A Change is Warranted: If Drew Brees becomes available, the Lions must acquire him
By Doug Warren
The time has come. The excuses are exhausted.
It is time for the Detroit Lions' to admit that they don't have a franchise quarterback on their current roster.
With the NFL's free agency period just two weeks away, the rumors have begun to swirl about just who the Lions are going to bring in to challenge incumbent Joey Harrington for the starting quarterback job.
Let's be clear on this. The Lions are not looking for a backup. They are looking, at the very least, for a challenger.
Unfortunately, most of the potentially available quarterbacks capable of mounting a serious challenge to Harrington next season have physical question marks or a high price tag.
There are three quarterbacks who will definitely be available if the Lions want to get serious about making Joey Harrington fight for his job next season – Drew Bledsoe, Kurt Warner, and Jeff Garcia.
There is also one other potentially available quarterback who is capable of making Joey Harrington expendable.
That quarterback is Drew Brees.
It's all about winning the Super Bowl, isn't it?
If the Lions are to get to the NFL's ultimate game, they are going to first have to have a QB that can go head-to-head with the best in their division. For the foreseeable future, the best QB in the division is going to be the Minnesota Vikings' Daunte Culpepper.
While it's true that Harrington did just that versus Culpepper in their game back on December 19th (a 28-27 Lions' loss), there remains little question that Culpepper is, and will remain, the better of the two signal-callers for the foreseeable future.
After winning the NFC North (Yeah, I'm laughing too), the Lions' and their franchise QB are going to have to beat the best of the best in the NFC. At this juncture, those names include the likes of Donovan McNabb, Marc Bulger, Michael Vick, Jake Delhomme and Matt Hasselback.
All of the above mentioned NFC QB's bring, and have brought, more to the table than Harrington has to this point. Is anyone truly confident that Harrington could lead the Lions past one or all of these QB's and their teams in the postseason?
Finally, God forbid, if the Lions ever manage to reach the Super Bowl sometime in the next decade – Harrington will have to possibly stare down and defeat one of these guys and their respective teams – Ben Rothlisberger, Jake Plummer, Billy Volek, Byron Leftwich, Trent Green, Chad Pennington, Peyton Manning or Tom Brady.
Again I must ask the question; is anyone truly confident that Harrington could lead the Lions past one of the above mentioned AFC QB's in the NFL's ultimate game?
Detroit's "Wait ‘til Next Year" Coupons are Gone.
Next season is the pivotal year for the Matt Millen/Steve Mariucci regime. They must make the playoffs, period. Anything less than a postseason birth should cost one, or both of them, their jobs. This team is too talented to execute another late-season nosedive like they did in 2004.
Don't think that Millen and Mariucci don't realize that too. They both fully understand that the futures of their respective careers are on the line in 2005. Neither man wants to be added to the 46-year tally of executives and head coaches who have committed career suicide while at the helm of the Lions.
The Answer is Tough, Costly – and Crystal Clear
While Drew Bledsoe, Jeff Garcia, and Kurt Warner, even with their various shortcomings and question marks, are all fully capable of coming into Detroit next season and beating Joey Harrington out for the Lions' starting quarterback job; there is only one guy who is currently capable of going toe-to-toe with the NFL's Culpeppers, Bradys and Mannings and get Detroit their first NFL championship since 1957.
That quarterback is Drew Brees.
Brees is entering the prime of his career, and it appears that the San Diego Chargers, against all logic, are fully willing to part with the quarterback who just led their franchise to their first winning season and playoff birth since 1995.
Whether the Chargers choose to place the franchise tag on Brees, meaning that the Lions would have to part with two first-round picks to acquire him – or if the Chargers franchise Brees, then seek a trade to move him to another team – the Lions should be the first team in line to acquire the NFL's reigning Comeback Player of the Year.
Quarterback is the most important, most demanding and most difficult-to-fill position in all of professional sports.
In the NFL, until a team has that position filled, nothing else matters.
As we all know, the Lions have been trying to find their next franchise QB for the last 46 years.
There have been some observers who have suggested that just like Brees a year ago, Harrington could be ready for a breakout season in 2005.
Why wait and hope that Joey Harrington is the Drew Brees of 2005, when you could instead acquire the original?
Detroit Lions' fans are tired of waiting and hoping for their next franchise quarterback to magically appear. There is a franchise quarterback out in Southern California that soon will be staring them in the face.
