SZILAGY: Lions Free Agent Signings a Team Effort

by Ben Szilagy (@BenSzilagy)

Early Tuesday afternoon ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the Lions looked at the free agency pool, and made a “big” splash.

The question is do the Lions sink or swim after their cannonball?

While the answer to that question won’t be answered anytime soon, the direction of the Lions is clear: They want to win now.

The free agency period started off with anything less than a bang as the Lions tendered DE Willey Young, extended LB DeAndre Levy, OL Jason Fox who will battle for the right tackle spot with Corey Hilliard, S Amari Spievey signed a one-year deal prior to the start of free agency, as did special teams ace Kassim Osgood who will replace Stefan Logan in the same role.

The moves were basically moves to keep depth, and we’re meant to really wow anybody. That’s what Tuesday was for anyway.

The biggest surprise came when current Lion and NFL bad boy Ndamukong Suh restructured his current contract to make room for what would be two really key gets later on in the day.

While the details weren’t exactly clear, it was reported by both MLive.com writer Justin Rogers and Lions reporter Mike O’Hara that the move would free up more than $7 million. The move clearly indicates that Suh could renegotiate his contract to remain a Lion when his rookie deal is done.

“He’s open to that,” Suh’s agent Rosey Barnes said Wednesday. “He likes it in Detroit. He wants to be the one to help bring a Super Bowl to Detroit. He wants to be here when they win the Super Bowl.”

This coming from the same player who created a holdout after the Lions picked him at number two overall because he felt he was better than St. Louis Ram Sam Bradford. But, that appears to be water under the bridge.

The Lions than used to the money to secure CB Chris Houston to a five year $25 million dollar deal ($9.5 million guaranteed). The move made sense not only because the Lions need help in the secondary, but because Houston was the Lions best player in the back seven.

The past two seasons Houston and had a team-high 11 passes defended in 2012. He also tied for team-highs with two interceptions and two forced fumbles. This was really a no brainer.

The next signing was “It almost seemed too perfect” on depending on whom you ask. I, for one, have been adamant that Reggie Bush and the Lions would be a bad fit on the basis of the money the former Heisman Trophy would demand. Instead the Lions and the former Dolphin agreed to a four-year $16 million (four million guaranteed) deal.

It’s clear the Lions needed a guy to replace Jahvid Best who has been plagued with concussions. The plan is to use Bush as the Saints did when he was in New Orleans, and possibly give him the starting job over current starter Mikel Leshoure.

“It’s like I got drafted all over again,” Bush said. “I’m excited to be here. I’m excited to get this thing on the road and get to work because I think it’s going to be a good thing, and I look forward to winning a lot of football games here.”

He then continued to say the right things when asked about his workload with the team.

“I’ve done three to four carries a game, I’ve done 20, 25 carries a game,” Bush said. “I’m comfortable when we win.

“That’s what I’m most comfortable with and that’s what I’m here for to help this team. Not so much worried about my personal stats. I think I’m at the point in my career now where winning is the most important thing to me, and I felt the same with the coaches and the players here, too.”

The Lions needed an explosive back because Leshoure and current third down back Joique Bell lacked the ability to break away from defenders. Last season the Lions had four runs of 20-plus yards, none by Leshoure. Bush had six in Miami.

The final big moves of the day came when the Lions signed both S Glover Quin and DE Jason Jones.

The ball hawking safety finished the last season with 84 tackles, 14 passes defended, two interceptions and two forced fumbles. His cover skills are considered his best attribute because he was a corner his first two years in the league.

“They want to be a winner,” Quin said. “Obviously last season wasn’t what they wanted after going to the playoffs, so they want to win. The teams that want to win, they do things to win.

“They’ve brought in guys that are proven and guys that can help. So, our job is to come in and fit in with the team and do our job to contribute and try to get us over the hump.”

