Three Cups Deep: The Parable of the One-Eyed Beggar

>> 5.23.2011

Long ago, there was a one-eyed man, living as a beggar on the street. He survived on the scraps and crumbs left behind by those around him. Mostly, he was ignored—though occasionally some would cruelly mock his misfortune. One day he awoke to find, miraculously, he had two fully-functioning eyes. He leapt to his feet, and sang praises to the heavens.

He ran to the nearest store, and with his last copper bought thick paper stock, ink, and quill. He fashioned a sign that said “EYE FOR SALE.” He returned to his begging spot, proudly holding the sign high. A passerby asked, “You suffered so long for want of a second eye; why now would you willingly sell the first?” The beggar replied, “I figure I can probably get like a fourth round pick for it.”


. . . perhaps that’s a little dramatic. But I’m astonished by Lions fans’ talk about trading Sammie Hill. Yes, the addition of Nick Fairley means that the Lions now have both quality and depth on the defensive line—but that’s not a situation that needs fixing. Suh and Fairley will rotate with Hill and Williams to keep all of them fresh for four quarters—and sixteen games. With those four tackles—plus the corps of ends they have in KVB, Avril, and Jackson—the Lions’ defensive line will be able to rotate in many different looks and packages without compromising the effectiveness of the line.

Not only is that a good thing, it’s the design goal of the defense! As long as that defensive line is dominant—disrupting the pass and containing the run—the Lions’ scoring defense is going to be at least decent, no matter what’s going on in the back seven. However, if injuries or fatigue begin to take their toll, and the DL performance slips, suddenly the whole thing turns to cheesecloth.

Still, let’s say Hill weren’t a member of the defense’s signature position group, where they’re trying to stack talent upon talent at almost any cost. He was a fourth-round draft pick, and is still on his rookie contract. His upside is phenomenal; he has the raw physical tools to become an elite run-stopping DT in the mold of Pat Williams or Grady Jackson. We knew Hill would take a few years to reach that potential—and this year’s Old Mother Hubbard shows that Hill’s already better than most run-stopping 4-3 DTs. So, he's already a valuable contributor, he may be developing into an elite player as we speak, and the cost of keeping him around is minimal. That is the last guy you’d ever want to trade.

Just look at the market, here: Lawrence Jackson was two years removed from being a first-round pick, and had flashed potential despite being a bad schematic fit. The Lions got him for a sixth-rounder, and he played at an extremely high level when called upon. Do really want the Lions to flip Sammie Hill for a sixth, fifth, fourth, or even third-round pick and watch him go to the Pro Bowl elsewhere, while the Lions start from scratch with another rookie?

I’m fascinated by the modern NFL fan’s drive for mediocrity. Whether it’s from playing too much Madden franchise mode, or a lack of understanding what separates the wheat from the chaff in the NFL, we fans (I include myself) want to take our team’s resources and trowel them evenly across the roster: we cheer for our team to get 22 “pretty good” starters.

Wherever we see a “hole” in the starting lineup, we want it “filled”—preferably with a second- or third-round pick if the “hole” isn’t on the OL or DL. In a startling flip from fan attitudes of the 80s, we detest it when a high draft pick, or rich free agent contract, is lavished on a non-lineman (I blame this on the dominance of the 1990s Cowboys). Further, once that “hole” is “filled,” and we have an “extra” player, we want to flip him for whatever we can get because he’s “being wasted.” We believe that all rookies are guaranteed to hit their “upside.” We pretend that injuries either do not happen or are the ineffable will of the Football Gods, so preparing for them is folly.

All told, the modern NFL fan seems to want their team comprised entirely of second- and third-round picks—drafted to fill immediate holes at the time of their drafting—plus mid-tier recycled veteran free agents. Oh, and an offensive line comprised entirely of former first-rounders. No holes, no superstars, no difference-makers either way, just 22 B-minus starters with nothing behind them. The problem with all this is that that team would suck.

What's the lesson here? That the Lions, for the first time in forever, have skill AND talent AND depth. All three are required to win in the NFL; we got dramatic proof of that at the tail end of last season! Sammie Hill and Lawrence Jackson and Bobby Carpenter and Nate Vasher and Shaun Hill and Ashlee Palmer and Drew Stanton won those four straight games as much as Ndamukong Suh and Jahvid Best and Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson did; maybe more so.

We've waited so long for the Lions to rise up in strength and become a legitimate contender; don’t be so quick to cripple them.


19 comments:

Mike May 23, 2011 at 1:20 PM  

THANK YOU, TY!

I've said as much time and time again, especially right after the draft when we had troves of doomsayers spitting curses at Mayhew and Co. while likening him to Millen because he *gasp* took skill positions over an "area of need".

