Perhaps we should have known the Lions would sign wide receiver Nate Burleson as a free agent.
Late last season, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan was asked if he was surprised how defenses paid so much attention to wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
"No, I've seen Randy get it," said Linehan, who once was Randy Moss' offensive coordinator in Minnesota. "I'm sure when they do their PowerPoint presentation getting ready for the game, they're adding not just one but maybe two people extra -- three total people -- to defend him."
Linehan said the Lions needed "some kind of eraser" to wipe out that game plan.
"Something has to give there because you can't keep trying to get a guy the football that's being triple-covered and not feel good about some of the other things we've got to do," Linehan said. "I think the players know that's going to be a big part of our goals in the off-season."
Burleson had spent the first two years of his NFL career with Linehan and Moss in Minnesota. His best NFL season remains 2004, when he caught 68 passes for 1,006 yards and nine touchdowns for the Vikings. About a year ago, as the Lions' new coaching staff was preparing for free agency and the draft, Linehan kept bringing up the same guy.
"So many times he'd say, 'We really need a guy like Nate Burleson,' and, 'Nate Burleson had this,' and, 'Hey, this is the way I used Nate Burleson,' " Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. "It got to the point with saying, 'Well, let's not get a guy like Nate Burleson. Let's go after Nate Burleson.' "
No wonder, then, that as soon as the free agent market opened at 9 p.m. PT March 4, Burleson received a text message from Schwartz, a call from Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford and then another call from Linehan -- who had flown to Seattle to see him.
"I remember being in Minnesota, and they were just rolling every coverage towards Randy Moss," said Burleson, who broke into the NFL under Linehan in 2003 and '04. "They were putting linebackers in front of him, a cornerback over the top and a safety running over at the snap of the ball -- two or three guys just about every play.
"And Scott, he would preach to me, 'You've got to get open. I know you're young. I know you just got here. But you have to get open. Do what you did in college and make plays.' "
That's what Linehan will be preaching to Burleson again now.
"This is a unique offense from the standpoint of a weapon like Calvin Johnson and a quarterback like Matt Stafford, and we need to round that out," Schwartz said. "We need to round it out with another guy that can make a play, another guy that can move the chains for us and can make defenses pay when they want to trick coverage up and they want to try to take Calvin Johnson out of the game plan.
"This is the first step to making sure we don't see those kind of defenses again."
- The Lions acquired veteran quarterback Shaun Hill from the San Francisco 49ers, likely spelling an end to Daunte Culpepper's stint in the Motor City. The team will send the 49ers a seventh-round pick in 2011, obtaining a QB that spent three years under Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan in Minnesota. Hill tossed five touchdowns, two interceptions, and went 3-3 in six starts last year.
- Lions coach Jim Schwartz said he needed help choosing a bottle of wine to bring to defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch's house at the opening of free agency. "My knowledge of wine begins and ends with Boone's Farm," Schwartz said. "But I know some people that know a lot about wine, and I brought a bottle that was going to get his wife's attention." For the record, it was a 2005 Opus One Cabernet. "If you want to make a statement, if you want to let people know how important they are, you don't go in half-(way)," Schwartz said. "You go in with some guns blazing." Schwartz didn't only bring the wine for Vanden Bosch's wife, Lindsey. He brought three stuffed-animal lions for their kids -- daughter Payten, almost 5, and twin sons Bastian and Case, almost 3. He brought T-shirts, too.
- Schwartz said he was inspired by the aggressiveness and guts Jets coach Rex Ryan displayed last year, when he showed up at linebacker Bart Scott's house at the opening of free agency. Ryan had been Scott's defensive coordinator in Baltimore, as Schwartz was Vanden Bosch's defensive coordinator in Tennessee. "I think it only works if you have a relationship with the player," Schwartz said. "If I had never met Kyle before, it would have been very awkward. You would have shown up, we would have spent 10 minutes and then you would have been gone. ... If it's somebody else, maybe they're pretending they're not home, turning the lights out."
