In my opinion, the Lions have five main offensive personnel objectives during this offseason. While due to the salary cap, they won't be able to fill all of their personnel holes via free-agency before April's NFL Draft – I have outlined the objectives as I see them below, along with some potential free agent acquisitions.
1. Pursue ALL options at Quarterback:
Those who saw my point/counterpoint article two weeks ago with Scout.com beat writer Mike Fowler know how I feel about the Joey Harrington situation. While Drew Brees, the San Diego Chargers franchise player, would be my number one priority this offseason; I fully expect the Lions to instead take a more conservative route.
With that in mind, the best options at this point are very limited, with former Cleveland Browns and San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia, and former Giants and Rams QB, and two-time NFL MVP Kurt Warner topping the list.
Garcia certainly is the safest option for the Lions. He spent the best years of his career working with Mariucci in San Francisco and would be able to slide into the Lions' offensive scheme quickest. However, the 35 year-old has major questions now regarding his arm strength and his overall durability, which isn't good for a Lions' team looking to emphasize the deep passing game next season.
Warner has risen faster, and fallen farther, than maybe any quarterback in NFL history. He is a shell of himself when compared to his glory days in St. Louis. Last season he was little more than a game manager for the Giants. He now holds on to the ball way too long in the pocket which also makes him, like Garcia, more prone to injury.
Neither Warner nor Garcia is likely to lead the Lions or anyone else to a championship at this point in their careers; it seems clear that the Lions are not willing to pony up to get Brees, so it is down to a two-man race.
2. DO NOT overpay for Stockar McDougle:
Stockar McDougle, in my opinion, remains a disappointment since being drafted in the first round by Bobby Ross in 2000. While he did play appreciably better over the last half of last season, he was horrible in September and October. He is listed at 367 pounds, which maybe on the conservative side; and still has major problems against speed rushers and defensive ends with a good double move.
While the market for true Right Tackles looks light on the surface, there are some versatile tackles available who could step in and replace McDougle if another team wants to overpay for him:
Ht: 6-6 Wt: 327
McKenzie has quietly been one of the better right tackles in the game over the past few seasons. He has the physical strength, athleticism, and attitude to be an in your face type of offensive lineman. McKenzie is consistent in all phases of the game, and is equally impressive as a pass and run blocker. He would be a clear upgrade over the underperforming McDougle.
Ht: 6-6 Wt: 305
Ashworth has become a solid offensive tackle; not a dominating player, but possessing the ability to shutdown top-tier defensive ends due to his preparation, work ethic, and positioning. He is a restricted free agent, meaning the Lions would have to part with a draft choice to sign him. Nevertheless, if the Patriots tender Ashworth an offer in the 5th to 7th round range, he would be a great pickup to replace McDougle alongside former Patriot teammate Damien Woody on the right side of the Lions' O-line.
Ht: 6-3 Wt: 320
Jennings may be one of the physically strongest offensive linemen in the game. He plays with exceptional leverage and is a solid run blocker. However, like McDougle, he struggles in space against speed rushers, shows only average mobility, has trouble at times reaching the second level, and is a little slow in getting in and out of his stance. On the plus side, he can manhandle his opponent once he locks on; but so can McDougle. I have a feeling that if he was truly that talented, the Bills would find a way to keep him. When compared to McDougle, Jennings may just be lateral move.
3. Find a GOOD veteran Guard:
This is a major priority for the Lions, as anyone who watched David Loverne and Matt Joyce last season can attest to. Fortunately for Detroit, there are a number of players who could come in a fill the guard spot opposite Pro Bowler Damien Woody quite nicely. Here are my top-five, in order of preference:
Ht: 6-2 Wt: 308
The two-time Pro Bower was five year starter for the Packers at right guard after one year as a starter at left guard. Rivera is a tough veteran who excels in all areas. Acquiring him would give the Lions a prime bookend opposite Woody would give the Lions one of the league's top guard tandems; solidifying an already improving running game going into 2005. Stealing him from a division rival makes him all the more appealing.
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 285
Hamilton is a durable and versatile player with good instincts who has excelled in the Broncos zone-blocking scheme, the same type of scheme the Lions began to use at times late in 2004 to spark their own running game. His mobility, quickness and toughness makes up for his lack of size. He would be an ideal guard for the Lions to utilize on outside sweeps and trap plays to take advantage of Kevin Jones' cutback skills and ability to turn the corner.
Ht: 6-4 Wt: 305
DeMulling is a solid offensive guard, he plays the run and pass equally well and knows how to use his hands and strength to deter the quickest and strongest defensive linemen. Though not thought of as a powerful lineman, he handles himself well in space due to his fundamentally sound approach to the game. DeMulling was a major cog in a Colts offensive line that helped set numerous NFL and team records in 2004.
4. Joe Andruzzi – New England Patriots
Ht: 6-3 Wt: 315
Andruzzi is a tough physical player with good hand placement, awareness and lower body strength. He lacks overall mobility and quickness, but is well-schooled, crafty, and gets into position quickly. While he has slowed a bit over the past couple of seasons, his range, recognition skills, and work ethic still make him a formidable player.
