(ALLEN PARK) -
To say free agency hasn't gone the way the Detroit Lions hoped would be an understatement. Early in the process, Lions new head coach Steve Mariucci, anxious to make an impact in his home state, said he hoped to sign between four and five quality players. Instead, the Lions have been turned down by nearly every player that visited, including linebacker Nate Wayne, who left over $1 million on the table to go to Philadelphia instead.
While Detroit did land a quality starting corner in Dre' Bly and a veteran backup running back in Shawn Bryson, the team was left with two gaping holes in an already porous linebacking group. Speedy linebacker Clint Kriewaldt moved to the Pittsburgh Steelers, while starting linebacker Chris Claiborne (101 tackles) moved to division rival Minnesota in a move that will haunt the Lions for years to come.
Detroit responded by signing strong side linebacker Na'il Diggs, a restricted free agent, to an offer sheet, but Green Bay could match it and leave Detroit in a world of hurt.
The lack of success in free agency could force Detroit to alter its plans for the 2003 NFL draft. Detroit had been expected to take Michigan State wide receiver Charles Rogers if he was available to provide an impact wide receiver for quarterback Joey Harrington.
However, Lions coach Steve Mariucci recently made a statement that might signal a change in the Lions philosophy.
"I've always felt a young quarterback's best friend is a good defense," Mariucci told the media in Phoenix, AZ. "Common sense tells you you're not going to give up a lot of points, you're not going to be playing from behind, you're not going to be down 17-0 in the second quarter and have to wing it every down and (defenders) are in their track stance the rest of the game."
That said, it might not be surprising if the Lions look to trade their #2 overall pick to a team that has two first round picks in an effort to shore up the defense.
The stock of Arizona State's Terrell Suggs dropped somewhat after a subpar workout at Arizona State's pro day. Suggs had hoped to wow the scouts into elevating himself to the #1 overall pick, but with 40 times in the low 4.7-4.8 range, that isn't likely to happen.
Still if Detroit trades down, Suggs, who will be the first pass rusher taken, will likely be gone. Detroit may, though, elect to fill it's linebacking corps with young players if it goes this route. Such young talents as Maryland's E.J. Henderson, Georgia's Boss Bailey, Kansas State's Terry Pierce and Pittsburgh's Gerald Hayes would all likely be available.
For a team on the rebuild, acquiring two linebackers in the first round might not be a bad alternative. Detroit might also target a wide reciever like Florida's Taylor Jacobs or Tennessee's Kelly Washington in the late first or early second round.
BEST OF THE REST: While the Lions struck out on players like Rosevelt Colvin, Nate Wayne and some other high profile linebackers, if they elect to pursue players still aviailable, they might find a bargain in former Cleveland and Jacksonville middle linebacker Wali Rainer.
Rainer had a spectacular rookie season in Cleveland, recording 136 tackles but then, inexplicably, was traded on draft day to allow the Browns to move up three spots in the third round. Rainer fumed over the trade and reluctantly moved to the strong side for Jacksonville last season, where he had a very good season. Just 26, Rainer is young, speedy and productive.
OTHER FREE AGENTS; LINEBACKERS:
Isaiah Kacyvenski, restricted free agent, 25, 72 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception.; Dhani Jones, restricted free agent , 25, 82 tackles, 1 interception.; Earl Holmes, unrestricted free agent, 29, 128 tackles, 1 forced fumble. Charlie Clemons, unrestricted free agent, 30, 84 tackles, 2 forced fumbles.