ALLEN PARK - Are you surprised the Lions are saying good things about Joey Harrington right now? You shouldn't be. It's simply the latest in a long list of moves made too late in handling the divorce between the two parties.
The Lions have been consistently late and taken the wrong approach in dealing with much of their pro personnel (see Charles Rogers), Harrington included.
Listen, it had to be clear to the Detroit front office prior to the start of NFL free agency that Joey Harrington was not going to be their quarterback. New head coach Rod Marinelli made that pretty clear to all the assembled media at the press conferences introducing Donnie Henderson and Mike Martz.
Despite being pressed from all sides, Marinelli was resolute in stating firmly that Harrington would be "one of the team's quarterbacks" and that no one was going to be assured of anything until they won it on the field.
Marinelli was absolutely right on in assessing the situation.
Harrington hadn't proven anything since his arrival in Detroit and had lost a sizable portion of the locker room in the process. At the end of the 2005 season, there was open hostility against the signal caller and coach Marinelli was able to wade in and quickly see the situation for what it was; Harrington was not going to be able to lead this team.
Detroit should have then taken Harrington up on his offer to re-negotiate his contract in exchange for a roster spot and a shot at the starting position. But Detroit had likely decided that if Harrington couldn't cut it in Martz new offense, they would cut him and recoup nearly $5 million in salary cap space.
The team declared in a hastily called media briefing to a few select reporters that Harrington was the starter and they were going to sign only a backup to improve the depth at the position. All the time, they kept their option to dump him and pocket the savings in their hip pocket.
When the team signed quarterback Jon Kitna, ostensibly as a backup, they privately told him, he'd get a shot at starting. When Kitna told that to the media, the flames of 'Kitna to replace Harrington' rumors flew. Harrington expressed his reservations to coach Marinelli who then told him he either needed to be 100% committed to Detroit or he'd be better off elsewhere.
At that point, Detroit had another chance to get in touch with Harrington's agent and give them the opportunity to make a deal with another team and keep the relationship between the parties amicable. The team likely decided what they could get for Harrington wouldn't be as valuable as the $5 million in cap space they would save.
Then came the published report from "sources" that Harrington had "sabotaged" his appearance at quarterback school and wrote his ticket out of town. He was painted as "uncooperative" and "sullen". While the story may have made it appear as if the Lions were taking the high road and had done all that could reasonably be expected to help Harrington succeed, it also painted him as the "bad guy" in the divorce.
Rightly steamed, he hasn't had any comment to anyone since that time.
The signing of young quarterback Josh McCown sealed Harrington's fate, a fact acknowledged by all concerned. Detroit would release Harrington as soon as possible and pocket the savings.
But things took an unexpected turn once word hit the NFL streets that Detroit wanted to part company with Harrington; they discovered they could actually get solid compensation for him.
Teams including the Minnesota Vikings and the Kansas City Chiefs came calling with offers as high as a third-round draft pick for the former Oregon star, but the offers came with one caveat; Detroit would have to get Harrington to re-negotiate his current deal that contains what looks like to an interested team a poison pill provision for a $4 million roster bonus on June 15. He also has two more seasons of base salary at $4.45 million.
Harrington, though, couldn't care less about helping Detroit get anything.
Kansas City's GM Carl Peterson, a longtime admirer of Harrington, told the Detroit Free Press, "It takes the cooperation of not only the Detroit Lions, but Joey's agent."
When asked to elaborate, Peterson said of his talks with David Dunn, Harrington's agent, "It was a short conversation. It was like, 'When you get back to reality, give us a call.' "If his agent can get a contract for half of what he's making right now, then that's terrific. I don't know that he can."
But Dunn has rightly assessed the situation.
Why should he re-negotiate the contract and help Detroit get something for Harrington? He sees that June 15 roster bonus looming ahead and he knows that the clock in ticking for Detroit. He understands that if Kansas City is willing to pay 'half' or roughly $2 million per season, the market starts there once Harrington becomes an unrestricted free agent.
So now, it looks like Detroit president Matt Millen is trying to salvage the situation by attempting to sooth Harrington's ego and smooth over hurt feelings with his latest comments from the NFL Owner's meetings in Orlando, FL.
"I wish him nothing but the best," Millen told the Detroit News. "I believed in him the day I drafted him, and I still do."
Ah, ain't love grand?
Yeah, except when it ain't.