Lions Have Very Few Playmakers

It's a disaster, this football team that has been assembled by Lions President and CEO Matt Millen. Lions' insider Mike Fowler shares his analysis of the Detroit Lions, including who should stay, who should go, and just how bad it is in Detroit.

(ALLEN PARK) --  It's a disaster, this football team that has been assembled by Lions President and CEO Matt Millen.

Millen took over a team sporting a 9-7 record in 2000 and tore it apart.  Millen jettisoned solid players like Jeff Hartings, Mike Compton, Johnnie MortonChris Claiborne, Aaron Gibson, Travis Kirschke and Walter Rasby.  Regardless of what you think of these players, all are starters on teams with better records than Millen's. 

While some not in the know believe that Millen tore apart an aging team that had little talent, the facts show that even four years later, 20 players from that 40-man roster are still in the NFL with eight starting for a league franchise.  Another player from the 1999 practice squad is also playing in the NFL.

The conventional wisdom if you chose to replace these solid veterans would be to go with younger players, like draft picks or young free agents to rebuild the core of the franchise over time.  Instead, Millen signed retreads, unproven players and injury risks, a dicey strategy that has backfired on nearly every occasion.

Instead of being an up-and-coming young team like the Chicago Bears who appear ready to contend next year in a NFC North division that is in flux, Detroit looks as if they need a total overhaul of their roster for the second time in four seasons.

On defense, Detroit has a few players it can build around.  Exhibit A is free agent acquisition Dre' Bly, one of the few bright spots of Millen's extremely spotty track record as a talent evaluator in free agency.  Rookie Boss Bailey is a keeper at the strong side linebacking position, but the other two linebackers, Earl Holmes and Barrett Green have been inconsistent in their production.

Detroit has been searching for a solution at the corner position and while they did lose three corners to injury, none, even when completely healthy looked like a decent compliment to Bly.  Rookie safety Terence Holt shows some good center field instincts and could be a player eventually, but unless Detroit gets a pass rush, those guys are going to get hung out to dry anyway.

Kalimba Edwards, Detroit's second-round pick a year ago, has shown little in a year he predicted he would record 14 sacks.  Luther Elliss and Robert Porcher seem to be at the end of the line. James Hall has been up-and-down all season.  Shaun Rogers, who Millen tried to trade in the off-season, rebounded from a poor sophomore season to the Pro Bowl form he showed as a rookie and Dan Wilkinson was a fine compliment, drawing double-teams to allow Rogers to make plays.

Bottom line, the Lions have about five or six solid players on defense that they can count on in the future.

On offense, the situation is even worse.  Joey Harrington is a work in progress. Who knows if he will be the quarterback they are hoping for?

Harrington is the lowest rated full time starter in the NFL.  In some games he appears to be regressing.  However, with the lack of weapons in the receiving corps and at running back, Harrington gets a hall pass for at least another season.  Restricted free-agent-to-be Mike McMahon showed even less in his limited playing time.

At running back, Detroit put all their eggs into the basket of fourth round pick Artose Pinner, who has been injured for 13 weeks of the 17-week season.  Pinner shows flashes, but hardly enough for Detroit to justify not addressing the running back situation this off-season. 

The receiving corps has been decimated by poor talent evaluation by Millen and injuries.  Rookie Charles Rogers will be a star in the league provided he can stay healthy.  Bill Schroeder, acquired from Green Bay is a free agent bust.  Az-Zahir Hakim has been inconsistent after having to move up from the No. 3 spot to Harrington's primary target.

Tight end Mikhael Ricks was demoted to second string behind undrafted rookie free agent Casey Fitzsimmons Ricks was a Pro Bowl alternate a season ago.

The offensive line may be the biggest disappointment.  While Detroit does not allow pass rushers to get to Harrington, they aren't able to open any holes in the run game.  Tackle Jeff Backus appears to be the most solid of the bunch.  At 41-years old Ray Brown is a goner.  His protégé', four-year veteran Stockar McDougle, is at a crossroads.  He and fellow second-round pick Dominic Raiola have been spotty at best.  Detroit hopes that they will grow together and improve with more experience, but that is not a given.

Eric Beverly was mediocre at the other guard position.

Fullback Cory Schlesinger was the lone bright spot in the Lions backfield.  Schlesinger was named to his second consecutive Pro Bowl as an alternate at the fullback position, but while a solid position player, he isn't a playmaker.

So where do the Lions go from here?  Clearly the franchise is at a crossroads after three consecutive disastrous seasons.  Owner William Clay Ford, Sr. needs to wake up and look at the pathetic situation of the franchise, determine the cause of it and act to correct it, whatever the cost.  No more sitting on his hands, "Senior" needs to step up and provide real leadership to his franchise. 

On the football field, Detroit needs to make some real gains talent wise, while getting younger quickly.  They have no choice but to ride the waves with Harrington, but could get some insurance by signing a veteran quarterback who can produce immediately to back him up. 

They must get four to five solid players, including some playmakers, in this year's NFL draft.  Then they must combine that will some huge gains in free agency.  There cannot be any more free agent mistakes.  There just isn't room for any more gaffes.

Detroit has a bunch of holes to fill and they won't be able to fill them all in one season, but in the NFC North it wouldn't be hard for Detroit to be .500 by filling just a few needs. 

The real decisions though have to be made are going to be made by two guys named Ford.  Do they keep the faith in Millen or do they turn the page?

A piece of advice to both of you, the numbers don't lie. 

Nine wins in three years just ain't going to cut it. It's time for a change.

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