Last night, Twitter was burning up with rumors of undrafted free agent contract agreements. Speculation, rumor, confirmation; media and players and agents and fans all Tweeting at, about, and over each other about who’s going where. I was fielding questions about potential and actual signees, and I had to say something that I don’t like to say: “I don’t know.”
For starters, as I’ve said, I don’t know very much about college football. Once I get past Michigan State and their rivals in the Big Ten, my knowledge of NCAA pigskin is barely skin deep. I love the NFL draft, but I don’t typically “scout” prospects projected to go after the fourth round. I certainly don’t familiarize myself with potential UDFA. Why? Because I love the Lions, and I love the NFL—and, especially with the roster in its current state—undrafted free agent rookies have a Olympic mountain to climb to make the roster.
Let’s look at position we’re stressing about: Offensive Tackle. With Jeff Backus and Gosder Cherilus both coming off of injury, it would make sense to pursue some “help” at offensive tackle, right? Well, the Lions already have Jason Fox, Corey Hilliard, Tony Ugoh, and Johnny Culbreath behind those two. The Lions aren’t carrying six, or even five, pure offensive tackles on a roster of 53. Any UDFA is going to have to prove that he’s better than the guy the Lions drafted ahead of him, plus two of Fox, Hilliard, and Ugoh, just to make the team. It’s nearly impossible that a UDFA could actually provide “help” at the offensive tackle spot.
Of course, the starting roster is thinner in other places, but not by much. The Lions have 77 players on their roster, with 14 of them due to be free agents. With the new camp roster limit of 90, the Lions will be signing twenty-seven players over the coming week or so, and at least half of the resultant 90-man roster won’t even dress for Week 1. There will be an unprecedented number of “new Detroit Lions,” most of whom have almost no chance of impacting the Lions’ season.
When the news broke of the Lions’ agreement to terms with Alabama TE/FB/H-back Preston Dial, longtime commenter/Tweeter @Dustin_aka_D asked me if I knew whether Lions planned to use him as a tight end, or a fullback. @Dustin_aka_D saw the stacked depth chart at TE and wondered what the Lions were planning to do with Dial. Long story short, they plan to bring him into camp and see if he’s an NFL-caliber football player—the same as all these UDFAs.
I've said before that the Lions are going to the playoffs. They see themselves as a playoff team. They have a playoff-caliber roster. The days of the Lions signing a Randy Philips off the street and thinking, “Wow, this guy could upgrade our starting lineup!” are over. It’s not anything against these young men—if Dial proved himself the next Chris Cooley I’d be ecstatic—but a sign of how far the Lions have come in how short of a time.
So. Over the next few hours, let’s heartily welcome our new, young Lions. Let’s wish them a great camp and a successful showing and as long of a career in the NFL as they can muster. But, let’s not burden them—or ourselves, with any kind of expectations about what they’ll be able to contribute to the bottom line.