Paws For Thought - Lions Free Agency Shopping List

It's time for Matt Millen and the Detroit Lions organization to stop kidding around and get serious about winning the NFC North. With their competition dropping like flies all around them, Detroit needs to fill only a few key holes to claim divisional supremacy for the next several years. Lions Insider Mike Fowler tells you what needs to be on Detroit's shopping list when free agency begins tomorrow.

ALLEN PARK - Back in the early 80's pop singer Kenny Loggins had a hit record entitled "This Is It." The record points out that there is a time in everyone's life where they have to make key decisions if they're going to be successful.

For the Detroit Lions, this is it, starting tomorrow coinciding with the beginning of the free agency signing period, they will have an uncommon opportunity staring them in the face - the chance to claim divisional supremacy for the next several years.

With Green Bay expected to lose several key pieces to their puzzle including starting guard Marco Rivera, safety Darren Sharper and possibly quarterback Brett Favre coupled with Randy Moss leaving Minnesota, the NFC North is now wide open.

Detroit has assembled the best young nucleus of talent through the draft, but has struggled in free agency. If Lions GM Matt Millen can get it right this time and plug the holes in his roster and then make a few key moves on premium free agents, no one will be a threat to Detroit for the next five seasons. Here's a list of positions and players the Lions should target to fix what ails them

QUARTERBACK: This one bears repeating since Lions GM Matt Millen is showing signs of dragging his feet when it comes to signing the best quarterback for Detroit's system, Jeff Garcia. Don't give me any of this nonsense about Garcia being bad for team chemistry, losing is bad for team chemistry and Detroit has done plenty of that. Garcia, 35, brings a wealth of knowledge of the west coast offense and has shown the ability to make plays. While Joey Harrington should be given every opportunity to win the job, if he can't handle it, Garcia can.

Others: Kurt Warner of the Giants who has expressed an interest in Detroit would be a poor second choice because he has been a distraction when he isn't the coaches' choice, has little experience in the WCO and has a penchant for throwing picks. Still, he would be a better second option than Kelly Holcomb who hasn't shown the ability to move a club at all.

SAFETY: Lately the Lions have made noise about trading for former Jacksonville Jaguars franchise player Donovin Darius. Unless the Jags are almost giving away Darius, this doesn't make sense. While Darius is a top quality player, he turns 30 this season and who knows how many years he has left in his tank? Any trade for this outstanding ball hawk probably involves Detroit's first or second round pick.

Darren Sharper is a player Detroit should keep their eyes on. Green Bay has demanded that Sharper take a reduction in pay, something the eight-year veteran from William and Mary is unlikely to do. While Sharper isn't Darius, he is close and would be a huge upgrade over what Detroit currently fields in veteran Brock Marion. Sharper is due a $2 million roster bonus which may facilitate his arrival on the open market. Detroit should be standing there with a contract and a pen.

Others: Denver's Kenoy Kennedy and Indianapolis' Idrees Bashir would be viable alternatives but both would be a step down from Sharper and a step and a half from Darius.

TACKLE: With fourth-year veteran Stockar McDougle all but set to hit the open market, Detroit has a huge hole here. Young Kelly Butler is the heir apparent, but he isn't ready to inherit the spot just yet. Detroit could try Victor Rogers, a restricted free agent they've been grooming for three years but that's a huge gamble.

Buffalo Bills tackle Jonas Jennings appears to be the best of a deep group of tackles preparing to hit the market with McDougle. Jennings, 28, is versatile enough to play both the left and the right side of the offensive line and might allow Detroit to move Backus to right tackle where he might be better suited. Orlando Pace of the St. Louis Rams is the biggest name in the market, but how much does the former Ohio State standout have left in the tank?

All things being equal, we'd rather see McDougle back to keep continuity in the offensive front. Millen says he hasn't closed the door on McDougle's return completely.

WIDE RECEIVER : With oft-injured Charles Rogers still not completely fit and 7th overall pick Roy Williams coming off ankle surgery, Detroit needs a solid wide receiver that can fill into the #2 spot. The finger points squarely at former Tennessee Titans and Michigan State star Derrick Mason. Some say Mason won't accept a third receiver role, I say, why should he? If Joey Harrington has to compete for his job, why shouldn't Charles Rogers and Roy Williams? Neither have done anything to cement their status as either a one or a two receiver.

At 31, Mason, a native of Detroit is likely ready to come back home after posting four straight 1,000 yard receiving seasons and help the Lions get over the hump. An added plus is Mason's leadership, his work ethic and his ability to produce when playing at less than 100%.

Others: David Terrell of Chicago was released yesterday by the Chicago Bears and despite his less than successful tenure in the Windy City, he can run, catch and move the chains. Plaxico Burress of Pittsburgh, Travis Taylor of Baltimore, T.J. Houshmandzadeh of Cincinnati and David Patten of New England all are considerations and upgrades here.

With more than $20 million under the cap, Detroit doesn't need to be cheap or scared, they can afford to make a mistake and err on the side of overspending.

The Lions have a unique opportunity facing them right now - claiming the NFC North - if they don't act now, their rivals in the Windy City are showing that they have the mentality to do so.

Wake up Detroit - this is it.

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