Whatever Happened To Lion Pride?
Next Sunday, the Jets and Dolphins will face off in a battle that will determine the winner of the AFC East. Which is quite stunning considering how bad the Dolphins were a year ago. In a column by sportswriter Michael Silver a couple of weeks ago:
Exactly a year ago the Dolphins were playing to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. At 0-13, they were staring at the most wretched regular season in NFL history, and only an overtime triumph against the Baltimore Ravens (after Matt Stover missed a potential game-winning field goal) kept them from becoming the league’s first 0-16 team.Silver's question is rhetorical, of course. The currently 0-13 Detroit Lions have absolutely no shot at being first place next season.
Put it this way: Can you imagine the words “first-place Detroit Lions” being uttered a year from now?
Or do they??
After all, most people said that about the 2008 Miami Dolphins. And before that, the 1998 St. Louis Rams. They did pretty well for themselves.
The Detroit Lions are my friend Chris's favorite team. In his defense, he was in the developmental years of his football-watching days during the high times of Barry Sanders, Johnny Morton and Scott Mitchell (er... maybe not Mitchell), so the Lions back then had some appeal. But during the maniacal, tragic and bizarre reign of GM Matt Millen, the Lions have become like the Ford Motor company that owns them--poorly managed and putting out a poorly designed product nobody wants, desperately in need of a bailout.
But everyone knows the Lions' problems. The question is: how can they go from sinking ship to championship?
Calvin Johnson. The receiver known as "Megatron," has 69 catches for 1229 yards (17.8 avg) and 10 TDs this year... nearly 45% of the Lions passing offense. He did it despite clearly being the team's only receiving threat after the trade of Roy Williams to the Cowboys. Despite being on a losing team, he hasn't been a complainer, unlike the other C. Johnson, Ocho Cinco.
Kevin Smith. Not the guy who brought you Mallrats and Dogma, the Lions' rookie running back has rushed for 884 yards (averaging 4.2 per carry) and scored 7 TDs. He's also caught 36 passes for 279 yards. Being that the Lions are constantly behind and as a result, don't run a lot, that's impressive.
The Lions are projected to be be anywhere from 20 to 40 million or so below the salary cap next year (depending on what that cap ends up being), meaning they have money to spend on talent.
Also, due to the Roy Williams trade, they have an extra first round pick in the draft. They'll have the number 1 pick, probably the 23rd pick, and then the 1st pick in the 2nd round.
Coach: Sign Josh McDaniels. The Patriots offensive coordinator will be in high demand in 2009. To lure him to Detroit will be a massive undertaking. Most likely, the Lions will have to grant McDaniels an obscene contract, a house in Grosse Pointe, and, most importantly, GM control. It's worth it to land the guy responsible for New England's explosive offense.
QB: Sign Matt Cassel. To paint this guy as a one-year wonder is to ignore what we've witnessed with our own eyes. A strong arm, nice mobility, above-average decision making, a guy who threw for 345 yards and 3 TDs in a blinding snowstorm. There's no room for him in New England once Tom Brady returns. Getting Cassel also means the pressure is off to get a signal caller in the draft (Joey Harrington anyone?). Cassel will want a big contract to start somewhere, and the Lions can give it to him. 65 million over 6 years should do the trick. (Lions 2009 Cap Hit: ~10 million)
(Of course, especially if they lose McDaniels, the Patriots won't make it easy for the Lions. They may put the franchise tag on Cassel, meaning the Lions would have to trade for him. New England would probably demand at least a 2nd round pick... which the Lions should be willing to give up.)
Game Changer: Sign Darren Sproles. Buried behind LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner for all of his short career, the Kansas State product has wowed in brief, speedy flashes as a kick returner and change-of-pace back. The Chargers don't value him nearly enough, thinking him too undersized for more carries. You know who else was undersized? Barry Sanders.
Is Sproles the next Barry Sanders? Signs would point to... no. But he is a back that can light up a football field whenever he's on it. That's something the Lions need. (Lions 2009 Cap hit: ~2.5 million)
TE: Sign Desmond Clark. A decent blocker and underrated receiver, he's a short-range threat and outlet for a lions QB that will undoubtedly come under pressure. He may come cheap. (Lions 2009 Cap hit: ~2.5 Million)
CB: Sign Nnamdi Asomugha. This guy will command a large contract, as one of the best corners in the league. A guy that can be left on an island to guard a team's best receiver, he can singlehandedly turn around the Lions' 22nd-ranked pass defense. (Lions 2009 Cap Hit: ~14 million)
By my rough calculations, these signings would leave the Lions with 11 million or so for the draft (assuming they had 40 million in cap to work with).
1 (1): Andre Smith, OT Alabama. Orlando Pace-style protection for Matt Cassel.
1 (23): Duke Robinson, OG, Oklahoma. Lions will catch hell for two O-line first rounders as media conveniently forgets that the O-line is the strength of championship teams.
2 (33): Alfonso Smith, CB, Wake Forest. Playmaker solidifies secondary with Nmandi.
3 (65): Marcus Freeman, OLB, Ohio State. Overshadowed by Laurinitis at OSU, he'll be a star for the Lions.
3 (85): Louis Delmas, FS, Western Michigan. Keep shoring up that secondary.
5 (129): Chase Daniel, QB, Missouri. Just in case Cassel doesn't work out. Mobile and played well for a winner.
6 (161): Nader Abdallah, DT, Ohio State. Big, athletic tackle from a winning program.
6 (182): Willie VanDeSteeg, DE, Minnesota. Off-the-field issues make this first-class pass rusher drop into the Lions lap.
7 (193): Casey Fitzgerald, WR, North Texas. Wes Welker Wes Welker Wes Welker.
So what does the Adam's Life 2009 Detroit Lions season look like?
Josh McDaniels installs his system for the Lions, with Cassel leading the way behind a young but studly offensive line. Johnson fulfills the Randy Moss role, Shaun McDonald or Casey Fitzgerald filling the Welker role. Defensively, the Lions pass D improves by leaps and bounds, although the Rush D still leaves something to be desired. But the Lions score so many points, teams are forced to throw into the arms of Asomugha, Smith and Delmas.
If all goes according to the Adam's Life plan:
Projected Record: 10-6, 1st in the NFC North.
You heard it here first folks. Worst to first.
Lions fans, Mel Kiper, your thoughts?? Leave a comment below.