The Secondary Is Dead, Long Live the Secondary . . . again

>> 5.13.2010

Last offseason, I did a little research on the Lions’ secondary problems.  It seemed to me that there’d been an “overhaul” back there every year, going as far back as I could remember.  I looked it up, and was horrified.  Starting with the season-ending injuries to CB Bryant Westbrook and S Kurt Schultz during the 2000 season, the Lions have brought in two or more new starters in almost every subsequent year:

2001: Signed CB Todd Lyght, CB/S Robert Bailey, and S Chidi Iwouma.  Subtracted S Corwin Brown, CB Darnell Walker, and CB Marquis Walker.

2002: Drafted CB Andre Goodman and CB Chris Cash; signed S Corey Harris, S Brian Walker, CB Eric Davis, and S Bracey Walker.  Subtracted Terry Fair, Ron Rice, Kurt Schultz,  Robert Bailey, and Chidi Iwouma.

2003: Signed CB Dre' Bly, CB Otis Smith, and drafted S Terry Holt.  Subtracted Todd Lyght and Eric Davis.

2004: Signed CB Fernando Bryant, S Brock Marion, S Vernon Fox, and drafted CB Keith Smith.  Subtracted Brian Walker and Corey Harris.

2005: Signed S Kennoy Kennedy, CB R.W. McQuarters, and S Jon McGraw; drafted CB Stanley Wilson.  Subtracted Brock Marion and Chris Cash.

2006: Drafted S Daniel Bullocks and signed CB Jamar Fletcher.  Subtracted Andre Goodman, R.W. McQuarters, Bracey Walker, and Vernon Fox.

2007: Drafted S Gerald Alexander, CB A.J. Davis, and CB Ramzee Robinson; signed CB Travis Fisher.  Subtracted Dre Bly, Terry Holt, Jamar Fletcher, and Jon McGraw.

2008: Traded for CB Leigh Bodden, and signed S Dwight Smith, S Kalvin Person, and CB Brian Kelly.  Subtracted Fernando Bryant, Kennoy Kennedy, and Stanley Wilson . . . and Brian Kelly.

2009: Drafted S Louis Delmas, traded for S Ko Simpson, and signed CB Philip Buchanon, CB/S Anthony Henry, CB Eric King, and S Marquand Manuel.  Subtracted Leigh Bodden, Travis Fisher, and Dwight Smith.

2010: Drafted CB Amari Spievey, traded for CB Chris Houston, and signed CB Johnathon Wade, and S C. C. Brown.  Subtracted Philip Buchanon, Anthony Henry, and Kalvin Pearson.

This list ins’t meant to be comprehensive; any player prior to 2009 on the list played in at least ten games for the Lions.  in ‘09 and ‘10, I included any player who was expected to make a significant contribution to the team.  This is why players like CB Jahi Word-Daniels, a practice-squadder briefly activated to fill an injury-opened roster spot, aren’t on there.

However, there are some seemingly-insignificant players who might play a role when the curtain goes up on the 2010 season, like CB Jack Williams.  Williams, a fourth-round pick in his second season, was signed after Week 7 last year, when the Broncos released him.  He blew his left ACL on his first play as a Lion, and was placed on Injured Reserve.  He’s a talented young corner who could immediately push King and Spievey if healthy—but we have no idea how healthy he really is.

As it stands, though, we’re right on track for another overhaul this time next year.  Chris Houston, as promising and young as he is, was still replaced and traded after his disappointing 2009 performance.  Amari Spievey (yes, Meet the Cubs piece on him coming soon) is going to step in and play, but every cornerback has a year or two of ramp-up time.  The only possible long-term answer to the #2 safety problem is Daniel Bullocks, but who knows what he’ll be able to contribute?

Eric King, in my humble estimation, doesn't belong anywhere near the starting lineup.

Though the uncapped UFA bonanza is over, and the draft is long in the books, there IS one possible acquisition left out there; one possible target who could forestall multiple-starter secondary churn next season.  O.J. Atogwe, the St. Louis Rams’ excellent young ballhawk, has refused to sign his RFA tender—meaning he’ll become an unrestricted free agent come June 1st.  As Twitterer @Msu4Us pointed out, Atogwe is from Windsor, so if there’s any “childhood fan” mojo, it’ll likely be for the Lions . . .

On the other hand, the Lions’ front office has already spent a ton of the Fords’ money this offseason, and Atgowe will likely command a fortune on the unrestricted market.  Unless the Lions are convinced that Atogwe is THE answer to their defensive problems, I don’t anticipate that dramatic of a move.

No, the likely answer is that one of the amassed throng of mediocre safeties will have to scale the mountain of bodies before them, and plant their flag at the summit . . . where it will stay until next season, when the roster dynamite levels the mountain, and the annual secondary rebuild begins.


18 comments:

sJe May 13, 2010 at 4:47 PM  

I agree with your sentiments on Atogwe, and its nice to see someone finally bring him up in conversation with the Lions. I have been curious about this potential marriage for a while, but I have slowly dismissed it simply because no one has seemed to talk about it.

