It could be said the Detroit Lions brass have pulled a Lady Gaga, having played brilliant poker face since the start of this year's free agency period.
Due to prior draft transgressions by former GM, Matt Millen, the current Lion regime wasn't in a cap position to spend at will in 2011. Instead, they've had to be both precise and creative with those funds. As of right now, they're looking pretty damn smart. Perhaps geniuses.
To kick free agency off, Lions GM Martin Mayhew first signed Jacksonville linebacker Justin Durant to a reasonable two-year deal. Not only did this fill a gaping hole for a starting outside linebacker, the Lions used the Durant signing to heat up negotiations with two other free agent linebackers: Green Bay's Nick Barnett and Tennessee's Stephen Tulloch. As the demand for free agent linebackers waned, Mayhew and company sat and played poker face instead of panicking, using a scheduled Barnett visit and potential signing to force Tulloch off his can and into agreeing to a one-year deal worth approximately $3 million.
The Lions used similar tactics to acquire the services of Cleveland cornerback Eric Wright. When the dust had settled, the Lions had acquired two quality linebackers and an upgrade at cornerback, areas of great need going into this season -- all without breaking their bank.
Waiting things out the way Detroit's front office did took both major cajones and smarts. By not fearing the clock, they used time to bring prices down and contract terms in line with their budget limitations and needs. Their reward will be the opportunity to kick the wheels on some quality guys, improve the team in the process and leave options open next year when more people will need to be re-signed.
Considering Detroit's cap, free agency appears to be a win for the Lions that should help them make a bid for a playoff birth this year. If that should happen, it will also make re-signing this crop of free agents easier next year, which is icing on the cake for a job well done.
The Fans Voice is HeardBefore we forget, let's also recognize the roles both Lion players and fans played in the recruiting process. Reading between the lines of the tweets accompanying this year's free agency, it's fair to assume coaches talked to some players about who they wanted, said "go recruit them" and players did exactly that. It helped.
While free agents overwhelmingly value salary and opportunities to win championships as major deciding factors, could it be that Lionfan twitterdom -- which made itself conspicuously known who they wanted here in the absence of competing love from other team's fans -- played a role? It's fun to think Lion tweetheads may have helped to "sweeten the deal" for any of the free agents that might have been "on the cusp" isn't it? But give credit where it's due. We're at least 100 percent certain fan overtures made this year's class of free agents welcome to Detroit warmer than it otherwise would have been.
That's something you love to see.
Detroit's three year building process isn't over just yet. There's still room for improvement but the Lions are finally building a franchise the right way. By supplementing long-term draft solutions with quality free agency players while avoiding the sticker shock that often goes with them, they are laying a foundation for good things to come. This includes the ability to attract future, quality free agents that wouldn't have considered Detroit as an option in the past.
The best part is that it's a unified effort from the top straight on down to the fans. Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz have the blue and silver ship sailing in the right direction. Unselfish players, like DeAndre Levy, who is giving up his starting role as middle linebacker, are willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Throw in perhaps the league's most loyal fanbase and it looks as if the recipe is finally cooking up in Detroit for a run at the NFC North crown this year.
One thing is certain. You can bet lion fans are licking their chops wait for that opening game.