Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Contrast in Maturity

The loss of Ndamukong Suh was a process with origins several seasons back, when the Lions first restructured his contract in 2012, but the nuts & bolts of the process began a year ago when the cat & mouse game of trying to get Suh to sign an extension began. Through the entire process, Suh did not distinguish himself well.

First of all, this is a business. It's also personal, but sometimes it's "just business". There is a weird mix of loyalty, brotherhood, and integrity, with cutthroat negotiating, using people as commodities, and lots and lots of lying. There were certain things Suh did & said during this process that, while not overtly slimey or reprehensible, were still less than what you would expect from a decent person.
  • Negotiations with Suh were tabled for months because he fired his agent and then dragged his feet in naming a new one - it was Mayhew said he believed Suh would sign with Roc Nation Sports in February, but actually signed with Creative Artists Agency in March and then officially signed with Roc Nation in September in conjunction with CAA.
  • He opted to not show up for the offseason workouts, working out at home in Portland instead. These are "optional" and his lack of participation was pooh-poohed by the coaches, but he was the only vet who didn't show up. Also, Suh had often expressed a desire to expand his leadership role, which he wasn't going to do by staying home.
  • During this period he tabled contract discussions multiple times.
  • Asked during the season what his plans were for free agency, Suh dodged the questions. One time he said, "My agent will decide where I play."
You get the idea. Nothing really terrible there, but at the same time he cops out of responsibility while using some underhanded moves to stall contract talks. I don't HATE him for that, or even really blame him, but it certainly made me like him less even before he signed with Miami.

In contrast, I give you Kris Bryant. Bryant killed it in the minors last year for the Cubs and is clearly ready to play with the big league club, but Chicago is planning on keeping him down there for the first 2 months of the season. This will give them an extra year of arbitration with him. I'm not really a fan of this move, but teams have been doing it for years and years. Anytime a top prospect is expected to make the jump to the bigs, I expect him to start the year in the minors and then get brought up.

Kris Bryant's agent is Scott Boras, probably the biggest name in the business. Boras has started a war of words vs. the Cubs organization, saying they don't care about winning if they don't bring Bryant up right now. When asked about this, Bryant could've copped out and taken the Ndamukong Suh route ("talk to my agent about contract stuff"), or he could do what he did (from the Buster Olney article):
But when reporters approached Bryant on Thursday, he did not play dumb, and he did not hide behind Boras. From Jesse Rogers' piece:
"Scott works for me," Bryant said Wednesday morning. "He does a great job. It's nice to have a bulldog working for you rather than a poodle. He definitely sticks up for his players and wants the best for them." 
And later in the piece:
Bryant says he's trying to limit the distractions and there's nothing he wants to do more than "bring a World Series to Chicago" but the issue of him making the team keeps coming up. With Boras' involvement, it's become a national story. Bryant doesn't seem to mind.
"He's the best that's ever been in this game," Bryant stated. "He's kind of polarizing. Some guys don't like him but as a player you have to love him. He's there fighting for you every day. He wants the best for you. It's not just for him. He's a great family man. I can call him at any time of the night and ask a question. He's there to answer it. That's the type of guy you want on your side."
Wow. Imagine if Suh had taken that angle instead of doing what he did. But then he would not be Suh. I never really LIKED Ndamukong Suh. I liked what he could do on the field. I marveled at it. But nothing ever attracted me to Suh the Person. I'm not going to lie and say I'm glad he's gone, but I'm not as disappointed as I'd be if he had half the integrity and leadership of Kris Bryant.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Game & a Race in Detroit

This weekend I participated in 2 different athletic events in Detroit this past weekend, my Saturday pickup game and on Sunday I ran the Cork Town 5K, and I experienced 2 VERY different aspects of living in (or around and sometimes in) Detroit. First, full disclosure: I am not from Detroit. I lived in the city for roughly 10 years, through college and then several years post-college, and then I moved out to Dearborn Heights when I got married. I grew to have a native-like comfortability & protectiveness of the city of Detroit, which still exists in me today. If you've lived in Detroit, you know what I'm talking about. People from Detroit or those who adopt it as their hometown tend to be sensitive to perceived slights against the city, and they (we) tend to downplay the dangerous or negative aspects of living here.