Also, why do you say Bullocks is the only potential long-term answer at the other safety spot for the Lions? I think Ko Simpson could be in that conversation. He's still rather young, he's got speed, I'm not discounting him just yet. Daniel Bullocks, as I'm sure you remember, was horrible in '08 when he started the entire year, so its not like he's shown that he can play, much more than say, Simpson did last year.

Merch May 13, 2010 at 11:01 PM  

Is it bad I remember so many of the names but forgot how fast they left us?

If the DL can really play a big enough role in pressure on the QB and pressure OFF the DBs then maybe the revolving door will slow down...

I've always believed in solid trenches. The offensive side could have used a bit more attention, but you can't do it all at once. So they threw a lot at the defensive line.

On the offensive side a good group of guys makes everyone better. The level of talent is so close at times that if that extra crease, the half a second longer on a block, springs a guy or prevents a sack or pressure then I suppose the same can be true on the other end.

NorthLeft12,  May 14, 2010 at 8:11 AM  

Ty Good post. The historical perspective on this problem is invaluable. I checked the team performance over that time period via NFL.com only looking at yards allowed passing, TD passes, and INTs.

In 2000 the Lions were 15th in yardage, 8th in TDs allowed, and 3rd [yes THIRD] in INTs.

Since 2000 in yards the rankings go: 25, 30, 28, 20, 13, 25, 31, 27, 32.

In TDs allowed: 29T [LAST], 27T, 29, 25T, 14T, 20T, 32, 30, 32.

In INTs: 17T, 26T, 14T, 22T, 7T, 25, 14T, 32, 30.

2005 sticks out like a sore thumb. For some reason we actually had a competent defence that year. The run defence and scoring defence was above average too that year.

So what happened after the 2000 season? Anyone?

Anonymous,  May 14, 2010 at 9:44 AM  

I would LOVE to see Atogwe join the Lions, but I just don't see it happening.

He's a "Last piece of the puzzle" type of player who will command too much money and we're WAY too far away from being true contenders.

Anonymous,  May 14, 2010 at 11:44 AM  

Good post Ty, per usual. One thing I have been feeling is that assuming the addressing of the D line is successful, next year the secondary will be addressed in earnest along with the O line. I see the bevy of 'depth players' as the stopgap until next years draft as I don't see big money going out for Atogwe though I'd love to see him in Honalulu Blue.

Ty May 14, 2010 at 1:11 PM  

sJe--

Yeah, I think part of the reason Atogwe hasn't been brought up more is that his situation's been so vague; the Rams have insisted that they're committed to re-sign him to a big deal, but it's not happening.

The rest of the reaosn is that he's an explosive player entering his prime, and about to be an unrestricted free agent in a bone-dry post-draft market. He's likely to have many suitors, and there's little reason to believe he'd come to Detroit for any reason beyond money.

Further, there's little reason to believe that the Lions haven't already blown this year's budget . . . cap or no, the Lions are desperate to sell tickets, and there's only so much money the Fords will be willing to lose this season.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 14, 2010 at 1:15 PM  

sJe--

Oh, and on Bullocks, he was really a player in 2006. He really showed a lot of two-way ability--and hasn't been healthy, or nearly the same, since. Ko Simpson has the size and athleticism, but he was available for a reason--and, fully healthy, he showed us what he's capable of: not much.

2006 Bullocks vs. 2009 Simpson is no contest at all. Hoping that Bullocks, if finally healthy, could be 2006 Bullocks again is a lot more worthwhile exercise that wondering if Simpson could magically get much better than he was in 2009 for no reason.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 14, 2010 at 1:40 PM  

Merch--

Yes. It's bad. Not for you, but for the Lions.

I'd love to buy into that whole notion, but I just can't. The Lions' DL was more than a step away from the quarterback, and the Lions' DBs were terrible last year. They found out that Buchanon and Henry weren't the answers, but I don't think that Houston, Wade, or Spievey are better--in fact, they're probably worse.

The secondary is just going to be terrible this season, and it's going to be a major liability for the team.

Peace
Ty

Anonymous,  May 14, 2010 at 2:41 PM  

I'll be a voice of dissent here. I am hopeful. The reason is NOT that we have finally put the right players at Safety and CB. The reason is we have a MUCH better defensive line. That is going to make the secondary look a lot better. Typically in the past, opposing QB's had between 4 and 5 WEEKS to find an open receiver. If N. Suh is as good as we hope and if C. Williams and K. Vanden Bosch are as much of an upgrade as we hope, those QB's are going to be under pressure to get rid of the ball much more quickly this year. This means an increased likelihood of poor choices by the QB and more opportunities for turnovers in the secondary. I hope I'm right...... I could be wrong.....

Anonymous,  May 14, 2010 at 7:13 PM  

Wow!the only good corner detroit had in the past is Dre bly!

