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.