I want everyone to read the below statement a few times. Let it sink in.
"I have relieved Matt Millen of his duties effective immediately."
Go ahead and read it again. You know you want to. William Clay Ford said it, too, so this time it counts.
Ready? Can we move on? Good.
Because Lions fans, let's be frank: the firing of Matt Millen will yield two things. The first? If you think it's bad now, it's only going to get worse. A lot worse.
The damage Matt Millen did during his tenure as Detroit Lions team president wasn't just the 31-84 overall record. It wasn't the fact that the team didn't even post a winning record, let alone sniff the post-season. It wasn't the embarrassment and inevitable thought of failure that accompanied every Sunday. It wasn't even Bill Schroeder.
It wasn't the mutually humiliating "Millen Man March" last year, which will taint the reputation of Lions fans long after Millen is forgotten.
It wasn't Joey Harrington or Charles Rogers. But we're getting warmer.
Teams in the National Football League are built via the NFL draft; successful franchises draft well, and hold onto the players that they scout in college and ultimately draft into the league. It's the foundation to any winning team. Free agency? The free-agent market is great for stop-gap measures and adding that talent that might put a team over the top, but you don't build through free-agency. The Redskins learned that lesson the hard way a few years ago.
NFL analyst Adam Caplan concurred.
"The way it works is that you build through the draft and supplement the roster through free agency, not the other way around," Caplan told me. "The way to do it is like the Green Bay Packers."
Just a few months after the legendary Brett Favre era, Green Bay already has another franchise quarterback in former top pick Aaron Rodgers. His top receiving threats, Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, were also drafted. The heart of the defense? They entered Green Bay via the draft.
The heart of Detroit's defense entered via Tampa Bay's recycle bin. And for all the hype that was attached considering Marinelli's Tampa-2 defensive methods, the Lions have one of the worst defenses in the league.
There's no cohesiveness. There's no sense of team.
Toss in starting quarterback Jon Kitna's on and off-field issues with Detroit's coaching staff, and you have a team that closer resembles "Major League's" fictional Cleveland Indians than an actual football club.
Minus the cool nicknames, Harry Doyle, and the fairy-tale ending, of course.
"I can't think of more than a few players that Millen has either drafted or signed since he took over that job (in 2001) that were very good," said one league personnel evaluator.
Get ready to cringe: half of Millen's 60-plus draft choices since his tenure began in 2001 are no longer in the league. Less than half are with the team, with the only notable characters being Jeff Backus, Dominic Raiola, Cory Redding and Roy Williams. It's still too early to tell how others will develop, or even if they'll stick around (see: Ernie Sims, Daniel Bullocks, Calvin Johnson, etc).
But even Backus and Raiola are solid but certainly not spectacular, while Redding is still residing in the shadow of Clevelander Shaun Rogers. Roy Williams is a classic underachiever, who talks better than he plays. Ironically, Backus, Raiola, and Shaun Rogers were not selected by Millen -- they were picked by former general manager Bill Tobin, whom Millen fired the following year and took over duties himself.
Williams, a free-agent at the end of this year, was a staunch Millen supporter and likely won't return.
Added Caplan, "When looking at the current roster, the defensive personnel is built for head coach Rod Marinelli's cover-2 scheme and even at that, the personnel needs to be upgraded in a major way. They have few playmakers on the defensive side of the ball. Offensively, they can't run the ball and that's the foundation of offensive coordinator Jim Colletto's scheme."
(Just to make you feel better: "I have relieved Matt Millen of his duties effective immediately.")
Ford Sr. also added, "I believe that this decision is in the best interest of this organization. I appreciate Matt's efforts. Matt worked tirelessly during his tenure to win, and he would be the first one to tell you that you have to win in this league. It just didn't work out."
"The support of our fans continues to be incredible and they deserve a winner. Every decision we make must focus on that goal, and I believe this decision today will allow this team to move forward in a positive manner."
Upon his dismissal, Millen told Ford Sr. to keep his $7 million paycheck. He didn't feel he earned it. And while it's painfully comedic to respond, "Duh" and perhaps sue Millen for emotional damages (or, at the least, petition the league a few extra draft picks), he did try.
Matt Millen wanted to win as much or more so than anyone else in Detroit and pockets of displaced fans across the country, but he simply didn't know how. That was as much his fault as it was Ford Sr.'s for hiring him in the first place.
He left a franchise in ruins with little to build on, but his exodus does provide something else, something besides failure, something he could never muster since joining the team in 2001: