Mooch: Lions Can Contend Immediately

The Lions have won only 10 games total in the past three seasons, but coach Steve Mariucci believes they can contend in the NFC North as soon as this fall. More inside, including complete free-agency update, and related notes.

The Lions have won only 10 games total in the past three seasons, but coach Steve Mariucci believes they can contend in the NFC North as soon as this fall.

But his theory is based at least partly on wishful thinking that the other teams in the division - Green Bay, Minnesota and Chicago - don't suddenly catch fire.

Mariucci was asked during the NFL owners meetings last week if he felt the Lions had made enough progress in free agency - with the draft coming up later this month - to compete in the division.

"Yes, I think so," he said. "When you go through these cycles within a division, you hope that there's a certain ebb and flow where those teams like us get better. The good teams lose some players.

"Obviously, we're making a push to move up. You hope that Green Bay's not quite as good."

The Lions have made four major free agent signings that - on paper, at least - look good. They have landed guard Damien Woody, cornerback Fernando Bryant, wide receiver Tai Streets and safety Brock Marion.

They still have major holes to fill, however. They need a starting linebacker to replace Barrett Green (lost to the NY Giants) and a starting guard to replace Ray Brown, who retired. In addition they need playmakers - a running back, a wide receiver and another tight end.

And there is a strong likelihood they will have to depend heavily on players taken in the draft.

"I've been in that boat before where you just draft them and start them, and then you hang on," Mariucci said. "We're going to be in that boat."

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--The Lions are gradually rebuilding their class of '99, not the players they originally drafted but with players of that age and experience level.

Three of their top free agent acquisitions - guard Damien Woody, cornerback Fernando Bryant and wide receiver Tai Streets - were drafted by their original teams in 1999.

The Lions have only one player - defensive lineman Jared DeVries - left from the seven players they drafted in 1999. Three others - linebacker Chris Claiborne, tackle Aaron Gibson and linebacker/special teamer Clint Kriewaldt - are playing for other NFL teams and the other three players are no longer in the league.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's scary to put a guy back there that's not very well schooled in all the blitzes, protecting your quarterback. All he has to do is make one mistake and you've got to open a new can of quarterbacks." -- Coach Steve Mariucci on the need to have a tailback capable of handling his pass protection duties.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Club president Matt Millen and coach Steve Mariucci wasted no time getting back into the free agent market after spending four days last week at the owners meetings in Palm Beach, Fla.

On their first day back at the office in Allen Park, Mich., they met with middle linebacker Michael Barrow and outside linebacker Warrick Holdman. Neither player left with a contract but that doesn't mean the Lions won't be interested before they go to training camp.

They need an outside linebacker, in particular, to replace starter Barrett Green, who went to the NY Giants. There is a good chance they will draft an outside backer in the first day but they would still need to improve their depth. They also lost Jeff Gooch, a solid backup linebacker and special teams player.

The Lions apparently have completed the big-money portion of their free agent shopping but will keep enough "dry powder" to move on players cut June 1 if they find any they like at that time, according to executive vice president and COO Tom Lewand.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (7): OG Kerlin Blaise; OG Ray Brown; CB Doug Evans; WR Shawn Jefferson; P John Jett; CB Otis Smith; LB Brian Williams.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (not tendered offers): CB Leonard Myers (RFA tender withdrawn).

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS (5): WR Scotty Anderson; LB Donte' Curry; P Nick Harris; WR Reggie Swinton; FB Stephen Trejo.

EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS (4): CB Chris Cash; S Julius Curry; LS Jody Littleton; OG Josh Lovelady.

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: RB Shawn Bryson; WR Eddie Drummond; DE James Hall; WR David Kircus; QB Mike McMahon; DT Kelvin Pritchett; S Bracy Walker.

PLAYERS ACQUIRED: CB Fernando Bryant; OG David Loverne; S Brock Marion; QB Rick Mirer; CB Dainon Sidney; WR Tai Streets; OG Damien Woody.

PLAYERS LOST: OG Eric Beverly; QB Ty Detmer; DT Luther Elliss; LB Jeff Gooch; S Corey Harris; WR Bill Schroeder; RB James Stewart.

MEDICAL WATCH: No updates.


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