ALLEN PARK - While some big name free agents around the NFL were being released last week by teams seeking to lower their salary cap number, Lions quarterback Joey Harrington quietly collected a $3 million roster bonus, inflating his team-high salary cap number to nearly $8 million.
While that number would not be out of line for a quarterback on a successful team, the Lions have struggled to a 14-34 (41%) record during Harrington's three-year tenure. But the former University of Oregon standout has had precious little offensive talent around him during this period, so it's still difficult for any objective observer to judge whether or not he has "it" -- that something special that separates also-ran quarterbacks from the really special ones.
Joe Montana had "it", Dan Marino had "it", Tom Brady definitely has "it" and even Boomer Esiason, albeit for a short time, had "it". We're about to find out if Joey Harrington has "it."
One thing about those quarterbacks that had "it", they also had pretty decent supporting casts. Montana had Jerry Rice and John Taylor, Marino had the "Marks" Brothers (Duper and Clayton) Esiason had Cris Collingsworth and, oh yes, Icky (of the "Icky shuffle") Woods. Brady has Corey Dillon and a corps of solid, if not spectacular receivers. Harrington has had very little.
But that all changed when the Lions spent their third consecutive first-round draft pick on a receiver, standout Mike Williams of Southern California. Williams joins a deep and talented receiving pool consisting of former Indianapolis Colts Pro Bowl tight end Marcus Pollard, former Cleveland Browns slot receiver Kevin Johnson and two talented players returning from injury, first rounders Charles Rogers of Michigan State and Roy Williams of Texas.
Joining the group is the team's first Pro Bowl running back since Barry Sanders, alternate Kevin Jones, who rushed for over a 1,000-yards his rookie season and appears headed for even greater heights in 2006.
Detroit has done all they can to surround Harrington with the kind of talent that would make it impossible for him to fail for any reason except one -- a lack of individual talent. If Harrington can't do it with this cast is it really logical to believe that he could do it in the future? I don't believe so.
The Lions organization has shown plenty of faith in Harrington by its actions and its pocketbook. It is reasonable to conclude that it's time for them to get their money's worth for that faith.
If the team remains reasonably healthy, a playoff berth should be expected. The offense should be able to consistently score points - regardless of what kind of defense it faces, due to the number of weapons that it possesses. The team should expect stellar play from a quarterback with more weapons at his disposal than almost any other team in the NFL.
While some point to San Diego's Drew Brees as a model for a fourth-year quarterback breakout season, Brees never had the kinds of offensive weapons, even with LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates, to work with that Harrington does.
It isn't unreasonable to expect Harrington to be among the top quarterbacks in the NFC in 2005 and for him push the Lions among the top teams in the conference.
That's why teams pay quarterbacks more than they do receivers or running backs or defenders. It's up to them to provide leadership and to make the plays that push their team to wins instead of losses. The good ones stay around, the bad ones get dumped and the ones that have "it" get rewarded.
Simply put, the best quarterbacks get paid because they've got "it."
It's time to find out whether or not Joey Harrington has got "it".
OPINION: Lions about to find out QB's worth
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