Rick O'Shea,  May 15, 2010 at 9:59 AM  

Hey, don't the Lions have more than $30,000,000 in cap space left? That's according to NetRat. And doesn't like $8,000,000 get used up by the Rookie Pool? That tells me, the front office would be able to sign someone like - wait, more than one someone like OJ Atogwe. I know they won't spend the whole chunk of change; they'll keep some in their pocket in case they need it during the season... but 30 million is still a 'lot' under the cap (if there was one).

Joe Willy May 15, 2010 at 10:36 AM  

This team doesn't have $30 mill to spend. After 0-16 they have to be barely making money, if at all (at least from Ford's perspective- if you're rich you can pick and choose your investments so you can find something with a better return). They already spent money on KVB and Burleson and have lots of high draft picks to pay, along with saving up for CJ's next big contract. I'd love to see Atogwe but will a horrible Rams team part with a solid player? Not when they're being sold, need a new stadium and could move to LA to find it.

Rick O'Shea,  May 15, 2010 at 10:51 AM  

JW,
From the Ford's perspective, the Lions have been a tremendous investment. I would think if they want to see that investment continue to grow, they need to shore up their fan support. After 2-30 they have to get things headed in the other direction, for sure, if they hope to increase the revenue coming from their beleagered fan base. Bottom line... I'm guessing the Ford's know full well, that the remedy for the fan's apathy is putting the best possible product on the field... and the Ford's have not been adverse to spending money. Not saying they will sign Atogwe. But it would make sense to allocate some additional funds from the 'salary cap' to the defensive backfield.

Anonymous,  May 16, 2010 at 5:40 PM  

Atogwe will be 29 in less than a month. "Young" is not really an accurate discription. Factor in that we do not sniff a Superbowl for at least the next two seasons. Now factor in that you'd probably have to give up a high draft pick to get him, and pay him top dollar, instead of a high draft pick who can be part of a SB run. You give Simpson no love, but he was traded for by this regime last year, then resigned this year. They like the guy and he will be the starter IMO not Bullocks. Lastly, finding a good SS isn't that hard. A guy who will be 30 before the team wins the division isn't the right way to build.

sJe May 17, 2010 at 1:30 AM  

IMO, the Lions' secondary could range anywhere from, as bad as they were last year (Sorry I just can't envision a worse one than last year's), or I'm afraid to say average, but to be safe, slightly below average. However, the latter would only be possible if our d-line exceeds expectations. Even if the d-line meets expectations, or even slightly underperforms them, they will be miles ahead of last year's line. For that reason, I refuse to believe that our secondary can be any worse than what they were last year. Because of these super-low expectations, I believe our secondary might surprise some people this year. And who know's maybe we'll find at least one serviceable player to keep around for more than a year.

Ty May 17, 2010 at 8:10 AM  

NorthLeft12--

Great research!

You question, "Does anyone know what happened after 2000?" cracked me up . . . but I think it's important to note what DID happen after 2000. Here's that defense:

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/teams/det/2000.htm

Stephen Boyd, Chris Claiborne, Terry Fair, Allen Aldridge, Kurt Schultz, Bryant Westbrook, James Jones, Tracy Scroggins, Robert Porcher, Luther Elliss.

What do all those guys have in common? They led the Lions in tackles in 2000, and were mostly out of football within three years. As much of a problem as Millen was, everyone goes "HE TOOK A 9-7 TEAM, AND . . ." but that 9-7 team would have imploded anyway.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 17, 2010 at 8:17 AM  

Anon--

Yeah, the improvement along the DL will help a little. But in order for the defense to be GOOD with this secondary, the DL would have to be amongst the best in the NFL, and the Lions would have to get consistently excellent linebacker play. Given that the starters back there are an aging Julian Peterson, a second-year, third-round OLB transitioning to the middle, and a second-year, seventh-round special teamer transitioning to the base defense . . .

. . . yeah, no, the fact that the corners are terrible is going to show.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 17, 2010 at 1:27 PM  

Anon--

Atogwe, if the Rams neither increase his tender offer nor sign him to a long-term deal, will become an unrestricted free agent on June 1st; that's the situation I'm talking about. If Atogwe hits the open market, there's nothing stopping the Lions from backing up the Brinks truck for a native son of Windsor . . .

. . . except the fact that I don't think they're interested in winning a bidding war for him. As you said, he's 28 right now, and will be 29. You're right, "young" might be pushing it, but "just entered his prime" would be accurate. The next three seasons should be the best of his career--far from true for the last two crops of defensive free agents.

I give Simpson no love because he played poorly and got benched for nobody, before blowing out his knee. He got re-signed because he's got better physical tools than most of the other four safeties vying for a starting spot . . . but he's still nothing like the player Bullocks was in 2006. Simpson may, or may not, be on the roster come September.

I'm not saying it's likely that that Bullocks comes back, I'm saying that if it happens, he'll be head and shoulders above Simpson, Manuel, Brown, etc.

Peace
Ty

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