make a move at left guard.

The National Football Post is reporting that the Lions are in the running for Houston G Chester Pitts, who's a huge, experienced veteran coming off of knee surgery.  Pitts has played both left guard and left tackle, making his versatility a bonus. 

Regardless of who else the Lions pick up--or who else they acquire by trade--today was a huge, huge win for the Lions.  They were selective, they were aggressive, and they made their football team much, much better.  Here’s to more of the same—and a sold out home opener.

Technorati Tags: detroit lions,2010 free agency,2010 offseason,nfl free agency,nfl,kyle vanden bosch,nate burleson,corey williams,cleveland browns,seattle seahawks,jim schwartz


Clusterfox,  March 5, 2010 at 7:57 PM  

Well Put! I'm looking forward to more, seemingly well thoughtout, steps towards a better performance on Sundays.

Wins and Losses aside, I've developed the habit of overlooking other teams activities and wondering If I was a fan of that team how would I feel? I must admit few teams have made better, more deliberate steps towards success than the lions thus far.(Yes I undersand we have a greater amount of improvement to be had)However, I can't ignore the amount of desperation(Now or never) that was revealed in the actions of the Bears. Formidable now? YES, is it going to last? mmmmmmmm I'm not so sure.
I didn't get to enjoy the blog at work today, but I did reread when I got home. As always your efforts are much appreciated.


Joe Willy,  March 5, 2010 at 9:01 PM  

I'm cautiously optimistic. The gaping hole at corner is a huge concern (and also makes me worry they plan to trade down and/or pick Berry). The improved pass rush could potentially make a huge difference, but why cut Buchanon unless you know you have a better CB signed and waiting until midnight to be delivered?

Cluster, I think it's always important to gauge moved by whether they improve you compared to the division so the Bears are a great barometer. I think I prefer what Detroit did to what the Bears did. Peppers' heart has always been questioned- adding him to a team with a crybaby like Cutler? Chicago seems desperate to do well this season to save Angelo and Smith but I'm not even sure they have built something which works well together. They might be the new Redskins- lots of talent which doesn't fit.

Scotty G,  March 5, 2010 at 10:45 PM  

Ty, a couple questions when you get around to it. Not to be a negative nancy but, why all the love for Williams? If all it took was to drop from the 200th pick to the 247th (whatever it is) for his rights....isn't there a reason for that? And why didn't any other teams make a bid for this guy?
Also, if the lions were the favorites to sign chester taylor and he signs with the bears for only 12 mill, why not pay a little more for a proven back and outbid them? I mean we gave up 26 for VDB and 25 for NB

Pacer,  March 5, 2010 at 11:38 PM  

Hi Ty-a good day for the Lions. Well thought out and well executed. To answer Scotty about Williams-he simply did not fit a 3/4 scheme. From a different perspective but within the same scheme refer to Kampman in Green Bay. I thought Kampman was finally getting it as a hand in the dirt and a stand up LB and then he got injured so we may never know about him. At 6' 4" and 320 Williams is simply not a defensive end in any scheme. He is a DT-pure and simple and there was no way the Browns were going to keep him at the $'s he was getting paid.

That said, there are a lot of Browns fans that thought they let him go about 2 draft picks too low. But he was simply the wrong guy in the wrong place and the Browns need just as much help as the Lions do.

Ty, I have been reading but not commenting as this winter in Edmonton has been busy. Nonetheless, following your journalistic exploits has been fun-cudos to you.

If you will recall we were more then cautiously optomistic about Mayhew last year. There were not many but at least we were among those that were. Last years draft and today seem to bear out the thoughts you and I shared.

As always, keep up the good work.

Weston Corbitt,  March 6, 2010 at 10:02 AM  

We are officially transitioning to throw anything and see if it sticks, and by the way sign free agents who will come here to prove something to the we got a foundation lets sign some pieces to keep building mode. These moves won't put us in the playoffs, but they definitely made us better and we didn't totally break the bank to do it. Another good draft this year and we could win 5-6 games. Maybe we could have a not top five worst defense this year.

OregonLion,  March 6, 2010 at 7:02 PM  

It seems Mayhew and Schwartz decided that divvying up the FA $ amongst a bunch of lower-paid, marginal types wasn't going to work out. I like these three moves, for sure. If Burleson can consistently beat the other teams' #2 CB, that will have positive effects on the rest of the offense as well. And having a real pass rush is the first step in improving the historically bad pass defense numbers.

OTOH, we've been devastated by Cornerback Armaggedon. I can't say I blame Mayhew for dumping most of last year's cast of misfits, but I don't know where better replacements are going to come from. And I sure don't want the Lions going into the draft thinking they have to reach for any available corner. This will be interesting ...

