Cook: Lions adopted the Patriot way

The Lions disregarded their previous draft and high-money investments over the off-season, adopting a New Englad Patriots-style of improving the team. And it is already noticeable in training camp. Columnist James Cook reviews what Detroit did to replace a mess of prima donnas with a team of competitors.

The Lions apparently made a switch in their off-season player acquisition theory this year, copying the New England Patriots model.

Oddly enough, the Patriots don't seem to be using their own model as much in recent years, but this may be an over-reactionary move as a team on the downside of a dynasty gets desperate to stay there.

Instead of going out and making a big splash in free agency and over-paying while competing for the top free agents (i.e., Damien Woody, Fernando Bryant, etc.), the team evidently was more patient and snatched up second-tier free agents at relatively bargain prices, all while filling in needs and creating competition at every position. And most of the players brought in have played under current Lions coaches before, so the coaching staff has faith in them and knows their abilities.

The Patriot model includes signing many mid-level veterans in free agency and building through the draft, avoiding overpaying for top free-agent talent in order to maintain in good salary cap standing and always be in position to add another body or two when needed.

Another key to the New England/Belichick theory is adding guys who are hard working, blue-collar types and frequently have two other qualities: Positional flexibility and good football IQ.

The positional flexibility has been obvious in the players the Lions have signed this past off-season. The football IQ will hopefully show itself during the season.

Also, if you notice, Matt Millen/Rod Marinelli added at least one new player to every positional unit on the team through free agency. And more through the draft. This is already noticeable as returning players aren't complacent and have had to work hard in training camp and practice to keep their spots on the team.

Additions:
Idrees Bashir (1 year): He is a backup-level player with some starting experience. A good guy to have on your bench, but not one you'd necessarily want in your starting lineup for an extended period of time (i.e., Matt Joyce and Kyle Kosier). Comes cheap and you can do much worse for a backup safety. Grade: C

Corey Bradford (4 years): Gives the WR corps a true vertical threat that teams will have to contend with. He has fit Martz' offense to a T so well that he's the No. 2 receiver in camp without much competition, showing a big ability to get downfield. Can return kicks in a pinch. Grade: B-

Fernando Bryant : OK, so he isn't really an addition, but maybe we'll actually get to see him in a couple of regular-season games this year. Detroit really has been Fernando's Hideaway - nobody's seen him much. Grade: Incomplete

Dan Campbell (5 years): Like adding another offensive lineman. One of the premier blocking tight ends in the NFL, something the Lions have sorely lacked over the last decade. Even has OK hands and isn't a total give-away as to what the play is. Will definitely help in the red zone and short-yardage situations, as well as provide the tackles with needed help that they never got in recent years from guys like Mikhael Ricks. He'll make a difference, but the average fan may not notice it. Grade: B+

Jamar Fletcher (1 year): A solid nickel corner, and that's it. If he's in the starting lineup, something is wrong. But as a nickel corner, he's in his niche. He has good coverage ability and was signed very cheaply. Grade: C+

Mike Furrey (1 year): Has been playing at WR for Detroit in training camp after taking one for the team and playing safety for the Rams last season. A solid route runner who knows Martz' system, with Furrey, Arlen Harris and Rex Tucker, the Lions have one guy at every offensive unit but QB who has played under Martz and can help other players with the transition to his complex scheme that requires everyone to be on the same page. Grade: C

Arlen Harris (1 year): A Martz guy, Harris will likely move Artose Pinner to the scrap heap as far as Detroit is concerned. Pinner is already seeing limited carries in camp, and expect that to continue through the preseason. Harris can catch, block and is a decent runner. More importantly, he knows the Martz offense and contributes on special teams both in the return and coverage games. Grade: B-

Tyoka Jackson (2 years): This guy has ripped Detroit a new one whenever he faces the Lions, so just keeping him off other teams' rosters is good enough. The versatile veteran can play both inside and out and fits the Cover 2's requirements for D-linemen. Grade: C

Jon Kitna (4 years): Considering the free-agent QB market this year, the Lions probably ended up getting two of the top 5 or 6 QBs available. Taking a gamble on a guy like Drew Brees would have been a massive risk, and Culpepper was never an option because the Vikings would never trade in the division. So snagging Kitna for a reasonable contract was a good sign and he has already seemingly wrapped up the starting position. With Kitna, you know what you're getting: A Trent Dilfer-plus type QB. One who won't really win games for you, but won't try to desperately throw over the middle inside your own 20 in overtime. His age (33) may be a bit of a concern. Grade: B-

Paris Lenon (3 years): Veteran backup can play any LB spot, and is a very good special teams player. Has decent speed and coverage ability and is a great fit for the Cover 2. Can step into the starting lineup if Bailey or Lehman have health issues again, and he doesn't have any glaring weaknesses for offenses to exploit. Grade: C+

Josh McCown (2 years): I actually liked this signing even better than Kitna. McCown's upside is huge, and in Martz' system, with McCown's ability to buy time on rollouts and throw outside the pocket, Martz could have a field day coming up with new plays. Martz has never really had a mobile QB to work with, and McCown could be a real wild card if he grasps the offense quickly. He could be a bonafide threat to Kitna's starting job by midseason. Grade: B+

Barry Stokes (3 years): Essentially a replacement for Kyle Kosier, although much less expensive. A journeyman who can play anywhere on the line in a pinch, even center. A good character guy who has had to work to stay in the NFL, which is just the type of guy Marinelli wants. Grade: C+

Rex Tucker (3 years): Another former Ram, Martz brought him over from St. Louis. He is several years and numerous injuries removed from an Pro Bowl alternate season. If he can stay out of the infirmary (something he hasn't been able to do thus far during training camp), he'll be a major upgrade to the line over Kelly Butler at right tackle. Grade: C+

Ross Verba (1 year; team option for 4 more years): It all depends on which Ross Verba shows up. Will it be the one who can be an above-average NFL lineman when properly motivated, or the one who parties too much and shows up in the police blotter? If it's the former, the Lions may have found themselves a bargain and fixed their sieve that has been called left guard. Grade: B-

Subtractions:

Many of these are additions by subtraction.