He signed a five-year deal, and will probably replace oft-injured Louis Delmas who is shopping himself around the league currently. Quin is durable and has only missed one game his entire NFL career.

The final addition is a homegrown kid in Jones who played at Southfield-Lathrup and played at Eastern Michigan. He even played under head coach Jim Schwartz when he was the defensive coordinator in Tennessee.

“You’ve got Schwartz here who was my defensive coordinator when I got drafted in Tennessee,” he said. “You’ve got (defensive assistant) Jim Washburn who took me as a young pup and taught me a lot about this game and how to pass rush and how to play it. And you’ve got (secondary coach) Marcus Robertson who I’m familiar with, too.

“Just having that familiarity here and then going home, it was a no-brainer for me.”

The move does pose one question: How good is he at defensive end? That question remains to be seen. When the former Seahawk was in Seattle, he played defensive tackle.

For now at least he will provide the Lions with versatility. Jones is listed at 6-foot-5, 272 pounds, and is big enough to line up as a defensive tackle, incase he is needed to fill in elsewhere. The plan for now is for Jones to play defensive end.

Last year he had 10 combined tackles and three sacks at defensive tackle. For his career he has 122 tackles, seven forced fumbles, and 18.5 sacks.

The next blog will provide a look at where former Lions ended up. Stay tuned!

SZILAGY: Gay Athlete Needs to Be a Non-Issue for NFL

by Ben Szilagy (@BenSzilagy)

The alarm goes off on the bedside table, waking you up for the biggest day of your life. Months, and years have prepared you for this moment, as you slip on workout clothes that were a gift for making it this far.

After giving yourself a good once over in the mirror you head out of your hotel room, and begin to walk to the lobby where a throng of people wait for you. When the doors open, you meet your agent who has been on the phone for the past hour talking you up to whomever will listen.

“Hey, my star just entered the lobby. I’ll call you back,” he says as he hugs you. “You ready to be a first rounder?” You tell him of course let’s make this happen as you leave to meet potential employers.

As you enter what is normally a hotel room for a family of four, to a man sitting behind a desk. He’s happy to meet you, and offers you a seat across the table where the headboards of the beds remain, but the mattresses absent.

The meeting starts off smoothly until he asks “are you gay?” except in many more words and questions that beat around the topic instead of the one he wants to ask but cant. Instead you hear “are you dating someone? Are you Single? Married? Are you planning on moving to my city with your girlfriend?”

What was just laid out before you actually happened at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis which was reported by ProFootballTalk.com Editor Mike Florio, and many players from Denard Robinson to Colorado tight end Nick Kasa.

NFL executives aren’t idiots. They know they’re playing with fire when it comes to labor laws that prohibit such questions during a formal job interview. But as Mike Florio said on the Dan Patrick show earlier this week, there is an “elephant in the room.”

“Here’s the elephant in the room for the teams and it shouldn’t matter,” Florio said. “But we have to step aside from the rest of reality and walk into the unique industry that is the NFL. Teams want to know whether Manti Te’o is gay. They just want to know. They want to know because in an NFL locker room, it’s a different world. It shouldn’t be that way.”

This stems from Teo’s interview with Katie Couric after news broke earlier in the year that Te’o girlfriend did not actually exist, and was a hoax. Since, many people have questioned his sexuality. In his interview with Katie Couric, the host asked him directly is he is gay. “No, far from it. Farrrr from it,” Te’o answered.

Minnesota Viking punter and activist for gay rights Chris Kluwe has squashed rumors that the NFL locker room is a different world. He spoke in interviews and said that there is as small amount homophobia, but there aren’t extremes. Extremes like a hatred for gay players that would make straight players “foam at the mouth” or anything like that.  He along with national columnist Jason Whitlock have said the NFL needs to look into these matters and do something about it. “They should make it clear that teams should not ask [this],” Kluwe said in an interview on Friday.