Case in point - this is the church I've been attending since I moved to Detroit in 2002. It's on the southwest side of town, over by Mexican town. It's not in a great area, having 2 junkyards and a large abandoned building as neighbors, but it's a good church and I like the fact that it's not insulated from what life in Detroit is really like. Anyway, this is where I play ball on Saturdays, when I can make it. There's a halfcourt on the second floor that has 2 rims, perfect size for playing 4 on 4. Most of the guys who play don't attend the church, but I like to think that where we play affects how we play.

This past Saturday we finished up and I was walking to my car when a red car drove by in reverse down the driveway in front of the church. This driveway connects to a back alleyway and another lot so it's rare to see another car use it. Plus, most of the guys who play park their cars along the driveway. At first I thought the red car had clipped one of the parked cars, but there was a guy running after it, yelling in English and Spanish. Another guy was following behind, yelling at the guy who was yelling at the car. What followed was one of the weirder things I've seen since I moved here.

The first guy, we'll call him Crazy Guy, was crazy. I have no idea what is problem was, but he was really upset about something and was ready to fight someone about it. First he climbed onto the hood of the red car, which was halfway pulled out onto the street. Then when the driver got out of the car, he climbed off and got in the kid's face. At this point there were about 5 other guys in the mix, all yelling mainly in Spanish. I'm fluent and the thing still made no sense. At that point I had crossed the street, started my car & had my phone out in case the fight escalated. No one could go anywhere because there was a car and people in the street. A city bus was trying to turn down the road running by the church but couldn't. There were probably 5 or 6 cars of guys I played ball with all waiting, plus the nearby intersection was all clogged up because the bus couldn't turn.

Finally the guys involved were able to separate Crazy Guy from the driver of the red car and he got out of there. The other guys then started to disperse, but Crazy Guy was still stalking around in the middle of the street, yelling at the guy who had already left. The bus tried to complete its turn and Crazy Guy walked up to it and kicked the front of the bus, still yelling and cussing. He finally got out of the way, and it sounded like he apologized to the driver, so I figured it was all over and started to head home. Unfortunately, Crazy Guy wasn't done being crazy and stood in front of one of the cars trying to leave the church. There were three or four guys in the car and they all got out. They weren't antagonistic, but they asked the guy to move. I think the fact that Bud was right there helped Crazy Guy decide that he was done trying to fight everybody (Bud is about 6'8" and looks how Greg Oden would look if he had braids). So Crazy Guy left and that was that.

Let me stress that while it was an intense situation, I never really felt in danger and I was basically sitting in my car holding my phone, waiting to see if I needed to intervene or back up one of my friends. This is where street smarts come into play. After having lived in Detroit for a number of years, I acquired enough of this brand of common sense to know how to act. The guys I play with are all from Detroit and they know how to divert a potential confrontation, so they were never in much real danger either. But someone from the suburbs without that street knowledge would've been in greater danger because he or she wouldn't know the right way to act, and the risk of saying something inflamatory is much higher with someone like that.

Enter situation #2. I ran in the Cork Town 5k on Sunday, about 13 hours after the incident in front of the church and roughly a mile away. The above pic is from the 2012 race (they had better weather), but you get the idea. Roughly 10,000 people run, many coming in from the Suburbs for the race and parade. The race started on Michigan Avenue in front of Roosevelt Park, hangs a right one block shy of Campus Martius, then looped back around to Michigan Ave and ended where it began.

The hour before the race started I was walking around Roosevelt Park, checking things out (the Beignets 2 Go truck was there!), stretching & warming up. While I was texting with various members of my family, I overheard something that got my hackles up a bit. A woman, speaking with her husband, said something like, "Well, you made it into Detroit this year. Want me to take a picture with you and the train station?" This may sound fairly innocuous to the uninitiated, but to most people on the urban side of Detroit's urban/suburban dynamic it speaks volumes.