Over the previous 46 seasons, the Detroit Lions all too often have been a day late and a dollar short when it comes to making the tough decision.
There is nothing wrong with making a mistake. What is wrong is to refusing to correct one.
It is time for the Lions to admit that they made a mistake back in April of 2002 and, in turn, go out an acquire a quarterback that is capable of leading this team to a championship.
Not so fast my friend; Lions need to give Harrington one more shot
By Mike Fowler
ALLEN PARK – My esteemed colleague Doug Warren is a little short on patience. But then again, who could blame him and any other Lions fan that believes it is time to show third-year quarterback Joey Harrington the door? After all, Harrington is coming off his best season as a pro (3,047 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions) and only posted a 77.5 passer rating. This isn't the stuff of which legends are made.
At the same time, Doug believes that the answer is throwing piles of money at San Diego Chargers free agent to be (perhaps) Drew Brees. But what he and Lions fans like him overlook is that a year ago (2,108 yards, 11 touchdowns, 15 interceptions 67.5 passer rating), Brees was Harrington.
The only reason Brees is even being mentioned by potential free agent suitors as a possible replacement for their starting quarterbacks is because of the protracted holdout of first round draft pick Phillip Rivers which allowed him to get another shot. To his credit Brees flourished (3,159 yards 27 touchdowns, 7 interceptions, 104.8 passer rating).
The Chargers felt exactly the way about Brees a year ago that the Lions feel about Harrington now, unsure if he will ever become the franchise quarterback they want to lead them to the Super Bowl.
Still, the course of wisdom is to ride the rapids one last time with Harrington, provided he renegotiates his ridiculous near $11 million cap figure down to something a whole lot more manageable.
In the last three games of the season, Detroit head coach Steve Mariucci took the reigns off Harrington and allowed him to throw the ball downfield. Harrington compiled games of 361, 166 and 346 yards passing. Detroit won at home against Chicago, lost by one point to playoff bound Minnesota and dropped the season finale at Tennessee. Still, it appeared that Harrington was beginning to understand the offense.
You also can't overlook the fact that Harrington has been without his #1 receiver, third overall pick from 2001 Charles Rogers of Michigan State University, the past two years due to a recurring broken collarbone injury. He also had a badly slowed Roy Williams in those games. Williams ended up having surgery on his injured ankle as soon as the season ended.
Excuses notwithstanding, Detroit has to get some serious competition in the fold to keep Harrington from staying complacent and to hold his feet to the fire. He's been given everything on a silver platter, make him fight for his job.
That's where former 49ers and Browns quarterback Jeff Garcia comes in. Garcia, 34 had a terrible season mismatched in Cleveland's offensive system. He wore out his welcome quickly with the fans, and longs to finish his career in a place that runs the system he knows best. That is Steve Mariucci's system. Garcia made three pro bowl appearances and threw 103 touchdown passes in his tenure in San Francisco. Those clearly are stats that Mariucci is going to remember.
Perhaps no other free agent is more perfectly suited to come into a situation as Jeff Garcia is to come into Detroit. He isn't afraid of competition, he also isn't afraid to help tutor a young quarterback. Garcia knows his chances of playing time go up incrementally based on the system the team he joins runs.
Not only could Garcia come in and bide his time if Harrington shows marked improvement. He is very capable of beating Harrington out of the starting job and holding on to it until Detroit's former third overall pick in 2002 shows that he is ready to take the job and run with it – if he ever does.
Garcia is all the Lions need to make a playoff run. If Harrington shows he's ready to play, Garcia will be content to back him up, if not, he can step in and play at a high level. That gives Detroit a chance to rehabilitate Harrington instead of throwing away a high priced draft pick if they so desire.
Even if the Lions were to sign Brees, he'd have to learn Mariucci's system and show that he could play at a high level in it. There are no guarantees that would happen. It took Brees four years to get the Chargers system down pat. Plus, Detroit would have to release Harrington to afford Brees. Harrington would immediately become the most sought after free agent quarterback on the market because of his youth and the lack of having receivers on the field; he'd get another shot.
The course of wisdom is not to throw money at Brees, but rather, make a smart and conservative call by signing Garcia, put him on the field with Harrington and let the chips fall where they may. Harrington may take a few years to blossom, and with Garcia on the roster you can afford that luxury, or you can cut ties. Either way, you've got the right quarterback for your system for a couple of years until you can find a long-term solution.