Tuesday, February 4, 2014

What do the Detroit Lions need?

Finally football season has come to an end. Finally I have been able to swallow the bitter disappointment of the 2013 Detroit Lions season. Finally I am ready to get back to covering the Lions, and that of course means getting geared up for the NFL draft. Of course as a long time Lions fans the draft is a mix bag of unlimited potential and bitter disappointment. The first and foremost thing the Lions need is to draft better. I am not talking about in the first four rounds I am talking about them finally using all of their draft picks to improve the team. These picks are assets and the scouting staff and the powers that be need to do a better job finding impact players in the bottom half of the draft.

Case in point...The Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks featured a defensive secondary built in the late round of the NFL draft. Super Bowl MVP Malcolm Smith was a 7th round pick. The guy who should have been the MVP, Cliff Avril, was a salary cap casualty in Detroit yet Seattle got him for the relatively low price of 2 years and 13 million dollars. All of the starters from that very impressive Seattle secondary were drafted in the fifth round or later. If the Lions want a blue print on how to fix their woes, this is it. In a passing league strong, quick, physical DB's make all the difference. Those kinds of players can be found in the late round of the draft, in free agency, and in undrafted free agents.

The very first thing the Lions need to do is fix their salary cap situation. And let's be clear here, there can be no more half measures. It really feels like the firing of Jim Schwartz and the hiring of Jim Caldwell was a half measure at best. The front office thinks the team is ready to compete right now, I am not as sold that they are that close. I continue to see a defense that as a ton of holes especially in the secondary. I see high priced talent on the defensive side of the ball that simply costs too much.

According to Drew Sharp of the Detroit Free Press the Lions have more than 51 million dollars tied up in Calvin Johnson, Matthew Stafford, and Ndamukong Suh. The average for top five talents for the NFL is just over 50 million. That means simply this...the Lions have too much money tied up in these three players and it costs them talented players elsewhere on the roster. It is the same problem the 2013 Tigers had, the yare simply too top heavy.

Since Suh is nearing the end of his deal, and was signed to a deal under the old rules of the NFL draft, it is simply time for the Lions to trade Suh and find cheaper more talented defensive players via the draft.

I am not saying Suh is a malcontent or a locker room cancer just that his deal prices him out of affordability for the Lions. It will not be a popular argument, but I want this team to be in the playoffs, I want them to win Super Bowls and I would trade anyone on the roster to give them the financial flexibility to fix the secondary and actually compete on the field not only in the first half of the season, but in the second, in the post season, and hopefully one day in the Super Bowl itself.

Trading Suh would net the Lions a collection of draft picks. Based on their success in last year's draft I am reasonably confident the front office team could turn those picks into cheap, talented players that can help this team rebuild the secondary.

There were only two defensive starters for the Seahawks that were first round picks. The Detroit D line has three by itself. Simply put that line does not get the results for the amount draft picks and money that they have invested in it. Of course trading Suh would be an easier argument if Nick Fairley was more consistent.

Currently the Lions have 135 million or so dollars counting again the 2014 cap. That cap is expected to be 126 million or so. Before anything else can be accomplished, before the Lions can sign this year's draft picks, before they can do anything else the cap situation will have to be addressed. They could resign Suh to a long term deal, transition salary to signing bonus that will count against the cap over the length of the deal but it seems pretty obvious that Suh is and will continue to be a luxury this team can no longer afford.

The Tigers dealt Prince Fielder to gain financial flexibility and hopefully improve their supporting cast; it seems the Lions are now faced with a similar decision. We shall see how this plays out. The Lions could rid themselves of players here and there to get the cap space they need, or they could stop taking half measures, make the hard choice and move on to improving this defense from top to bottom.

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