Opinion: Is Harrington talk a Smokescreen?

ALLEN PARK - After a little prodding from president Matt Millen, the Detroit Lions coaching staff now says that they are going forward with Joey Harrington as their quarterback. But are they really? Indepth analysis inside from Lions' insider Mike Fowler.

ALLEN PARK - After a little prodding from president Matt Millen, the Detroit Lions coaching staff now says that they are going forward with Joey Harrington as their quarterback. But are they really?

The interview Lions president Matt Millen and head coach Rod Marinelli conducted with selected beat reporters feels a little bit like positioning, rather than full disclosure. In Marinelli's press conference introducing offensive coordinator Mike Martz and defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, the coach was pretty non-committal on Harrington's status, saying only that he expected Harrington to be one of the team's quarterbacks.

Fast-forward to Monday's interview session and after a few days of watching film of Harrington, Marinelli told the media "You hate to [just make a decision]. You want to get guys on the field and practice and those things. So as of right now, there's a very good feeling about him."

Those comments don't sound like anyone's been named the starter.

So what exactly do those comments mean?

That's when Millen enter into the fray and stated, "Well, I think that we do like him and I think that he will be our guy. And that's the way we're going to approach [it]. We're going to approach it like Harrington's our starter and we move forward from that. We'll coach the heck out of him, we'll get him into the system and we'll start the process."

Millen never definitively said Harrington is the starter either. Approaching a situation a certain way and starting a certain process doesn't mean necessarily mean that is the way the situation is going to end.

With only Dan Orlvosky and Harrington under contract for the upcoming season, Harrington is certainly #1 right now. But with free agency looming on March 3rd and the spectre of seven pretty good quarterbacks being free, what is the real deal when it comes to the Lions quarterbacking situation?

It is pretty clear from Millen's comments that he doesn't want to give up on Harrington. Millen is the one responsible for drafting Harrington - who'll go into the 2006 season as the second highest paid quarterback in the NFL - and he doesn't want a quarterback bust on his resume. If Harrington could be had at a palatable cap number, they'd likely just as soon keep him on the roster.

Adam Schefter, a contributor for the NFL network, has been outspoken in saying that Detroit will go after San Diego Chargers quarterback Drew Brees, who is expected to be the #1 quarterback on the free agent market when bidding starts on March 3rd. Schefter told MLive.com, "I can promise you this, when [Brees] hits the free agent market, the Lions will be involved in the bidding."

If Schefter is correct, how can the two scenarios come together?

If they do, in fact, pursue Brees, they might simply say that the situation changed - much as they did when Steve Mariucci became available after Millen had given Marty Mornhinweg a very public vote of confidence. They could say players of Brees' caliber don't come around very often - which is correct. Since Brees isn't expected to be ready to compete until training camp, they could say they're giving Harrington every opportunity to win the job, but the best man gets the job.

Targeting Brees, a pro bowl caliber quarterback who is available without compensation makes all the sense in the world.

Harrington will get his first look in Martz's offensive scheme in the team's upcoming minicamp next month prior to the NFL draft. That is when the real evaluation of him starts. He will get coached up, but in the end, if Detroit is successful in free agency, he could already be relegated to a backup position. By that time, Detroit hopes to have worked out a new deal with Harrington that wipes out the $4 million bonus he's scheduled to receive on June 15th and his spot on the roster is assured.

It is difficult to believe Detroit would pay that kind of money to a career 54.7% passer with a 68.1 rating.

While Harrington might be tempted to wait to see what the Lions do in free agency before re-negotiating his contract with the team, his best bet is to stay with the club that has handsomely paid him to date. He'll likely get a better deal in re-negotiations with Detroit than he's get if he took his unimpressive resume on the open market.

Ironically, the second-year veteran Orlovsky could eventually supplant Harrington in the Lions plans, because he is the prototype of what a Mike Martz quarterback should be; big, (6-foot-5, 225-pounds) physical and smart.

The upshooot of all this is last thing a team wants to do is the head into free agency appearing to be desparate. The next to last thing they want to do is hang the coaching staff with a player that they are not convinced they feel can produce.

The next two weeks will go a long way towards really deciding who'll be behind center on Opening Day of the 2006 season and possibly in determining the franchise's short-term success.

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