The train station she was referring to is the abandoned Michigan Central Station, probably the most photographed location in Detroit over the Renaissance Center, the Spirit of Detroit statue, Joe Louis's fist, Belle Isle, and the Ambassador Bridge. The train station is a monument to urban decay, and the owner of the building - a billionaire named Matty Moroun, who seems to enjoy sticking it to the city of Detroit - has refused to maintain it, sell it, or tear it down. Moroun is a monument himself, to the slum lord-style of ownership that has led to so many vacant, ruinous buildings in the city. My feelings about the building are complicated. I can appreciate the beauty of a structure that was once magnificent and has since begun to crumble. At the same time, I feel sadness to see something that so clearly represents the lost greatness that was once Detroit, Paris of the West. And then I get pissed off because Matty Moroun has been rubbing this in the faces of the residents for decades.

When I heard that woman utter those two sentences, my brain started leaping to a whole load of conclusions:
Probably from the suburbs north of the city, maybe WAY north, like Rochester Hills or something.

Visits the city infrequently with a sense of fearful excitement, like braving a rollercoaster or bungee jumping.

Views Detroit in a condescending sort of way, like how a visitor from a 1st-world nation might critically view a 3rd-world nation. Likely there's a racially prejudiced aspect to this viewpoint. At the very least it's classist.
Whether fair or not, that's where my brain went. I overheard a couple of fairly harmless sentences and automatically assumed some level of bigotry and voyeuristic schadenfreude on the part of the speaker. These viewpoints I've heard a lot from the white, ex-Detroit suburbanite crowd, often accompanied by unvarnished racist comments (usually assuming that because I'm white, it's safe to say the N word in my presence).

I recognize that it's not exactly fair to the woman who spoke that I assumed all those things of her and her husband. But when I hear that type of comment, I start bracing myself to hear something ACTUALLY offensive instead of tangentially. I think, This may be a real thrill for you, but some of us actually LIVE here. I wonder if the speaker is even aware of his or her own responsibility for the current state of affairs. I wonder what they might have thought if they had been confronted with a situation like I was the evening before.


Fourty minutes later I ran my race. I finished much better than expected, with a time of 26:36 (8:34 pace). It was only my 2nd outdoor run since I ran the Lansing Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving. I got my medal, stretched and refueled, picked up an order of beignets and chicory coffee, and walked out to where my wife and daughter were waiting to pick me up.

Michigan Ave was all blocked up for the parade and from all the traffic, so I had to cross a pedestrian bridge over the Jeffries Freeway to get to where they had parked. That neighborhood isn't particularly good, with maybe 1 out of every 3 houses abandoned, burned-out hulls. As I was walking down the ramp from the bridge, two young guys from that neighborhood were heading up, probably to check out the parade. One of them noticed all my running gear (I was still wearing the medal, my race bib, tights, shorts, etc.) and cracked, "Man, my heart is already beating fast!" I laughed and nodded to him and his friend as we passed.

If I could put a challenge to the crowd who occasionally invade Detroit from the suburbs to marvel at the destruction and disfunction, keep in mind the people who have to live there. Try to have a real interaction with someone instead of gaping at the torn down buildings, like people on some kind of urban safari. Stop blaming the victim, and I'll stop assuming you come here to reestablish your sense of racial superiority.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Rhetoric of Tanking

On Monday I broached the idea that the Pistons need to (if they haven't already) embrace the idea of tanking. Technically they aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but with 18 games left - 10 of which are against teams that would make the playoffs if the season ended today - and 6 games behind the 8th seed, you can consider the Pistons officially out of playoff contention. Ok, hang on a minute while I pour one out for the Pistons season...

Ok, we're back. This is actually a bit late in coming, since the Pistons season really died when Brandon Jennings blew out his achilles tendon. This led to Stan Van Gundy working out the Reggie Jackson trade, which was a good trade to do because it helps the Pistons if Jennings can't go next year, but it broke up what little was left of what the Pistons had going on before the injury. The losing streak currently stands at 8 games, and will almost assuredly be extended with a road game at Portland Friday. The loss Tuesday night against the Lakers, one of the NBA's bottom 4 teams, was particularly indicative of where the team is at right now. Last night's game against Golden State (one of the top 2 teams in the league) was surprisingly competitive, but outside of maybe Andre Drummond, the rest of the team played like players who expected to lose.