Clusterfox,  March 7, 2010 at 9:08 AM  

Its been 36 hours since my first post on this subject. Alot has occured since then, just nothing by the lions. I still love what we've done. However there are still 3 major holes, 1 of which is going to be somewhat satisfied by the #2 pick. I'm happy with the burleson pick up because WCF's money means nothing to me(Infact I sent him my small piece on Friday aswell). yet Burleson isn't going to get as many balls thrown to him if Stafford doesn't get some help on the line. So we'll take Okung, but then we still are going to be in alot of shootouts with no(i mean ZERO)CB. So we'll take Berry, Watched him on Rome yesterday. I would take him at 2 and play him all over, I think he's that good. But then were not taking Suh, so what have we really done to get better on the DL. We signed two better than avg(by appearance) Stop Gaps for the time being.

I guess what I getting at is that in the last day and a half, A lot of guys are getting looks. When Foote has multiple suitors, and Will James is flying around the country we could be back to square one or worse with a couple of injuries. We need to improve starters and depth, or atleast keep our depth. We may have to wait untill roster cuts to get some of our depth back. And that is way to much reality for what is supposed to be an optimistic time for us lions fans.
Maybe I'm just reading to many comments @ mlive.lol
Chester Pitts or Lito Shepard would sound really good today. Anybody have any other ideas on whats left out there.


Ty,  March 7, 2010 at 10:14 AM  


Much to my frustration, my home Internet went down on Saturday morning, and as of yet still isn't back up. I'm replying from my BlackBerry at church . . .

Uh, I mean, no I'm not. Shhhh.

Clusterfox, I agree: it's really nice to see the Lions make quick, definitive upgrades at key positions, and thereby be considered big winners. I know Seahawks fans, for example, were crushed to see Nate leave . . .


Ty,  March 7, 2010 at 11:12 AM  

Clusterfox, Joe Willy, OregonLion--

I'm deeply disturbed by Cornerback Armageddon, too, and there's very little help available. Atlanta signed Robinson, Bodden sounded like he'd never step foot in this state again when he left . . . Lito Sheppard is the only starter-caliber CB who is definitely available, and nothing sounds immediate with him.

Wait until I bump my "annual secondary overhaul" post from last season. It'll make your head spin.


Ty,  March 7, 2010 at 12:28 PM  

Scotty G, Pacer--

Yeah, Pacer has it spot-on. In theory, pass-rushing 4-3 DTs should make good 3-4 ends, but at 320 Williams just isn't a fit at end. It's one thing to beat guards one-on-one--but beating tackles to the outside, or tackle/guard double teams, requires speed and athleticism in amounts that 320-pounders don't have.

He simply wasn't worth the salary he was getting paid, and the Lions offered to both take the salary off their hands, and kick them a little draft value in the meantime. Look at it this way: plenty of Lions fans would have been thrilled to get Aaron Kampman, and he was as useless to the Packers last year as Williams was to the Browns.


Clusterfox,  March 7, 2010 at 12:38 PM  

Not that I'm excited by these names but I've been doing some thinking. Some guys that could be had, possible cheap or atleast on one year deals that would help solve some glaring needs to help make sure we stick to BATFAN(per DF79)without reaching in the draft:
Justin Fargas

On a side note, I've done alot of surfing in the last two days and a phrase that keeps coming up on Burleson is " First steps to drawing coverage away from CJ" I'm startin to think we may target one of the burners like Kowalski keeps saying, maybe Best, Mccluster, or Gilyard(the latter of which might be had in the 3rd round)just a thought.


Ty,  March 7, 2010 at 12:38 PM  


Thanks, by the way. You're right, and Mayhew's exceeded, by far, my cautiously-optimistic hopes. These seem like extremely salient pickups--and moreover, they couldn't be more in sync with the coaches, and what they want to do. We're a long way off from Millen bringing in the flashiest talents available and forcing his coaches to play 'em . . .


Weston Corbitt,  March 7, 2010 at 1:02 PM  

Fargas wouldn't be bad, and Pac-Man could help our return game. I don't know if I would sign Jones. He could really offset some of the good we have done.

JonNYCE,  March 7, 2010 at 4:14 PM  

I agree with a number of the comments here, particularly those relating to CB. Even though we have a legitimate and significant concern at CB I'm hoping we focus on DT, in the first round at least. As many of you know, having a solid D-line would offset our liability at CB. With that said, I'm hoping the following round (or 2) the Lions pickup CBs and possibly a burner WR or RB to develop. I think this draft should be DT, CB and from then on to focus on BPA at WR, RB, CB and possibly DE. We'd be remise in thinking the Lions will address all their "needy" positions in this draft, so I'd be content with them focusing on DT, CB and RB.

OregonLion,  March 7, 2010 at 10:13 PM  

There are recent reports that the Lions have essentially concluded a deal for Falcons CB Chris Houston, in exchange for a sixth round draft pick. If true, this is another example of our GM being smarter and more aware of opportunity than me, long time Lions fan conditioned to believe "Lions GM" == FAIL. Should this type of event continue to happen, I believe I will need some kind of therapy.

Anonymous,  March 8, 2010 at 1:22 PM  

If nothing else, we can all say we actually have a competent GM....Long before a team competes on the field, the GMs compete in the General Ledger, Draft Boards, and FA areas. The Lions have to win at the GM level to even have a chance to compete at the field level.....so far, so good...

KC Lion fan

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