Sunday, April 30, 2017

The not so amazing Detroit Lions

Well OK, the annual NFL is finally, mercifully, drawing to a close. Like every other year for the last half century or so, the Detroit Lions claim to have "made a killing". They got just the players they wanted, at just the positions they were most needed at. Sound familiar?

Their first two picks were a linebacker and a cornerback, both from the Univ. of Florida. Names aren't important at this point. Can these guys jump in and play right away? Maybe. Will they be stars someday? Maybe as well. Could either or both turn out to be busts? Entirely possible. Lots of Lions high draft picks over the years quickly faded into oblivion. The list is as long or longer than their playoff winning dearth.

Linebacker and corner were definitely two positions in need for the Lions. Of their existing linebacker corps, it's questionable whether any of them could start on any other NFL team, and also questionable if a few of them could make a roster elsewhere. They had one passable corner and the rest were/are a pretty much Keystone Koppish bunch. Let's just say these weren't exactly positions of strength for the Lions. Then again, what position is other than having a half way decent quarterback?

Still no feature running back. Tight ends that can't seem to catch. Like Abbott and Costello's classic "Who's on first" routine, nobody knows who's what and where on the offensive line. The D line is no better. They have -- maybe -- one decent pass rusher, who struggles to stay healthy, and a bunch of other guys nobody ever heard of.

With the early retirement of Calvin Johnson, Detroit has little in the way of "dangerous" wide receivers.

In short, the Lions have needs at just about every position. This is some kind of mess they've gotten themselves into over the years, and there's not enough draft picks, even successful ones, to fix it in a year or two. Let's not forget that not long ago, they had the dubious wisdom to use their first round pick on an offensive tackle -- which they knew going in couldn't even start. How incredibly boneheaded was that? Everybody else was grabbing difference makers and the Lions took a behemoth only to sit him on the bench?  Is it any wonder they have floundered for so long?

Quarterback Matthew Stafford will soon have a decision to make. This coming season is the last year on his existing contract. While the Honolulu blue and silver faithful hope, pray, and perhaps even assume that Stafford will re-up long term with the club -- and he well might -- there's an entirely different way of looking at it as well.

True, Stafford is hyped to the max in Detroit as the greatest thing since maybe Barry Sanders or Stroh's ice cream, but in the whole NFL scheme of things, he typically grades out a little above average. Out of 32 teams, most "experts" peg him somewhere between 12 and 15. There are others around the league much better, but also others much worse.

Thing is, Stafford will have spent an entire decade with the Lions and has absolutely nothing to show for it. Not even a single playoff victory to date, much less getting within a light year or three of the Super Bowl. And that's simply not going to happen in Detroit any year soon. They have WAY too many deficiencies on their roster to compete with the existing elite teams, plus those that are young and coming on.

So the thought here is Stafford would be wise to consider the open market when it becomes available after one more season with the puddy-tats.

There are several teams around the league that would covet his services, even with the deficiencies he brings as well. Strong arm? Definitely. Accurate? Mostly. Good decision maker that can quickly process his options and do the right thing under pressure? More so than not. Fleet of foot? No way. Susceptible to injury? Used to be, but he seems to have outgrown his one-time China doll reputation. Like a Timex watch, he's been taking his lickings and kept on ticking of late.

He's also at the peak of his career. Given his age, not yet 30, but getting close, Stafford would seem to have the optimum blend of experience and physical ability.

So put yourself in his shoes. He grew up in the Dallas area. Played college ball at Georgia. It's not like he's a home-town boy by any stretch of the imagination. Stafford's already banked enough money from the Lions to last him ten lifetimes. His kids and grandkids are set as well. Sure, the Lions could and would be able to pay him more in the future. But does it really make any difference at this point whether he makes 15 million or 20 million a year?

And there's the crux of the matter. If Matthew Stafford ever wants a legitimate shot at being a champion, it's not going to happen in Detroit. If they ever put this team together enough to be competitive, don't hold your breath, it will likely be long after Stafford's best days are far in the rear view mirror.

While winning a playoff game or two in Detroit seems to be their idea of success, there are others around the league that would scoff at such low standards. And a few of them could likely fit Matthew Stafford in quite nicely at the quarterback position.

So unless dear Matthew has succumbed to the lowly expectations of the Lions, he'd be nuts not to consider all the other options that will likely pour in after one more year of service at what has long been an exercise in futility.

Want a ring, or at least a chance at one? Gotta go somewhere else, maybe even take less dough.

On top of that, his Hall of Fame chances right now aren't looking good. He needs to break out of the doldrums the Lions have a way of saddling their players with. Their last inductee was Barry Sanders, who also got tired of their losing ways, took an early retirement, and has been gone for approaching 20 years. Since then, they haven't won a SINGLE playoff game.

Barry didn't have the option that will soon present itself to Stafford. The Lions owned the rights to Sanders' elusive butt. Play for them or don't play at all. He left $8 million dollars on the table, even bigger money back in those days, plus likely the all-time NFL career rushing record. Had Barry played out the string with even the sad sack Lions, he likely would have set the mark so high it would NEVER be approached again. But he had enough pride, and sense, to walk away from a team that had no upside, while he was still healthy.

Here's hoping Matthew Stafford considers his options as well. No, he likely won't retire, but greener pastures await him if he opens up his mind to consider them.

He's given Detroit enough. A full decade of being the best QB they've had in some time. Maybe ever. But nothing to show for it, except a pile of dough. Everybody gets that these days.

So in conjunction with my last post, throw in the Detroit Lions with the bottom feeding Pistons and Red Wings, mix well with a Tiger team that is surely headed south in the future, and what do you have?

Answer. No matter how you slice and dice it, Detroit is quickly becoming quite the sad sack city when it comes to professional sports across the board.

The fans can root, root, root, and keep buying expensive tickets, $8 draft beers worth maybe a quarter wholesale, $6 leathery hot dogs, and whatever that glop is that passes for nacho cheese, along with the team paraphernalia. And their local media can keep peddling the snake oil they do every year to the suckers -- but in the end there's no escaping the reality of it.

It just is what it is.

And it ain't pretty......

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