Drafting and building a team the way "they" want will only ever bring us back to our "glory days" of the early/mid 90s where we would go 10-6, make the playoffs, and promptly lose in the first round.

Thankfully, our front office would much prefer 16-0 and a Super Bowl ring.

randomguy313 May 23, 2011 at 1:52 PM  

I second that Ty!! All the Mlive boards were littered with trade Sammie.

WHY!!!!!!!!

We will have an awesome rotation...whenever the season starts.

The question I pose to you Ty would be do you keep Turk or Willie Young or do roll with 3 DEs with Willie Young on the practice squad?

Matt,  May 23, 2011 at 1:55 PM  

Sammie Hill isn't even the most expendable or most tradeable DT. As Ty mentioned, he's entering just his third season under contract as a 4th round pick. He's a bargain in terms of salary cap and Mr. Ford's wallet. Whenever a labor deal gets done, he will almost certainly fall into the restricted free agent category allowing the Lions to either keep him on the cheap or allow another team to sign him for draft pick compensation. Meanwhile, Corey Williams is a free agent in 2013 and will be 33. If anything, you flip HIM after the 2011 season (whenever that is) for a 2nd or 3rd rounder and move on with Suh, Fairley, Hill, Avril, LoJax, and whoever else you draft.

Big Al ... the Bundy experience,  May 23, 2011 at 2:01 PM  

One thing to consider going forward is that per Goodell's revised ruling on the Lions tampering charge by the Chiefs ... the Lions regained a 2011 pick but lost a 2012 pick. And my guess is that Mayhew will do what he can to recover that 2012 pick.

Do I think that Mayhew will make a big splash via a high profile free agent signing or a major trade? No, the only time Mayhew went that route was trying to get in on the Cutler trade by having the Lions be the third party involved, so I would not expect Mayhew and the Lions front office to change their philosophy this year.

Andre Fluellen was drafted my Millen during the Marinelli era, and during those bleak times the Lions played the Tampa 2 defense, today the Lions are not in the Tampa 2 scheme, and the Lions have been shedding Millen draft picks with abandon.

Looks to me as if Fluellen is the odd man out, and if Mayhew garners a 5th or 6th rounder for him it would be considered a bonus.

Ty May 23, 2011 at 2:16 PM  

Mike--

"Drafting and building a team the way "they" want will only ever bring us back to our "glory days" of the early/mid 90s where we would go 10-6, make the playoffs, and promptly lose in the first round."

. . . and then go 5-11 the next season, right. This way, the Lions are building a foundation of consistent success, not forever "filling holes."

Peace
Ty

Ty May 23, 2011 at 2:22 PM  

randomguy313--

"The question I pose to you Ty would be do you keep Turk or Willie Young or do roll with 3 DEs with Willie Young on the practice squad?"

Sean at PoD pointed out that the Lions rolled with nine DL last season, and I could see it again: Suh, Williams, Fairley, Hill, KVB, Avril, LoJack, Willie Young, and then a competition between Flu and Turk for the last spot.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 23, 2011 at 2:24 PM  

Matt--

"Meanwhile, Corey Williams is a free agent in 2013 and will be 33. If anything, you flip HIM after the 2011 season (whenever that is) for a 2nd or 3rd rounder and move on with Suh, Fairley, Hill, Avril, LoJax, and whoever else you draft."

EXACTLY. It's not that the Lions should never trade anyone, but that they should only trade players who don't have a clear future as Lions. I actually pounded the table for Ernie Sims to get traded, since he clearly didn't fit here long-term and he could be used to get real help elsewhere.

Peace
Ty

Ty May 23, 2011 at 2:36 PM  

Big Al . . . the Bundy Experience (nice name)--

I'm not sure Fluellen will have much of a trade market, though I'd love to be wrong. I'd love for them to find 9 DL spots, or a buyer for Turk/Flu . . . but sometimes, good teams have to cut good players because they aren't quite good enough for THIS team. If that's where the Lions are at, fine by me!

Peace
Ty

jakeSEO May 23, 2011 at 2:47 PM  

I think we have a better team this year than we have had in along time. I'm hopeful, yet they are still the Lions, but are they the same old Lions? What stinks is that with the lock out we might not even get to see them play.

Mike May 23, 2011 at 2:57 PM  

". . . and then go 5-11 the next season, right. This way, the Lions are building a foundation of consistent success, not forever "filling holes." "

Yes. This is exactly why now after all the draft hype is over and done with I'm glad we got the guys we did. Not only did we steal players (and they WERE steals) who were much better than their final draft position, but we solidified roster positions for years to come.

