Credit Millen For Oustanding Free-Agent Haul

Learning on the job is never easy, especially when you have a rabid, championship starved audience watching your every move. So give Lions president and general manager Matt Millen credit for learning from previous mistakes and not making them again.

ALLEN PARK - Learning on the job is never easy, especially when you have a rabid, championship starved audience watching your every move. So give Lions president and general manager Matt Millen credit for learning from previous mistakes and not making them again.

Early on, Millen made a boatload of miscues. He underestimated what it would take to build a winning NFL franchise. Instead of building on the mild success the Lions' teams of the 90s, he elected to tear down the team completely and rebuild one in his own image. That's a risky proposition for the most savvy of NFL execs and Millen had his share of stumbles from the start. That drew pounding criticism from the media including in this space.

Still, Millen appeared to learn from the messy dealings with Jeff Hartings, Johnnie Morton, coach Marty Mornhinweg and executives Bill Tobin and Kevin Warren. He slowly but steadily built a working team led by Vice President Tom Lewand, classy head coach Steve Mariucci and a solid scouting staff led by future NFL GM Sheldon White.

This year, Detroit went into free agency with a number of needs and Millen has competently addressed nearly all of them with arguably the best players available at their respective positions.

At quarterback, Millen landed veteran Jeff Garcia, a player that his coach Steve Mariucci wanted all along. Sure, Millen had mixed feelings about whether Garcia would be the right fit for team chemistry and if he would be good for the development of former third pick in the 2002 NFL draft, Joey Harrington. But Millen decided to trust his coach.

Detroit needed a competent left guard to end the revolving chair game that has plagued the position. The Lions landed former Colts guard Rick DeMulling to a two-year deal and did so at a bargain basement price.

No team fielded a worse pair of safeties than the Lions in 2004 when Brock Marion and Bracy Walker struggled to defend the deep zones, but Millen grabbed young Denver Broncos star Kenoy Kennedy away from all other bidders and saved a boatload of potential cap dollars by getting him to sign at a reduced cost.

A bonus was the unexpected signing of former Colts tight end Marcus Pollard, who was allowed to leave Indianapolis due to cap considerations. Pollard gives Lions' signal caller Joey Harrington (or Garcia) a security blanket in a tight end with good hands who knows how to run effective routes.

The only opening remaining in Detroit's roster is the hole at right tackle where young Stockar McDougle was allowed to go to the Miami Dolphins. Detroit still has an opportunity to address that opening in either the NFL draft or go back to free agency after the draft. Another option is to give a shot to two untested players, 6th-round pick Kelly Butler of Purdue, who appears to need more development or three-year veteran Victor Rogers, a former 7th-round pick from Oklahoma who has been injury prone.

Still, you have to give Millen a lot of credit for this latest group.

There are no projects here, every one is a solid NFL player who has proven he can produce. The Detroit GM has already shown he has a solid eye for collegiate talent and has assembled a nice group of young stars in Roy Williams, Kevin Jones, Teddy Lehman, James Davis, Cory Redding and others. Even if the jury is out on injured Charles Rogers and Boss Bailey and production challenged quarterback Joey Harrington, the future appears bright for the Lions franchise.

Has the team turned the corner? Not yet, not until they post a winning season and a playoff berth, but that could be just around the corner for this slowly improving team that appears ready to make a quantum leap.

You can't give Millen full credit until the team on the field starts to win, but just in case I forget to say it later, I'll say it now. Nice going, Matt.

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