Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Offseason Round-Up

We're less than two months away from opening kickoff for the 2012 NFL season. This means two things: 1) My football dreams are in full swing and 2) I can no longer avoid the offseason. It's been a tumultuous offseason, and as hard as I tried to bury my head in the sand, I couldn't escape the storm cloud hanging over Allen Park. So here it is: my one and only post addressing everything that "happened" this offseason.

The Draft Happened
I wrote briefly on how I suffered a momentary lapse of emotional control and actually got excited for the draft. But I never really explained my thoughts on the choices the Lions made. Many trashed the Lions for failing to address their most pressing needs. I disagree. The Lions drafted what they needed most: depth. Many of the Lions' shortcoming last year can be traced back to a lack of depth.

Considering they a lost the very-underrated Bobby Carpenter to free agency, the addition of Ronnel Lewis and Tahir Whitehead should give the Lions some much-needed depth at the linebacker position. The outlook for the 2012 season is a little shaky with the Lions' backups having almost zero experience (Ashlee Palmer and Doug Hogue being the most experienced with a combined seven total starts). However, the Lions were able to retain Stephen Tulloch, who was an absolute beast last year. Linebacker was a very overlooked need for the Lions, and they picked up three guys who will no doubt be a part of the Lions future and could even potentially offer some relief this season.

As for the secondary, the Lions addressed that need by grabbing Dwight "Bill" Bentley in the third round. Janoris Jenkins was the popular secondary fix among Lions fans when he was still available at the bottom of the first round, but the Lions, and may other teams, didn't believe in the hype and Jenkins fell out of the first round completely. He was eventually snatched up by the Rams early in the second day. Bentley isn't going to be the shutdown corner Lions fans were praying for, but he provides a good amount of speed and coverage skills that the Lions were lacking since the Bucs signed Eric Wright to THE WORST CONTRACT EVER (not an exaggeration? Kalimba Edwards, anyone?). The biggest knock on Bentley is his lack of physicality, which is a bit concerning. However, I'm not going to bury a guy I've never seen play live. Not a very sexy pick, but let's play the wait-and-see game for once.

In addition to Bentley, the Lions also added much needed depth with the selection of Chris Greenwood in the fifth. Greenwood is a division III player who probably won't see the field for awhile. The general consensus among scouts is his measureables are good, but his talent is raw. In other words, get ready for another developmental project a la Sammie Lee Hill.

That leaves us with the Lions' first two selections: tackle Riley Reiff and wide receiver Ryan Broyles. Reiff projects to be, at the very least, a starting right tackle. However, common belief is that Reiff will be nurtured as Jeff Backus' eventual replacement. The Broyles selection, as well, seems to be aimed at replacing an aging player (Nate Burleson). But Broyles could provide an immediate impact, as long as his recovery from an ACL injury continues to progress.

The Lions draft strategy is fairly clear: draft for the future, not necessarily the present. There's a very good chance that none of the players drafted this year make the field in week one. And while I understand this can be frustrating for fans who are expecting the Lions to make a jump into the elite category this year, this is the correct move by the Lions front office. When your team's wins can be counted on one hand, it's easy to add talent that can come in and immediately upgrade your roster. However, when your team starts making the postseason, the primary goal shifts from immediate improvement to maintaining success.

The NFL is funny. A team that barely squeezes into the playoffs can go on a tear all the way to a Super Bowl title. Meanwhile, a team that dominated the entire regular season can get bounced in their first playoff game. For a team to be a Super Bowl contender, they don't have to have the indisputably best roster. They need a couple key pieces (a franchise QB, for one) and enough surrounding pieces to make them competitive against the elite. The rest is up to fate, probability and luck. The Lions proved last year they can compete with nearly any team in the league and with a very similar roster for the 2012 season, there's no reason to think they can't do the same this year. But with some key players drawing near the end of their careers, the Lions staff needs to consider moves that will keep the Lions above the threshold of competitiveness for the future. And that's exactly what they did.

Undrafted Free Agency Happened.
The Lions signed some guys who weren't drafted, with Kellen Moore headlining the group. I will address these players as soon as they make the 53-man roster (which is likely never for 95% of them). Moving on.

OTAs and Minicamp Happened
Some players looked good. While others...also looked good. None of this constitutes as news and absolutely nothing should be inferred from the players' performances here.

Thuggery Happened
Light poles were smashed. Weed was purchased, smoked, and eaten. Cars were drunk-driven. Teammates were sucker-punched. But perhaps the most heinous (and overlooked) act was Ndamukong Suh's appearance on reality TVs latest atrocity: "The Choice." I have to imagine given Suh's past, a huge fine and long suspension is forthcoming. In most of these offseason incidents, no one was hurt, but Suh's reckless behavior caused the tens--maybe even hundred--of people watching to seek medical attention for deyearrhea (diarrhea of the eyes). Fellow Detroit Lions writer, Justin Rogers was one victim of Suh's senseless actions. Please send your warmest regards to him and his family. Let's hope for a speedy recovery.

