Shaun Rogers: Once and Future Lion?

>> 2.10.2011

This is how I like to remember Shaun Rogers. Likely, it’s how you like to remember him too: an impossible combination of size and athleticism. A relentless, disruptive force that demanded—and overwhelmed—double-teams. A goofy, lumbering country boy, simultaneously awkward and balletic, gamboling and galloping, groan-inducing and breathtaking.

Shaun Rogers had some incredible highlights in his seven years as a Lion—and more than a few lowlights, too. For the most part, when the Lions dealt him to Cleveland, fans knew it was simply time to part ways. Of course, it stung when he immediately made an impact there—especially as the 0-16 Lions’ defense was manhandled by opposing offensive lines. As opposing running backs averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the helpless, hapless Lions, we looked south to Cleveland and got all nostalgic. As the Dawg Pound swooned over Rogers’ ability, many of us were bitterly jealous.

But the honeymoon didn’t last long. Thanks to a perceived slight by new coach Eric Mangini, Rogers asked the team to not pay his option bonus, presumably to finagle a quicker trade or release. Eventually, the ice between Rogers and Mangini thawed, or at least partially so. From that Akron Beacon-Journal come successive paragraphs that sum up everything you need to know about Shaun Rogers:

Rogers insists he can still dunk. ''All day,'' he said. Two hands? ''Two hands. All day. Vertical? 360? What you want?'' Rogers said. Two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said dunking is probably the least of what Rogers can do. ''He tests better than any player on the team when we do testing in the spring,'' Thomas said. ''He's faster than any lineman, offense and defense. He can jump higher. He's got incredible speed. He's probably a 4.6, 4.7 guy.'' Anderson doesn't think a healthy Rogers can be blocked. ''Not when he's going and he's healthy and rested, there's not a human being who can stop him one-on-one,'' Anderson said. ''I've seen him take double-teams with his body and one arm and get through guys. He spins . . . he's a freak.''

. . . and then the flip side:

Former Detroit Lions coach Rod Marinelli told former Tampa Bay Bucs and Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Warren Sapp that Rogers didn't want to be featured in Detroit. ''Rod Marinelli went to Detroit (in 2006), showed Shaun Rogers my tape and said, 'I'm going to get you one on one,' '' Sapp, now on Showtime's Inside the NFL, said last month in New York. ''Shaun Rogers looked at Marinelli and said, 'What if I don't want to be one on one?' ''Gilligan wanted off that island, too, right? That island is a lonely place. Either you want it or you don't. The great ones do.''

Shaun Rogers’ talent, his potential, his upside—it’s intoxicating. It’s addictive. But, to borrow a phrase, he’s a grown-ass man. He’s 31. He’s—if visual evidence is any indication—way over his listed 350, possibly over 400. He’s been unable to stay healthy, getting just 12 starts and 26 games played in the last two seasons—and when he’s played, he’s been less effective; he has just 41 tackles and 4 sacks in that time.

Now, he’s been released--and unlike other free-agents-to-be, he can actually be signed right now. Should the Lions bring him back to Detroit? As a commenter on the Browns blog Dawgs by Nature said:

Shaun had become a part-time part-timer. At his age and given his shape/condition it’s better to get rid of him, rather than overpay him. He’ll sign for a fraction of that amount somewhere. I’d be happy if it were Cleveland, but not at $5mill.

He’s a rotational player who’s struggling to stay healthy. As a 400-pound two-gap tackle, he doesn’t have a clear role in this defense, either. He’d essentially take up Sammie Hill’s role, but Hill is a very young, very raw, developing player whose best football is all in front of him. As amazing as it still is to daydream about a 400-pound man who can run a 4.6 40 and dunk from a standstill, Shaun Rogers is a ten-year veteran. He was Matt Millen’s third-ever draft pick. He is what he is. He’s not going to realize that incredible potential any sooner than Dominic Raiola is grow two inches and add thirty pounds of muscle.

Those of you who say, “But what if he really is motivated to play? What if a change of scenery does him good?” Well, then are a dozen wannabe 3-4 teams out there who need a nose tackle more than the Lions need a fifth DT to rotate—and they’ll certainly be willing to pay more than the Lions will. The case is stronger, and the role is clearer, for Albert Haynesworth—and I’m not all that anxious to get him on the Lions’ roster, either. The Lions’ defensive line, both starters and depth, was the strength of the team in 2010. Players like Sammie Hill and Andre Fluellen made major contributions late in the year, and both of those players haven’t yet hit their primes.

I’d rather the Lions continue to try to win like the Packers, always thinking about the future, than try in vain to recapture the recent—godawful—past.

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