- Though Schwartz's relationship with Vanden Bosch helped the Lions pursue him in free agency, Schwartz stressed that it wasn't the reason the Lions signed the defensive end to a four-year, $26 million deal that will pay him $10 million in the first year. "We were very careful of not letting that affect our judgment," Schwartz said, "and I actually played a little possum on this one." Schwartz said he didn't say much when general manager Martin Mayhew raved about Vanden Bosch in December and other Lions officials concurred in personnel meetings. He didn't want to influence anyone. "I let everybody speak, and then I sort of closed it out," Schwartz said. "And I had guys coming up to me afterwards, 'Whew, thank goodness. I didn't think you liked him. You didn't mention this guy for six weeks.' "
- Schwartz scoffed at Vanden Bosch's declining sack stats -- 12 in 2007, 4 1/2 in '08 and three in '09 -- because they don't tell the whole story. Vanden Bosch was limited by a groin injury in '08 and looked fine on film to Schwartz in '09. "A lot of people talk about declining production. They can't read between the lines," Schwartz said. "Sacks isn't the final determination of how effective a player is. I think you can get a little too stat-happy when you say, 'He's a declining player because he had three sacks.' He rushed the same as I always remembered him rushing."
- Before wide receiver Nate Burleson and the Lions came together on a contract, they sized up each other up Nov. 8 at Seattle's Qwest Field.
Burleson ran out to return a punt as the Lions' Calvin Johnson was getting up off the ground. "I was kind of like, 'Hey, big man, you all right?' " said Burleson, who's 6-foot, while Johnson is 6-5. "And he stood up, and it just ... he kept ... he kept going. Before I knew it, I went from the ground to looking up. I went to the sideline. I was talking to Deion Branch. I was like, 'Man, have you stood next to that guy? He's huge.' " The Seahawks smothered Johnson that day, limiting him to two catches for 27 yards, even though the Lions targeted him nine times. Burleson led the Seahawks with seven catches for 75 yards in their 32-20 victory, and Schwartz saw what offensive coordinator Scott Linehan had seen for a long time. "All of a sudden I knew what Scott was talking about," Schwartz said. "You watch the way he gets open on every single play -- the suddenness that he plays with, his ability to play inside and outside, natural instincts for the game."
The morning of March 4, Schwartz watched every snap Burleson played to make sure the Lions wouldn't have buyer's remorse. Then he spoke to offensive coordinator Linehan. Schwartz already was headed to Nashville, Tenn., to woo defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch. He suggested Linehan go to Seattle to woo Burleson. So Linehan got on a plane. Linehan, Burleson and Burleson's dad, Alvin, went to dinner at Daniel's Broiler in downtown Seattle. Burleson was touched by the gesture. He ate a Caesar salad and some sea bass, then agreed to a five-year, $25 million deal that includes $11 million guaranteed. "I just skipped on desert," Burleson said. "The contract was dessert."
Cornerback Jonathan Wade doesn't want to be typecast as a backup and special teams player after signing a one-year deal with the Lions. He wants to compete for a starting job. "I am looking forward to proving I belong," Wade said. "It's been a quiet three years for me, and I want to do something about that." Wade, 25, was a third-round pick out of Tennessee in 2007. The Rams drafted him when their coach was Scott Linehan, now the Lions' offensive coordinator. He started the first four games. But then he was demoted to nickel back, and then he was benched. He was inactive for the first time in his career late in the season. Finally, the Rams declined to make him a qualifying offer as a restricted free agent, putting him on the open market. "It's not that they may have anything personal against me," Wade said. "But it was very obvious that I must not have been the type that they were wanting to build with."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "All due respect to Kid Rock ... Detroit has another American badass." -- Lions coach Jim Schwartz, introducing defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch.
The Lions' No. 1 need is talent. They have gone 2-30 over the past two seasons -- and 3-37 over the past 21/2 -- because of serious holes in their roster after years of mismanagement by former president Matt Millen.
Though the Lions feel they found a quarterback in Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft, they know they must build around him. They need weapons to complement wide receiver Calvin Johnson on offense, and they must shore up a defense that ranked last in the NFL each of the past three seasons.
1. Running back: Kevin Smith is recovering from a torn ACL and separated shoulder, and the Lions needed more explosiveness at the position even before he got hurt.
2. Defensive back: Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham likes to blitz, but the Lions couldn't cover behind it in 2009. Safety Louis Delmas, the first pick of the second round last year, is their only really promising DB.
3. Left guard: Coach Jim Schwartz has said the Lions must find a starter and solidify the position this off-season, after watching Daniel Loper and Manny Ramirez rotate from game to game and within games last season.