To be super serial for a second or two, it has been a terribly disappointing and frustrating offseason. As a fan, it's awfully hard to come to terms that the same people I idolize for five months of the year also are prone to making terrible, self-destructing choices. But my anger starts and ends with only the individuals involved. As he usually does, Ty from Lions in Winter nailed the situation perfectly:
The Lions’ arrests are individual incidents. Mikel Leshoure, with friends in southwest Michigan. Nick Fairley, back home in Alabama. Aaron Berry, after participating in Lesean McCoy's charity softball game. There’s absolutely no connection between any of these player’s bad decisions—except who signs their paychecks.
There's no reason to condemn the locker room, the other players, or the coaches. I'm sure all parties have done all they possibly could to prevent these things from happening (especially after the third, fourth and fifth instances), but in the end, it is the individual who throws the punch, slams his foot on the accelerator or takes the hit from his pipe. It just so happens that these individuals all play for the Lions.

This is where all my anger and vitriol for the offseason stems from. People are so bat-shit crazy for the NFL that anything and everything is turned into something significant for the upcoming season. One offseason incident turns into a few, then suddenly there's a "culture problem." And if there's a culture problem in the locker room (despite the fact that the players haven't been in a locker room together in 2 months), that must mean the entire team will play with the same immaturity and poor decision making. Therefore, the Lions suck again. It's a simple case of A + 3 = orange.

Cliff Avril Signing Did Not Happen
Despite my efforts to simply will a deal done with my incessant optimism, the Lions and Avril failed to reach a long-term agreement. This is disappointing, no doubt, but not devastating. Avril has already said that he will not sit out the 2012 season. While it would be nice to have the security of having Avril around for years to come, I'm not so sure he's worth what he thinks he is. He is definitely the best DE on the roster, but he's yet to prove himself worthy of an elite contract. Getting $10.6 million this season is probably overpaying him. Jared Allen current contract has him averaging $12.2 million a year, while Dwight Freeney is getting $12 million a year. Avril's one-year franchise deal would put him at the 8th highest paid DE (based a yearly average of current contracts). Avril (0.53 sacks per game) would be earning more than Elvis Dumervil (0.7 sack/game), Will Smith (0.5 sacks/game) and Trent Cole (0.63 sacks per game).

The biggest advantage Avril has over those players is his youth. At 26, Avril's best days are still ahead of him. Still, Dumervil is only 28 and is averaging 11 sacks a year for his last four seasons.* Avril deserves to get paid, but not the likes of Dumervil...yet**. Ideally, Avril proves his worth again this season, and the Lions pay the man in the 2013 offseason.

I thought the Lions' offer of $30 million over three years was more than fair, but Avril did not agree. That's fine. That's his prerogative and I have no problem when an athlete tries to get all the money he believes he's worth. He's taking a healthy risk here, but I'll give him credit for truly believing his worth and his willingness to prove it again this year. He's also been unbelievably classy during this emotionally-challenging time. Class act.

My biggest concern about this entire situation is where it puts the Lions in 2013. According to Pride Of Detroit: Corey Williams, Aaron Berry, Louis Delmas, Justin Durant, Sammie Hill, Chris Houston, Lawrence Jackson, Willie Young, DeAndre Levy and Jacob Lacey are all set to become free agents at the end of the season. I have to imagine Delmas, Houston, and Jackson are of the highest priorities, while players like Williams and Lacey are probably headed for other teams in 2013. It's a tough situation on the horizon, but it's all the more reason why the Lions drafted for the future.

Training Camp Will Happen Soon
Training camp starts in about a week and I'll go ahead and tell you what you're going to hear:

  • Reiff is pushing for Backus' and Cherilus' job (he won't have it by week one).
  • Avril sits out a week of camp, fans pissed. Week later: Avril signs his tender, fans move onto something else to complain about.
  • Mikel LeShoure is "running with a purpose."
  • Lions look focused and determined to put offseason woes behind them.
  • Stafford is still good.
  • Calvin is still good.
  • One run-of-the-mill training camp scuffle with make national news just because.
As a fan, there should be only one thing you are rooting for during training camp: no injuries. I will be in Israel during the first week in training camp, and while I'm not a religious person, I will not waste the opportunity of being at the world's epicenter of religion and pray to football Zeus that he spare our beloved Lions. 

*2010 excluded: Dumervil sat out entire year due to pectoral tear
**If you want to get technical, at 10.6 million, Avril's 2012 cap hit will actually be larger than Mario Williams' (9.8 million), which is kind of ridiculous.