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.
"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.