The long and short of the matter is pretty simple: why does it matter? The answer should be, it doesn’t.  The fact NFL teams are asking questions on the matter are ludicrous, rude and downright ignorant. What should matter most to NFL teams is simple: how do you play on the field.

By sheer percentages alone there have already been gays in the NFL who have gone onto successful careers. There are no two ways around it. It’s happened. But the fact we’re talking about it isn’t progress. It should be a non-issue.

David Kopay, a running back with various NFL teams, including the Detroit Lions in 1968, retired from the game in after eight years in the league. After he retired from the NFL, he was considered a top contender for coaching positions, but he believes he was snubbed by both professional and college teams because of his sexual orientation. He openly admitted he was gay in 1975. He is also a board member of the Gay and Lesbian Athletics Foundation.

Gay rights are the new placeholder of civil rights in our country, just as in the 1960s when African-Americans were hazed and harassed for their skin color. For whatever reason, gays are not allowed to get married and receive the same tax benefits as married couples. Just because of who you decide to fall in love with should not matter.

Why am I different than a man or woman who wish to have a house, and family that doesn’t need to hide who they behind closed doors? The answer is I’m not. My physical abilities and civic rights should be examined the same way as a person who isn’t straight.

The worst part is, unlike when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in major league baseball, the gay barrier has been broken, but in total silence. Unless a person is a star player, much like Robinson was, they are easily replaceable in the NFL or any league for that matter. The fact their popularity is their only saving grace is laughable.

I’ll close with this. Should NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell intervene? Yes, but it has to be done the right way. NFL teams shouldn’t be banned from asking these questions to prospects, but the questions must be of acceptance and peace. Goodell needs to work with the league to make sure this truly is a non-issue.

What should alarm people are a person’s actions on and off the field. Not who they decided to have a relationship with; and it has to happen quickly, before it gets really out of hand.

SZILAGY: Lions/NFL, Who’s In, Who’s Out and Who Will Get Paid Too Much?

Ben Szilagy (@BenSzilagy)

Well, that was short lived.

After the Detroit Lions released wide-receiver Titus Young earlier in the month, his stay in St. Louis lasted only ten days before the Rams decided that he too wasn’t the best fit for them.

“We felt like we had a good, young group and felt Titus was perhaps better suited for another organization,” St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said During a regularly scheduled press conference on Friday.

What led to the early dismissal is yet to be known exactly. However, Fisher did explain why they picked up the troubled receiver as quickly as they did.

“We saw Titus as an outstanding young player,” Fisher said. “The things that took place in Detroit were well-documented, from a media standpoint. We did not do any background research as far as contacting anybody at Detroit.

“We’re all about trying to improve this roster. We felt like by claiming Titus, we felt we’d have an opportunity to spend a good deal of time with him.”

No background check? So what did the Rams do exactly?

The Rams brought Young in to their team facilities and conducted interviews and physicals over the course of five days. After completing the evaluation process, the team decided the troubled receiver wasn’t a good fit for their organization.

I will not say that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, but that is clearly what St. Louis was thinking. And, you can’t really blame them in the long run. There was virtually little risk adding depth to their wide-receiving corps, and to adding another weapon to Sam Bradford’s arsenal.

However, Fisher’s first quote is telling. The Rams clearly believed that Young didn’t have the Midas touch with a young group. It is troubling though, when Young couldn’t gel with former Boise St. teammate Austin Pettis.

The most experienced receiver St. Louis has is former USC Trojan and New York Giant Steve Smith who has been in the league for six years only making little impact in that time. The other receiver of note is Danny Amendola, while the rest are just as finding their groove.

Fisher thought Young would add explosion and could have easily slid into third or better on his depth chart, but ten days proved too much to handle.

Titus Young’s second chance is over, and he’s hoping that the third time will be the charm.

Kick me, I must be dreaming

Earlier today Jason Hanson told reporters that he is undecided if he’d return for another season in  2013.

Hanson, 42, is still an affective and valuable piece for the Lions converting 32 of 36 field goal attempts.