Tom Gores came out in support of SVG and said, "Stan has a plan." Anyone who follows the NBA like I do can recognize the tanking rhetoric in the sentiment of "bear with us, we're building for the future." That's a paraphrase of what Gores said, but it should sound familiar. Especially if you're a Sixers fan.

The Sixers are in the middle of a multi-year tanking project that was recently reset when they traded away last year's Rookie of the Year essentially for a protected 1st round pick. Since Sam Hinkie took the GM job, the Sixers have embraced tanking like no team has done before. They draft players who are injured so they can sit them out a year. They take players they can stash overseas. And then if they can upgrade an asset for a pick, they'll trade away who they have for the promise of a pick to come. Based on what they've done so far, I don't think the Sixers are going to be good for several years. They might never become good under the current regime. This is not the kind of tanking I would advocate.

In theory you can see how it might work. Cut salary, stash your picks whenever possible, and collect 2 or 3 really high first-rounders to build your team around. I mean, it worked for Seattle/OKC, right? First, the Sonics/Thunder fell into a perfect storm. They had 2 good players surrounded by a terrible team. They didn't need to artificially tank by drafting injured players or guys overseas, they were just BAD. Then they absolutely NAILED their draft picks - Durant at #2 overall, Westbrook at #4 and Ibaka at #24 the following year, and then Harden at #3 the year after that. The Sonics/Thunder ended up with the best player in 3 straight drafts. That's unreal. Is it reasonable for the Sixers to expect a similar return on their picks? Durant has already won an MVP, and Harden & Westbrook are 2 of the 3 or 4 favorites this year, so, uh, NO. First, the Sixers only have 1 draft pick in that 1-4 range and he hasn't played yet. They're one of the 3 or 4 worst teams in the NBA this year so they have good odds at collecting a top 4 pick this year, but they'll have to do it again and really nail all three picks to come close to what OKC did. That's problem number one.

But say the Sixers get their 3 pieces to build around, although they probably won't be as good as the Durant-Westbrook-Harden triumverate were (which we all know got broken up and down-graded to be the Durant-Westbrook-Ibaka triumverate, still pretty good). This Philly team has been tanking for 2 years and will need to tank for at least 2 more years to acquire the players they need through the draft. The front office are creating a culture where losing is acceptable, and I believe this creates disfunction. When a player develops in the midst of a culture of losing, he develops bad habits that are not conducive to winning. I don't mean the player is trying to lose, but he learns to gun for his own stats, to not hustle all the time, and that defense isn't always important. Losing teams don't communicate well, they don't know their assignments on defense, and the players can become jaded and less coachable. This is problem number two.

How does this impact the Pistons? Well, they are currently mired in a 7 year losing streak and 6 straight years of missing the playoffs, but they haven't exactly been tanking. Never in that stretch of time did the Pistons draft higher than 7th (Greg Monroe in 2010), and they never shut down a semi-injured player (like Drummond and Monroe in 2013) to improve draft position. I don't support a multi-year tanking effort like the Sixers are doing, but I do support choosing your moment and tanking in 1 year and then rebuilding on the basis of that pick. Dumars never embraced tanking, so the Pistons have had to suffer through the losing without the benefits of getting a top draft pick.

This year, however, presents a perfect opportunity. Dumars is gone, so some level of tanking is in play. The Pistons have had both the experience of playing for something (they were in the hunt for the playoffs as recently as 2 weeks ago) and now the opportunity to tank for a top 5 pick. The Pistons currently hold the 7th seed in the draft lottery, but they could easily leap-frog Orlando, Denver and Sacramento to take the 5th spot. Since the Pistons are playing as bad as anyone right now, a move up 2 or 3 spots is even likely.

