The Lions looked into trading for cornerback Antonio Cromartie, whom the Chargers eventually shipped to the Jets. They're looking into signing cornerback Adam (Pacman) Jones, an unrestricted free agent attempting a comeback, and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a restricted free agent from the Saints. All of those players have had off-field issues.
Coach Jim Schwartz pointed out that people mature and that Academy Awards have been won telling the stories of "somebody being high, going all the way down to the bottom and then getting back again." One example he cited was wide receiver Cris Carter, who had addiction problems early in his NFL career with the Eagles but overcame them with the Vikings. Carter has been a Hall of Fame finalist.
"Should you not have been interested in Cris Carter when he went to Minnesota?" Schwartz said. "Well, he proved that you should have been. There's been a million of them."
But the Lions have taken a practical approach in these situations, trying to weigh risk and reward.
"We haven't just taken a blanket, 'Hey, look, we're not messing with that at all,' or, 'We're ignoring that, and we're signing them strictly on football,' " Schwartz said. "There's obviously a balance to it."
Everyone has been involved, all the way up to owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman Bill Ford Jr. Mayhew said they definitely had talked to the Fords about Jones and his workout.
"Those are football decisions, and Jim and Martin are going to make them," Ford Jr. said. "I'm not going to comment, because it's all hypothetical now. I think you have to take it on a case by case."
Ford Jr. said Mayhew and Schwartz run all personnel decisions by ownership, as a courtesy. He said Mayhew, Schwartz and Sheldon White, the vice president of pro personnel, "will know those people and their character far better than I will."
Mayhew said the Lions have unusual insight into Jones and Hargrove. Schwartz was the Titans' defensive coordinator when Jones played for them in 2005-06. One of Mayhew's old teammates is former NFL star cornerback Deion Sanders, who has been working with Jones. Mayhew is also friends with Hargrove's agent, Phil Williams, who once represented him.
"In both those guys' case, we have a little bit of history with both those guys," Mayhew said. "So we have a little bit more information I think than some other people might have."
Mayhew said he would not be rushed into anything. Despite a report at profootballtalk.com that the Lions had agreed to terms with Jones, the Lions are taking their time.
"It was like, 'Huh?' " said Ray Savage, Jones' agent. "We have a couple trips scheduled to a couple teams. I talked to Martin, and I talked to the Detroit Lions, and there is interest. They're kind of dragging their feet a little bit. I'm trying to get them a little bit more information so they can make this thing happen. But we've not talked numbers or anything yet."
Knowledge goes both ways. Though Schwartz has firsthand knowledge of the talent that made Jones the No. 6 overall pick in '05, he also knows about Jones' off-field problems. Jones was suspended for the 2007 season and part of the '08 season. He did not play in '09.
"There's something to be said for 'clean slate,' but he obviously doesn't have one, you know?" Schwartz said. "He's at a little different point in his career (with) everything that's gone on. There's going to be more scrutiny with him. I mean, if he gets a parking ticket, it's going to be news. And he needs to understand that, and I'm sure he does. And the team needs to understand that.
"Clean slate sounds good and probably should be the case, but he's probably not in that category."
The Lions are strongly considering trading for Seahawks left guard Rob Sims, according to NFL Network. General manager Martin Mayhew declined to comment at the NFL annual meeting on potential interest in Sims, but it would make sense. Coach Jim Schwartz has said the Lions need to find a starter at left guard and solidify the position this off-season. The Lions brought in the Texans' Chester Pitts for a visit but did not sign him.
"I think we're still shopping in that market, and we're still looking," Mayhew said at the league meetings. "It's another position, kind of like running back, we're looking at what's available out there, and we have several opportunities to improve - draft, trade and that kind of thing. Late in free agency, there may be some guys out there."
Mayhew has a history of acquiring Seahawks via trade and free agency. Sims has been a starter for the Seahawks and fits the Lions' profile in terms of age (26) and size (6-foot-3, 312 pounds). To acquire Sims, the Lions would have to sign him to an offer sheet the Seahawks wouldn't match and give up a fourth-round pick. They also could swing a trade. Sims is being held out of off-season workouts in anticipation of a deal.
Don't get him wrong. Mayhew has been extremely active since taking over in September 2008, but only out of necessity.
"Ideally," Mayhew said, "we'll be good enough where we'll just draft. We'll make an occasional acquisition by trade or whatever, an occasional waiver claim. But in an ideal world, we'll be good enough to where we'll draft, and those sixth-, seventh-rounds guys will have a hard time making our team. That's what we're trying to get to. So this isn't ... The way we're doing things this year and last year in terms of waiver claims and stuff like that, that's not how I see this thing going or how I want it to be over the long term."
Mayhew he hopes the Lions won't have to show up on anyone's doorstep with bottles of wine and millions of dollars in the future, as they did with free agent Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson this year.
"I think we'll be less active in free agency, especially won't be doing deals at midnight," Mayhew said. "We'll be awake, but we won't be doing any deals. I think we want to get to the point where we feel good enough about our talent and good enough about our football team where we don't have to be taking as much risk."
Scouting The Draft ...
With the NFL draft less than a month away, the Lions have started putting up their board this week. First, Mayhew goes over the bottom of the board with the personnel and scouting departments. Then coaches join them, and they go from the top down, position by position, defense first. Some teams set their board before the combine, then adjust it as the draft approaches. The Lions are among those who like to wait.
"We set it later, because there's always new information coming in, and we can make that adjustment at the end," Mayhew said. "And once the board is up, the board is up."
Shortly before the draft April 22-24, the brass will mock draft.
"All our scouts and personnel department, we'll go through and talk about each team's needs, and we'll do that several times a couple days leading up to the draft," Mayhew said. "We'll at least go through our second-round pick, and then we'll come back the next day prior to the draft and do it again as more information comes in."
How good were the Lions last year? "Pretty good last year," Mayhew said.
Who surprised them?
"A couple guys fell further than we thought they would fall," Mayhew said, "but we were pretty on-target in terms of our guys that we got."
More Draft ...
- Kentucky fullback John Conner visited the Lions. Nicknamed "Terminator" by teammates, the 5-11, 240-pounder is considered a good lead blocker and special teams player. He is projected to be a mid- to late-round pick.
- Cornerback Dante Wesley visited the Lions. Wesley, 30, played for the Panthers under the Lions' new special teams coordinator, Danny Crossman.