The first time I wanted Dré Bly to be a Lion was in 1999. Recent top draft picks Terry Fair and Kevin Abrams were on the roster—but neither seemed to be on track for stardom, and the Lions have always needed as much cornerback help as they could get. Besides, Bly’s resume as a playmaker was absolutely astonishing. From the Dré Bly Wikipedia entry:
In his redshirt freshman season at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), Bly received all-American honors. He is only one of five players in NCAA history to achieve this honor as a freshman (Tony Dorsett, Herschel Walker, Bjorn Merten, and Marshall Faulk being the others) .
Bly was the only football player in UNC and ACC history to receive consensus 1st team All-America honors three times in his college career. In his sophomore year, he was one of three finalists for the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Year Award. Bly held the ACC record for career interceptions (20).
Regrettably, the Lions did not draft Bly. They traded at least their second- and fifth-round pick (historians disagree) to the Dolphins to move up to the 27th slot. Once there, they took mountainous right tackle Aaron Gibson of Wisconsin. Bly and his surprisingly slow 40 time (4.51) slid into the second round, where the St. Louis Rams pulled the trigger at the 41 slot.
The second time I wanted Dré Bly to become a Lion was in 2003, when his four-year rookie deal expired. After two years straight years of riding the pine for a Super Bowl team, Bly finally got his shot at the big time in 2001, and didn’t disappoint. In 16 games, and 4 starts, Bly had 6 interceptions, and returned two of them for scores. Bly also saw extensive use as a punt returner starting in ‘01.
In ‘02, Bly ascended to a full-time starting role—and while his INT numbers dipped to 2, he defensed 18 passes, forced 4 fumbles, and recorded 54 solo tackles. In short, as they say in the business, he made himself a lot of money. To be specific, he made a lot of William Clay Ford’s money: a five-year, twenty-four million dollar contract, six million of which came up front. I’d gotten my wish.
On the surface, Bly’s four years here were a success: 19 interceptions, 38 passes defensed, and two Pro Bowl appearances. Yet, injury hampered his play; he missed nine games in four years. Further, his gambling style resulted in negative plays, as well as positive ones. Here’s a notable one, from his days in Denver:
"If we'd had production on offense, in particular the quarterback position, Mooch wouldn't have been fired. If Jeff Garcia hadn't gotten hurt, we wouldn't be in this position today. Mooch wouldn't have gotten fired. We're all at fault, but I just feel like Joey [Harrington]'s been here four years, and being the No. 3 pick in the draft, he hasn't given us anything. He hasn't given us what the third pick in the draft should give us."
For this, Bly took quite a bit of heat. After all, here he was, taking a public and private stand against the team’s quarterback, blaming him for their coach’s dismissal. Right or wrong (and, in hindsight, he was more right than wrong), that’s something you just don’t do. He bounced from Detroit to Denver, then from Denver to San Francisco—and, in the words of Eminem and Phil Zaroo, we forgot about Dré.
The third time I wanted Dré Bly to be a Lion, I didn’t even know it; I’d merely been calling for the Lions to add a decent, veteran cover corner. Well, late on Friday, the Lions announced they’d signed Bly to a two-year deal. Quoth the ever-quotable cornerback:
I feel like I played my best ball here in Detroit. I feel like it's home and to come back and have the chance to finish my career where I played my best ball -- where I feel like I'm part of the community -- is a great feeling.
Broncos beat writer Frank Schwab wryly noted on Twitter that having the chance to draw an NFL paycheck must also be a great feeling for Bly. The results of his stints in Denver and San Francisco were mixed, but unlike here, they were remembered more for the negative plays than the positive ones.
For what it’s worth, Niners fans seem sad to see him go; they see the secondary as a potential problem, and Bly as a good nickel/decent #2. Top-notch 49ers writer Matt Maiocco said that Bly’s lack of physicality was a poor fit for their scheme—and according to Maiocco’s team sources, Bly’s attitude and declining speed also factored into his release.
What does this all mean for the Lions? Bly is, by far, the most experienced corner on the roster—and, presuming he hasn’t declined too much, should still be one of the most physically talented, as well. Jim Schwartz does prefer a more aggressive, jamming cover corner—but all of the Lions’ current corners fit that mold, and they’re either too inexperienced or insufficiently skilled to play deep man coverage. That may be all that Bly can do at this point, cover a receiver downfield—but it’s the one thing the Lions needed most.
I have no idea whether Bly will enter the season as the #1 corner, or if he’ll be cut before the season starts. I could believe either scenario, but I’d suspect something in between, leaning more towards “Bly starts at least two games for the Lions by the end of the season.” No matter what happens, though, this is a halfway-decent attempt at addressing the Lions’ biggest flaw, and in July that’s difficult to do. Here’s hoping, indeed, that the third time is the charm.