According to MLive, Hanson wants to returns only if he’s 100 percent committed, and physically capable.

“I don’t want to fade away,” Hanson told MLive.com at the end of the season. “I might, but as long as I feel like I’m ready to try to be the best and come back and be as good as ever, then I’m in.”

Hanson had a $2.55 million base salary in 2012, the final year of a four-year deal, but he’s not opposed to playing on a one-year deal for less money. The veteran’s minimum for a player with more than 10 accrued seasons is $940,000.

Fans can agree with head coach Jim Schwartz, and General Martin Meyhew that the team would gladly have Hanson back in a Lions uniform next season. If not the Lions will search for a replacement in free-agency or the draft.

Free-agents Dwight Freeney and Austin Collie were released from the Indianapolis Colts on Friday.

Many fans have expressed interest in signing both to help fill the holes at defensive end and wide-receiver. One is more plausible than the other.

The Lions have had their fair share with head issues, lately. Both with Titus Young, and Jahvid Best.

It’s no secret that Collie has had trouble staying healthy after helping the Colts slot receiver during his first two seasons. Collie wound up on season-ending injured reserve in September with a ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee. And there was even more concern over a series of concussions that ended his 2011 season and plagued the early part of the 2012 season.

The more intriguing of the two is Freeney, who did his best work in a 4-3 scheme. The same scheme the Lions use under current defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham. Freeney’s numbers have declined the past three seasons as he’s starting to show signs of aging at the age of 33.

For the right price, Freeney would be a nice addition for a year or two. He’s coming off a very back loaded six-year deal worth $72 million. How much he’ll command isn’t for certain, but it will be a pretty penny. I’ll guess similar to Bush’s contract of about $6 million a year if not a little more expensive than that.

While his numbers have tailed off a bit, recording 12 tackles, one forced fumble, and five sacks in 2012 as compared to 25 tackles, 10 sacks and five forced fumbles in 2010. The good news is that Freeney could have a resurgence with guys like Ndominkan Suh eating up an extra defender. But the bad news, the Lions will probably over-pay to get him in Detroit.

SZILAGY: Free Agency, NFL Draft Leave Lions with Big Decisions

Ben Szilagy (@BenSzilagy)

NFL free-agency is always a grab bag of names, fan’s dreams, and players and moves that just simply don’t make any sense unless you’re playing a franchise mode in Madden.

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard one name that fits the description of all three. Reggie Bush and the Detroit Lions.

The unrestricted free agent who had a resurgence in South Beach after playing in New Orleans for five years, reached out to The Palm Beach Post via a source. The source said that Bush still badly wants to return to Miami, and his camp is confused as to why the Dolphins haven’t even made an offer yet.

By June Rivera (Flickr: Dolphins vs. Raiders) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By June Rivera (Flickr: Dolphins vs. Raiders) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

While in Miami, Bush averaged 4.7 yards per carry, 66.8 rushing yards per game and 2.5 catches a game for 2,072 yards and 12 touchdowns and caught 78 passes for 588 yards and three scores the past two seasons. Building upon his average of four yards a carry, 34.8 rushing yards per game and 4.7 receptions per game with the Saints.

Lately, SI’s Peter King and the NFL Network’s Willie McGinest have said that Bush would be a “perfect fit” for the Lions replacing the void that Jahvid Best created when he suffered a concussion against the 49ers in 2011, and was unable to be cleared to play in 2012.

“Getting him the ball in space, the screens, the draws, I just think that Reggie could have a great, A GREAT, finishing career in Detroit,” McGinest said. “Bring him in, create those mismatches.”

Bush, like Best, is an explosive runner, and can be a threat catching passes out of the back field and can turn those flat and wheel routes into big gains.

