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M&M Enter Pivotal Offseason
By: Paul Wezner
LionsFans.com Contributing Editor
This season was a big disappointment for the Lions, who finished with a pathetic 2-14 record. However, a lot of ground can be made up this offseason, if the right moves are made.
This season seemed doomed from the start, when Ahman Green ran for a Touchdown against the Lions on the first defensive series of the season. From that point, the Lions would go on to lose 12 straight games, becoming the laughing-stock of the NFL as well as the media such as Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Two late season home victories against the woeful Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys prevented the Lions from becoming the first team to lose all 16 regular season games.
This season was an obvious disappointment. But now comes the time when Matt Millen needs to make his mark. The Lions have a number of positions that need upgrading, and will have to work on that through free agency and the draft.
The first objective the Lions have this offseason will be to create salary cap room, because as of now the Lions have very little of it. The Lions have a number of high-salary players, all of whom will be asked to restructure their contracts to give the Lions room under the salary cap to add some players. DT Luther Elliss, MLB Stephen Boyd, FS Kurt Schulz, QB Charlie Batch and RB James Stewart are all players that will be asked to take a pay cut in one form or another. Stewart, Batch, and Schulz have all already been placed in the expansion draft -- sending each a strong message in the event they are not selected.
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The Lions plan on being more aggressive this offseason as compared to last, where they sat back and watched everyone else make moves. The Lions were left with Offensive Linemen Brendan Stai and Matt Joyce. This was probably Millens first big mistake, as he expected Stai to come in and replace the departed Jeff Hartings. Stai struggled from the start of the season, and was nowhere near as good as Hartings had been in any of his previous seasons with Detroit. The only other significant signing was CB Todd Lyght, who was signed as insurance to CB Bryant Westbrook, who was coming off an achillies tendon injury.
This season the Lions have more needs to fill, and will have to use both free agency and the draft to field a more competitive team next season. This will be a crucial offseason for Millen, as some wrong moves could haunt the franchise for years to come. On the other hand, a number of solid moves could bring the Lions back to the playoffs within a year or two.
On offense, the needs are endless. The Quarterback position is still unsettled, and that must change between now and training camp in July. The Lions need a change-of-pace Running Back, someone that can compliment Stewart and step in if the injury-bug pops up once again. The Lions also need to find some Wide Receivers that can make some things happen, whether that be current Lions UFA (unrestricted free agent) Germane Crowell or another player on the free agent market. The Lions need to settle the Tight End position, whether that be David Sloan or not is something the organization needs to determine. And finally, to come full circle, the Lions need to find the 5 players that will start up front, and the Lions did not have all 5 on the roster this season.
On defense, the problems are just as big. The Lions are in dire need of an edge rusher at Right Defensive End, the only position on the line that doesnt have a starter penciled in for next season. The entire Linebacking corp. is a mess, and not one player is penciled in to start anywhere. The Lions will more than likely look for an Outside Linebacker, a player with good speed and someone that is a better tackler and bigger presence than WLB Barrett Green. In the secondary, the Lions need to determine who will be playing Cornerback next season. CB Bryant Westbrook struggled this season after returning from his injury, and Terry Fair had possibly his worst season as a Lion. The team also needs to decide who will be starting at Safety, and who will be the backups, as this past season the Lions gambled not having a single backup Safety and lost, losing both starters to injury at one point or another.
Recent comments from Millen indicate that the Lions might be leaning towards drafting a Quarterback with the third overall pick in the draft. If the decision is made in April to select Joey Harrington or David Carr, the book on Millen might be finished. While both are solid football players, neither is one of the top 3 football players in this draft. On top of that, the Lions have numerous other needs, all of which would go unfulfilled with the selection of a Quarterback in the first round.
The best way for the Lions to return to respectability is to follow the model of the San Francisco 49ers two seasons ago. The 49ers, after a terrible season, ended up with the third overall pick. Through numerous trades, they accumulated six draft picks on the first day (the first three rounds) of the NFL draft. With those picks they selected OLB Julian Peterson (16th), CB Ahmed Plummer (24th), DE John Engelberger (35th), CB Jason Webster (48th), and ILB Jeff Ulbrich (86th). All 5 were starters this season on the 49er defense that wasnt dominant, but still a main reason why the 49ers are in the playoffs instead of sitting at home. The only selection of those 6 that has yet to pan out is QB Giovanni Carmazzi, who has yet to develop in the West Coast Offense. Instead, 6th round pick (of the same draft) Tim Rattay has stepped up and is the backup to All Pro Jeff Garcia.
The time is now for Millen. A successful offseason gets the Lion back on track to respectability. An offseason that doesnt become extremely successful could very well lead to Millens return to the press box and a long time before the Honolulu Blue and Silver and "playoffs" are mentioned in the same breath.