When a club, over the course of 10 seasons, goes 57-103 without a playoff win, there is plenty of blame to spread around, and plenty of deserving targets. Ownership, front office blunders, coaching strategy or scheme and game day decisions, injuries, player development deficiencies, lack of ability to attract quality free agents, players that don't play or practice hard or up to their talent level... all have their place in the litany of losing that is the recent Detroit Lions.
But, much like most other failing organizations in any other discipline, the Lions seem to not understand the root of their problem: the NFL Player Draft.
Looking at the Lions drafts from 1996 to 2005, they have had 31 total selections from rounds 1-3. Of those selections, only seven have been able to start a full schedule for two consecutive seasons. I'm not talking about being a great player or even an All-Pro…just guys that have been able to win a starting spot during their tenure on a truly terrible team, and simply show up to work ready to play for two seasons back to back.
Dismal can't begin to describe that performance as compared against the rest of the league.
Of those seven, three remain on the team today and two have made the Pro Bowl (one after he left the club).
Two Pro Bowlers in 31 picks. Random chance…even playing "Pin the Tail on the Donkey" with your Top 100 draft board over nine years with 31 picks would produce three or four. Maybe we can get the front office to hire the Stock Pickin' Chicken as a draft consultant?
Each division rival has managed six in the same time frame, not to mention quite a few players just below that level that outstrip the Lion's selections by far. The result? 57-103.
Draft failure drives a vicious cycle in today's NFL. If the guys you take on Day One don't produce, you tend to do things that continue to hold your club's success hostage;
1) Re-draft the same positions- Considering the track record of Matt Millen in this respect; this is a losing strategy, as the learning curve for Matt seems to be in the same direction as Ford Motor Company's sales numbers.
2) Devote more free agency dollars towards retaining the smattering of talent that has managed to contribute- Jeff Backus and Kalimba Edwards sucked out somewhere north of $63 Millions dollars from Millen's pockets…and neither is anything better than painfully average at his position….but the devil you know is a better than the devil you don't is the attitude you get when so many personnel moves fail. Thus you lock in mediocre performance for premium pay. The product on the field didn't improve and your cap space has been squeezed, a sure recipe for continued failure.
3) Free Agency gambles- Lacking the money or the attractiveness due to your losing ways, you are like the runt of the litter…you get fed when everyone else has finished eating. Gambles can work out…look at Dre' Bly or Dan Wilkinson…but how many Rex Tuckers, Rick DeMullings Az Hakims and Todd Lyghts have there been to counterbalance them? Too many. Meantime, premium performers produce premium results among your competitors. More losing ensues.
4) Overdependence on Day One picks- If Day One stunk; you better have a good Day Two. Even given the obvious that Day Two guys contribute at a much lower rate than their Day One counterparts….Day Two has been a complete failure for Detroit as well. Out of 40 day two picks from 1996-2005 only two players have started more than 20 games for the Lions: Terrence Holt and James Davis (who was cut this off-season). Arguably, the best two of those 40 (Chris Liewinski and Alfonso Boone, regular contributors for division rivals Minnesota and Chicago) were camp cuts in their first or second year here.
Draft flop reasons?? Take your pick;
Players that don't fit he scheme they were drafted into (Joey Harrington)
Players that have an injury history (Reuben Droughns, Boss Bailey)
Players that simply don't translate their college success to the NFL despite hard work (Andre Goodman, Kalimba Edwards)
Players that lack the intelligence or desire to become a professional (Charles Rogers)
Players that suffer career ending injuries (Reggie Brown, Germaine Crowell, Bryant Westbrook)
Players that can't get in shape (Chris Claiborne, Aaron Gibson)
Players that just aren't very good (Kevin Abrams, Ryan Stewart, Stockar McDougal Juan Roque)
The operative lesson is this: Every mistake, every misstep creates an extension of the lag time between futility and winning football. And the Lions have one whopper of a case of "bonehead lag"…49 years and counting, or seven years, depending what milestones you use.
So, where are the Lions right now? Still spinning on the hamster wheel of futility it seems. The ‘05 draft from Matt Millen smells like the past six, with one smoldering fire ready to explode in frustration in Mike Williams, a slow starting performer in Shaun Cody and a MIA candidate in Stanley Wilson.
Lion's fans please flip your calendars to 2007 or 2008 to block off a Sunday in January for rooting for the home team.
In the end, it all comes down to 57-103. I've got the Chicken's agent on speed dial...just give me the word, Mr. Ford.