While Bush seems like a good fit on paper, the contract he’d demand would prove otherwise. The Lions added about $8.5 million to its salary cap after cutting veterans right guard Stephen Peterman and defensive end and captain Kyle Vanden Bosch. The Lions are also hoping to restructure deals with current players like quarter back Mathew Stafford, and as reported recently, center Dominic Raiola to create more cap room.

While in Miami, Bush signed a two-year deal worth $9.75 million. If the Lions were to go in that direction it’d cost them roughly $5-6 million dollars to sign eating up almost all of its newly found cap space.

The Lions need upgrades in a lot of areas (like offensive line, its secondary, and defensive line) and has a list of over 20 players from last season that entered free agency alone. Putting all their eggs in one basket doesn’t make much sense especially when you consider the Lions will bring back some of those free agents on its roster.

This is where the draft, and value comes into play. Value like Notre Dame running back Cierre Wood.

The 6-foot 215-pound redshirt junior is projected as 199th overall (17th at his position) player in this year’s draft.

According to draft reports, Wood is a naturally elusive runner with the burst to and through the hole, plus lateral agility to make defenders miss. These traits, along with good vision, speed and size make him an intriguing NFL prospect with enough upside to warrant middle-round consideration.

The reports went on to add that he doesn’t run as powerfully as his size would indicate and remains a bit rough around the edges as a pass blocker, however, which is why he’s projected as a sixth round pick.

While at Notre Dame Wood averaged 6.7 yards per carry for the Irish in 2012, finishing second to Riddick (880 yards) with 740 rushing yards and four touchdowns despite starting just four of the 10 games he played. In 2011, Wood rushed for 1,102 yards for nine touchdowns, and caught 27 passes for 189 yards.

Riddick is projected as a mid fifth round pick, according to NFLDraftScout.com

There is a small question of character when Wood is mentioned, However. He was suspended by head coach Brian Kelly for the first two games of the season for an undisclosed violation of team rules.

The NFL’s free-agency period begins March 12, and while Lions General Manager Martin Meyhew has a plan of being a player in free-agency to bolster the his team it’s just unclear how he plans on accomplishing the task.

Whether going after Bush is the route the Lions wish to go remains to be seen. But this much is for certain, Bush and the Lions just doesn’t make much sense, and there are other viable ways to compliment Mikel Leshoure.

CASTILLO: Titus Young, Big Mouth or Easy Out?

Roger Castillo (@rogmartin81)

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

One catch for 24 yards.

Four catches for 35 yards.

Two catches for 20 yards.

 Nine catches for 100 yards for 2 touchdowns.

What are these stats? The last four games for Titus Young, Sr. in 2012.

So why do I bring up his stat line? Well, there’s a good reason why.

Young on Twitter this week has this gem: @TitusDYoungSr: “Never needed the money Give me a dollar and a ball bet I come back #HallofFame”

Wow, okay what else do you have Titus?

“Oh I’m not done, if y’all going to cut me let me go. I’m tired of the threats.”

Look Lions fans, I know you’re saying get rid of him. He is a bust. He lined up wrong against the Packers to spite whomever. He fought with Louis Delmas. He has not produced up against one of the best receivers the NFL has ever seen. He has been just a distraction.

Well, I present an interesting case-study. Titus Young fits the prima-donna for a wide receiver that has existed the past ten years or so. Chad Ochocinco (or Johnson, I can’t remember anymore…) and Terrell Owens are examples of this.

If the Lions saw this coming, why isn’t there someone in the locker room to tell him to just shut his month? What he is saying on Twitter is just stupid and clearly is seeking attention but the Lions don’t have the locker room or winning culture to harness a guy like this.

It starts there.

If the Lions had a locker room like the 49ers or the Ravens, they could have been taking a step forward towards respectability, but instead, the Lions have a GM who doesn’t speak to the media, a head coach who says everything is fine and coordinators who still have their jobs, yet, all their assistants got fired.

Titus Young may never make the Hall of Fame, but perhaps he just knows that as a Lion, he doesn’t have a chance at all.