Archive for Monday, March 2, 2009

Free agency, Detroit Lions don’t mix

March 2, 2009

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— Free agency is hard for the Detroit Lions. I don’t just mean because they are usually really bad at it. I mean it is harder for the Lions than for most teams.

The Lions present a twist on the old Groucho Marx line: Why would they sign anybody who wants to be in their club?

They tried to trade for cornerback Ken Lucas , but Lucas wouldn’t restructure his contract. They went after offensive lineman Derrick Dockery twice—once via trade, once in free agency—but Dockery ended up signing with Washington for less money than the Lions offered.

The Lions’ next target reportedly was Gisele Bundchen, but she also chose a winner instead.

If you think it is tough running the Lions in October, it’s even tougher in early March. To understand why, let’s look at two of their free-agent signings in recent years at one position: offensive guard.

The first is Damien Woody. I always liked Damien. He seemed like the kind of guy who would pick up the check. Woody left Super Bowl champion New England to play for the Lions. It is possible for a player to do that and still care about winning, but the odds are not great.

The other offensive guard is Edwin Mulitalo. Mulitalo also is an extremely nice guy, and his teammates seemed to have great respect for him. Nobody questioned his work ethic. Unfortunately, by the time the Lions got him—for the 2007 season, when he was 33 — Mulitalo was not a good NFL player anymore.

And the Lions should have seen that coming, too. The Baltimore Ravens had let Mulitalo go without much of a fight. What does that tell you?

This is why the Lions were smart to avoid star defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth, who got $41 million in guaranteed money from the Redskins. Haynesworth can be a great player. But if the Lions had signed him, they would:

1. Be paying star-QB money to a defensive lineman who ...

2. Doesn’t play every down ...

3. Has never played a full season ...

4. Once stomped on an opponent’s helmetless head ...

5. Has a history of fighting with teammates ...

6. Was only really a dominant player in the two seasons when his contract was about to expire.

7. Was happy to come to an 0-16 team in the prime of his career simply for the money.

It was telling that Haynesworth’s old team (the Tennessee Titans) and old defensive coordinator (new Lions coach Jim Schwartz) did not come close to the Redskins’ offer.

Again: It could have worked, and I understand the thinking behind it. But I don’t think you change your culture by signing Albert Haynesworth. You change your culture, then sign somebody like Albert Haynesworth.

The Lions seem determined not to fall into the big-name trap, the washed-up-player trap and the bad-attitude trap. They are targeting relatively young, hungry, affordable, talented players.

They apparently had a chance this weekend to land Denver quarterback Jay Cutler in a three-way deal. According to nfl.com, the Broncos scuttled it.

That would have been the ideal move for the Lions. They could have landed a quarterback for the future who has proved he can play and doesn’t want to be here. That last part sounds backward. But when you have been the most backward organization in the NFL, you need to move backward to move forward.

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