Ht: 6-2 Wt: 303
Garza possesses good physical skills, mobility and agility. He plays with balance and has the athletic ability to play in space, which will be good for the Lions and their outside rushing attack. Despite his quickness and ability, he has trouble at times moving bigger DT's off the ball, but if the Lions continue to improve on the "stretch play" and the "pull and trap" plays that they began to use late in the season; Garza, like the aforementioned Hamilton will excel. Garza blossomed with the Falcons in 2004 under the direction of legendary OL coach Alex Gibbs and will get the same kind of coaching in Detroit with Pat Morris.
4. Find a new starting Tight End:
Some feel this position isn't a big deal, others think that the position could be filled through the draft, while the Lions appear ready to stand pat with the pass drops and declining skills of incumbent Stephen Alexander. While not opposed to the draft route myself, there are two veteran players who I think the Lions could sign that could provide a level of play in Motown that the position hasn't seen since the days of David Hill.
6-2 Wt: 260
Wiggins (Vikings – UFA). Wiggins pulled in 71 receptions for Minnesota last season after coming over from New England as a free agent. He is an adequate blocker, and is very good at finding the holes in the seam. He also has much better hands than either Stephen Alexander or Casey Fitzsimmons. Wiggins, whose career high in catches before this season was 18, is the first player other than Anthony Carter, Cris Carter or Randy Moss to lead the Vikings in receptions since 1986. Another bonus is that if Wiggins is signed, it would hurt the roster of a division rival. However, I expect the Vikings to make resigning Wiggins a top priority now that Randy Moss has been dispatched to C. Montgomery Burns and his Silver and Black.
2. Jeb Putzier – Denver Broncos
6-4 Wt: 256
My sleeper pickup at TE is Putzier (Broncos – RFA – 6th round tender), who is a 6'4" 256 pounder who is entering his fifth season. Putzier is one of the better young TE's in the league and is versatile enough to play H-Back. He also can stretch the field better than either Alexander or Wiggins, as his 15.9 yard-per-catch average last season shows. He will come at a higher price due to his restricted free agent status, meaning that the Lions would have to part with a 6th round choice as compensation if they signed him. However when you consider how much of a crapshoot a sixth round pick is to begin with, it would make sense for the Lions to spend a sixth round choice to acquire a young veteran as opposed to drafting a rookie in that spot that you hope would pan out later.
5. Find a veteran 3rd Receiver:
If I were in control of the Lions' offense, and neither Wiggins or Putzier could not be obtained, I would seriously consider saying goodbye to Stephen Alexander, scrap the Tight End spot for next season and go after these recently released Tennessee Titans' WR Derrick Mason.
Then I'd take the Lions offense "Back to the Future," circa 1995, by going three wide with Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, and Mason – then use Cory Schlesinger and Casey Fitzsimmons as H-back type blockers and receivers out of the backfield – with of course Kevin Jones in the Barry Sanders' single-back spot.
I'm sorry; I digress at times when it comes to this stuff. We all know that, until proven otherwise, the Lions' offense is conservative by nature and that kind of radical offensive thinking has no business inside the walls of Allen Park. It is also unlikely that the Lions would be able to land Mason, Burress, or any of the other big fish free agent wideouts to fill their 3rd receiver spot behind Rogers and Williams due to the other pressing needs at guard and safety.
However, there are two guys that would fit the bill quite nicely that my come at a lower cost with the Mason and Burress now on the market. At the right price, either of these guys would be great additions:
1. David Patten – New England Patriots
Ht: 5-10 Wt: 190
Yes . . . I know . . . another Patriot. But can you blame me? They have won three of the last four Super Bowls for Pete Rozelle's sake. Patten is one of the most underrated receivers in the NFL; a legitimate threat in the vertical passing game due to his speed, quickness, and ability to retain his momentum with the ball in the air.
Though undersized, Patten is no Az Hakim. He has glue hands, and utilizes his body well to keep a defender from the ball. His ability to find the hole in the zone and the seams in coverage has enhanced his production and ability to make the big play with regularity. He is a sure handed, battle tested veteran that would be a perfect complement to the Lions and their evolving passing attack.
Ht: 6-1 Wt: 197
T.J. Houshmandzadeh is a deceptively quick and speedy receiver that displays fine physical and mental skills in the passing game. Adequately sized, he has good hands and his route-running skills are underrated. A very solid receiver outside the hash-marks, Houshmandzadeh has improved his concentration and awareness going over the middle and will make the tough reception. He has shown the ability to beat the defense in the vertical passing game and is a legitimate threat to make the big-play and reception in the short-to-intermediate passing game.
While Houshmandzadeh may be out of the Lions' price range now that , as of this writing, 2004 Pro Bowl free agent Mushin Muhammad has been apparently snapped up by the Chicago Bears, he would be a huge addition to the Lions if they could nab him.