There are two things that come from this. First is the obvious. If, heaven forbid, one of our stars go down to injury for a few games we have the depth and talent to still play at a high level. Second (and possibly more importantly), we change how players feel about our team. Those that are playing for us now want to continue playing for the Lions because they have IDENTITY here. Our DL is is a complete unit, our WR corps is beginning to fill with players with clear roles to play, our backfield has the potential to run against any sort of defensive front, and our QB position is increasingly more desirable to be able to lead and control the weapons we have.

Detroit is quickly becoming a place where players want to be instead of a stop gap en route to another team or a foot in the door. The talent we have wants to remain here, and talent elsewhere wants to join us.

What linebacker wouldn't want our DL in front of him, eating up blockers and keeping him free to make plays? What DB wouldn't love to see the pass rush force QBs to throw the ball early into bad situations? What OL wouldn't love to block for an offense that has WRs that get open, a running game that won't allow opposing DLs to pin their ears back on the pass rush, and a QB that can masterfully orchestrate the attack?

And the very best part, we're building a team that is young and will be this way for years to come.

randomguy313 May 23, 2011 at 3:06 PM  

Thanks for the heads up on the nine lineman piece.

I see more value in Turk than Fluellen. With KVBs injury and my opinion that Willie Young will be a practice squadder or {clearing thought}..develop a high sprain on his ankle that will put him on the PUP list to the delay the decision.

I like Flu's versatility, unfortunately someone has to be cut. Like you said I am happy that the Lions are now in a position to make these tough decisions.

Anonymous,  May 23, 2011 at 4:28 PM  

I just want to shout out to randomguy313 about Mlive...good God man I hear you. The comments section of ANY Mlive article just makes me want to blow my brains out, it's like 4chan except everyone is dead serious.

Alvin2112,  May 23, 2011 at 7:38 PM  

But I'm the Lions franchise master on Madden, I know all!!! j/k :), although I was pretty good back in the day,lol.

I agree completely Ty, great article. Keep what we have and let them rotate and come at offense like hunger crazed dogs. Especially keep a 4th rounder with tremendous upside, no way we'd get what he's worth even if he was traded.

Al

linebusy May 23, 2011 at 7:58 PM  

I haven't visited any message boards in a while. Calling for a trade of SLH is the type of thing that makes it that much easier to stay away.

SomeChoi May 23, 2011 at 8:15 PM  

I think the "trade SLH" crowd is mindful of losing him to FA in two years. If he's really good, he will certainly get big money offers to start elsewhere. Don't forget we need to shovel out a big contract to keep Avril beyond next year. So the question becomes, do you want two more years of SLH or whatever it is a young promising DT would fetch in a trade?

randomguy313 May 23, 2011 at 10:13 PM  

@SomeChoi

give me Sammie 10 out of 10 times. The Lions need his presence on the field moreso than worry about what he will command in two years.

That is a defeatist attitude. If Mayhew and Schwartz employed that method of trading away quality pieces; they wouldn't be around long enough to worry about the contracts the pieces they got in return for a player like Sammie.

If SLH continues to shine I trust that Mayhew will take the necessary steps to keep him or deal him

Matt,  May 24, 2011 at 12:12 AM  

SomeChoi - I think the problem with that thinking is two-fold. One, there wouldn't be a huge trade demand for him now (obviously, no demand whatsoever right now). While Lions fans love the kid, he hasn't exactly established himself league-wide yet. The Lions would probably be lucky to get a 3rd, but more likely a 4th (which is what they spent on him in the first place) or worse. So now you take a shot at "some guy" next draft, but you don't have Sammie anymore. The other key is that he'll be a RESTRICTED free agent in a season or two (don't know the details of his rookie deal). That gives the Lions many options. If he's awesome (and let's assume for the sake of argument that he's at least very good), they could negotiate an extenssion, but that's unlikely because they can basically force him to play out his rookie contract (i.e. play on the cheap). Then, if no extension is signed, he becomes a RFA. The Lions can put a prohibitive tender offer on him then either keep him under that offer or let another team sign him away. Of course, the Lions then receive compensation in the form of draft picks. I don't know exactly what it would be, but it'd be better than a 4th rounder.

Bottomline: Sammie has much more value ON the Lions 2011 roster (and possibly beyond) than he can bring in by parting ways before he hits free agency. If he's as good as we all seem to think he is, or at least has that potential, then he's only going to go up in value over the next fews seasons.

Rommel Peter Fernandes May 25, 2011 at 7:57 AM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rommel Peter Fernandes May 25, 2011 at 7:58 AM  

You put it very nicely by using the example of the beggar.
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