After much complaining about the scheme from Lions’ fans, all of the Lions’ coaches were retained. So that means it’s time to focus on the rest of the offseason. Although Mayhew has done a remarkable job in rebuilding this franchise, and likely doesn’t need any help from me, I’ll offer my advice anyways. Here is my list of priorities and suggestions.
1.) Extend Calvin Johnson. This is a no-brainer. If he hits the open market next year, the Lions will likely lose him. get the deal done. If he isn’t already the best WR in the NFL, he will be, and soon.
2.) Resign Cliff Avril. Again, no brainer. Heck of steal, since the Lions’ got him in the 5th. One of the few such steals ever made by Matt Millen. But something to bear in mind. Would he put up these numbers without the Lions’ DTs? I don’t think so. He’s not one of the 5 best DEs in the NFL and making him such, by virtue of becoming the Franchise player, would skew the team’s payroll and likely increase the cost of future resignings. In other words, keep the contract reasonable.
3.) Resign Stephen Tulloch. This isn’t as obvious. He made plays and played pretty well, but he, like the other Lions’ LBs, had a tendency to get caught in the wash when teams ran the ball. I think this is a direct result of the team using the brand new Wide 9 technique, which I’m not sold on and I’ll get to that in a minute. Tulloch’s good linebacker when he’s kept relatively clean. If Cunningham is going to keep with the Wide 9, they may need to keep that in mind. I think they should resign them.
4.) Resign Jeff Backus. Some fans will disagree with this because he’s getting too slow to protect Stafford’s blind side. The problem is that the Lions’ won’t get a top LT at the no. 23 spot in the NFL Draft, and they lack the salary cap room to sign a big time LT, if one will even be available. Sign him to a one year deal, spend either a 2nd or a 3rd round pick on a left tackle to groom for the job, then either move him to RG next year or let him go. There is no viable alternative for him this year.
5.) Shaun Hill or Drew Stanton? Hill will likely want a starting job. That won’t happen here. Let him walk, resign Stanton, and draft a developmental QB around Round 5.
6.) Running back situation. Jahvid Best says he’ll be back next year. Rookie LeShoure should also be ready. They still need to resign Kevin Smith since Best is clearly not an every down back and we have no way of knowing how LeShoure will handle recovering from injury. Morris can be let go and he can’t fill the void. Smith gives them three viable runners who can be used in a variety of situations.
7.) Offensive Line. Corey Hiliard couldn’t beat out Gosder Cherilus at RT. Leonard Davis won’t likely return as he seems to think he can start somewhere. The team needs depth so this needs to addressed. They aren’t getting younger at LT, C, or RG. This should be a focus in the mid and late rounds
8.) Other free agents. Resign Rashied Davis and Donn Mulbach. You can resign Eric Wright if the price is right. He’s not good enough to be more than a nickel back. Don’t pay him starter money
9.) Releasing Corey Williams. I like him. He’s big and immovable most of the time. But he’s expensive at 1.7 million. We’re going to need this money. we also have plenty of depth at DT with Sammie Hill and 1st rounder Nick Fairley. Time to let them fight for his job.
10.) Sign CB Cortland Finnegan. One, he knows the scheme, two, he immediately strengthens the biggest weakness on the team, the secondary. Cunningham’s scheme requires a pass rush that rushes the QB’s decision-making, therefore leading to mistakes, but it also puts its corner alone on an island. For this defense to work, it’s imperative those DBs maintain coverage.
11.) Dump the Wide 9. Can’t say I like any scheme in which teams can simply gash you by running off tackle and running counters and traps. The team seems to bring the ends in when teams have success, part of those second half adjustments this team does so well, so how about flipping the script. Open with a more conventional scheme, then when you get ahead, go to the Wide 9. your ends can tee off on the QB and the other team won’t be running as much, so there’ll be less of your LBs getting caught in traffic.
12.) NFL Draft. I think Detroit will get a shot at Dre Kirkpatrick of Alabama and Morris Claiborne of LSU, both of which would strengthen the defense. Most experts don’t see either falling that far because there aren’t that many quality QBs. There wasn’t this year either, yet somehow 5 QBs, most of which were of 2nd round quality at best, ended up in the Top 10. Since several teams still need QBs, I see this cycle repeating this year. Too many teams have bad QBs situations and they saw the success this year of rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton, as well as Christian Ponder at times. Defensive line and linebacker are also deep this year, pushing the corners down the chart. Other considerations would be S Mark Barron in the 2nd for SS, then go line, LB, RB, and QB with the remaining picks.
13.) Keep Nate Burleson. I know there’ll be some consideration, considering his age, salary, and the emergence of Titus Young, but this passing game is dangerous because of its depth and versatility. Keep him one more year. Next year, on the other hand, if Young continues improving, he can go.
I think should the team address a few needs, resign some key players, and sign a key free agent, the team will make a deeper playoff run, especially as it’s quite likely several young players will improve as well.
A Super Run? Just being a Lions’ fan thinking of that as a realistic possibility is entertaining. Three years ago I would’ve thought the world was more likely to end than the Lions get a Super Bowl. Now it’s in sight.
I used these sites for most of my information: http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/teams/det/report. and http://espn.go.com/nfl/draft