How the Giants were bamboozled into paying that much money for R.W. McQuarters is baffling. Same for Andre Goodman (Miami(. Both players are OK, but not worth what they got.

And don't even get me started on Kyle Kosier's payday.

Jeff Garcia: Wow. He actually made me long for the days of Mike McMahon. And then he took McSuck's job in Philly. Definition of irony, right there.

Andre Goodman: A solid corner who was getting better as last season progressed. And he would have fit the Cover 2 pretty well, too. But Miami offered him almost starter-level money, and Millen correctly pegged that Goodman wasn't worth it. Good call, Matt. Now about that Mike Williams pick…

Joey Harrington: He just needed to go. Even if he could have turned things around, the team just wasn't behind him. And a QB without a devoted team behind him is like Dick Cheney without his pacemaker. Besides, Joey would have likely missed the lawyer on a screen route … even from the shotgun. Harrington may one day find NFL success, but it was evident it wasn't going to be in Detroit.

Earl Holmes: Here's a solid guy, on and off the field. He just didn't fit the new defense at all.

Kevin Johnson: He was actually one of the Lions' best receivers until he was hurt. Coming back from an Achilles injury at a speed position is next to impossible (See: Westbrook, Bryant). He was a good vet for the young receiving corps, too.

Kyle Kosier: Here's where you expect me to say "What the #%$& were the Cowboys thinking?" Well, here's what the 'Boys were thinking: Wait, it'll come to me. Maybe not. Nope. Anyway, do you wonder if Jerry Jones was ticked when the Lions signed Ross Verba -- an actual legit starting NFL O-lineman -- for not much more than they threw at Kosier -- an actual legit backup NFL O-lineman?

David Loverne: Wasn't this guy supposed to be good when the Lions signed him? I swear he was allegedly good at something. Hold on, I need to copy and save this paragraph for next year when Rick DeMulling gets the axe. OK, maybe next week.

R.W. McQuarters: R-Dub did pretty well stepping in for Eddie Drummond on returns, but as a DB he just doesn't have it anymore. He got burned more than a fattie at Ricky Williams' house.

Wali Rainer: See: Holmes, Earl.

Paul Smith: You know, he only had that one good game in the season finale against St. Louis a couple years back. Since then, we've been waiting for an encore. And for him to stay healthy. Neither happened. This guy got hurt more than a teenage girl's feelings, a phrase which was perhaps first applied to ex-Lion Stephen Alexander. So what does Smith do? He signs with the Rams. The one team he plays well against, and he signs with them Now what will he do? (It is kind of like Tyoka Jackson, if you think about it).

Bracy Walker: To paraphrase a line from Dave Chappelle, what can you say about Bracey Walker that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan? He looked bombed out and depleted. He definitely lost a step or two and just wasn't effective in the secondary any more. Still managed to be solid on special teams, though.

Dan Wilkinson: The poster boy of the Rod Marinelli way -- my way, or the highway. Wanted to keep the Club Med practices going until he retired, but that didn't exactly work out, eh? In comes the drill sergeant, and Dan's left with a locker full of Big Mac wrappers to hide. You could just see an R. Lee Ermey-Private Pyle type exchange coming in front of the troops if Big Daddy had stayed. He was a nice tandem with Shaun Rogers inside, but also doesn't fit the Cover 2 DT mold.

Players re-signed:

Jeff Backus (6-year deal): The $40 million price tag may be a bit eye-popping, but when you look at the relative lack of quality left tackles in the NFL, Backus is worth it. He plays hurt, is a good pass protector and should be even more effective this year with Verba next to him.

Shawn Bryson (3-year deal): The perfect back-up running back, Bryson is also a great fit for Martz' system. He can play RB or FB and catches and blocks very well. If he'd have left, the Lions would have had a big hole to fill.

Jared DeVries (5-year deal): Here's a guy who just seems to get better and better as his career goes on, and there's no signs of that stopping. Has a non-stop motor that Marinelli will love and can play anywhere on the D-line.

Eddie Drummond (4-year deal): Seemed to have lost something last year, whether it was a lasting physical effect from an injury or just not wanting to get hurt again. But he seemed more tentative on returns. Still one of the top return men in the NFL, but needs to return to his 2004 form.

Kalimba Edwards (5-year deal): Evidently, Marinelli and Donnie Henderson think they can transform this situational pass rusher into another Simeon Rice, because that's how they paid him. Granted, it was a lean free agent market for defensive ends, so the asking price went up because of demand. But Edwards needs to play well to justify a $20 million investment.

Vernon Fox (1-year deal): A fine special teams player and adequate backup safety, Fox may be squeezed out between the addition of Idrees Bashir and the drafting of Daniel Bullocks.

Don Muhlbach (1-year deal): One of the top young long snappers in the league. The only surprising thing is that he didn't get a longer deal.

LeVar Woods (1-year deal): This late-season replacement came in and played well, registering 26 tackles and a sack in three starts and adding five special teams stops. He'll be hard-pressed to make the roster this year with the additions of Ernie Sims and Paris Lenon (and possibly Anthony Cannon), but the Teddy Lehman uncertainty may help him a bit. It's a dead-heat at camp right now between him, Donte Curry and James Davis. He may have to beat out both to have a shot.


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