What Detroit needs to do is distinguish their methods from Philadelphia's. Tank the last 18 games of this season. Get your top draft pick. Use the cap space this offseason to sign a couple of players that are going to help you win games. Maybe sign & trade Greg Monroe. The goal next year has to be playoffs. This must be understood from the owner to the last guy on the bench. I think enough disfunction has already been created by losing for the last 8 years, and Greg Monroe is the collateral damage from that. Drummond is in danger of getting sucked into that morass of losing as well, so Van Gundy needs to right the ship next year.

Tanking is fine, as long as you don't make a habit of it.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Are the Lions moving to a hybrid defense?

The Lions made a big move to compensate for the loss of Ndamukong Suh to the Miami Dolphins - they traded their 4th & 5th round picks for Haloti Ngata and the Ravens' 7th round pick this year. Since Haloti Ngata is a traditional NT it begs the question, are the Lions converting to a 3-4 defense?

For the uninitiated, '3-4' refers to the defensive alignment - 3 defensive linemen and 4 linebackers. The Lions have been running a 4-3 defense (2 DTs, 2 DEs, 3 LBs) for a while now, and I believe it would take at least 2 years to fully make the shift. The #1 requirement is a big, space eating nose tackle. Well, Ngata is definitely that, but he's also 31 years old and probably has only a couple of years left before he retires. You also need your defensive ends to commit more to the run, which usually means they have to be bigger guys as well. You also need one or two REALLY good pass rushing OLBs (think Clay Matthews), which is the most important aspect of the 3-4 after the nose tackle, and the Lions don't have that guy on their roster.

Could the Lions run some type of hybrid 3-4, like what Oregon runs? Houston and San Francisco run hybrid versions of the 3-4, and Seattle runs a hybrid 4-3. What would this hybrid D look like? (WARNING: the following couple of paragraphs are about to degenerate into some football schematic geekery.)

The 3-4 Under/Over could look a lot like a 4-3 with a blitzing LB on the right as either your 6- or 7-technique guy (confused by all these reference to "techniques"?). Ziggy Ansah could play that 7-technique contain guy on the left, but it would mean he'd have pass coverage responsibilities at times as well. Ansah is a classic 4-3 edge rusher, and he's still actually learning the game. If they decide to switch up systems, they would be moving him from doing what he does best, and possibly stunting his development. The other problem is that no one on the team would fit the 6-tech role.

The Seahawks run a 4-3 under/over, which Pete Carroll describes as "a 4-3 defense with 3-4 personnel." Do the Lions have the personnel to run this? Ngata can play the 1-technique NT in his sleep, so no worries there. They still don't have a 3-technique DT, but they would have needed one of those anyway. Jason Jones is a classic 5-technique DE, so they have a guy but would need depth there. Ziggy Ansah would HAVE to be the LEO. I think either Tahir Whitehead or Kyle Van Noy would have to play the SAM backer, and this is the biggest stretch. Van Noy would be more comfortable with the responsibilities but he didn't look like a legit NFL player last year, whereas Whitehead played well but would basically be learning a new position. Tulloch and Levy would have no problems with their roles in this type of defense. This defense would require fewer personnel moves, but the Lions would definitely need a 3-tech DT, another 5-tech DE, and probably a legit SAM backer as well.

Another option is to keep the same defense they've been running and have Ngata play the role of Ndamukong Suh. Could he do that? He's a 3-4 NT switching to a 4-3 DT, he's 3 years older than Suh, and roughly 30 lbs heavier.

These highlights are from 2013, but you get the idea. Ngata is a bigtime run-stuffing dude. But I've seen him play all over the field. I've seen him slide outside and rush the passer as a 4-3 DT. I've seen him step off the line, basically playing middle linebacker, drop into coverage and get an interception! I have full confidence in his ability to absorb his new responsibilities. And here's another thing - these responsibilities are going to be pretty similar to what he was doing in Baltimore. The biggest difference between a 3-4 NT and a 4-3 DT is the NT is supposed to eat up a double team and attack 2 gaps at the same time. The 4-3 DT wants to attack 1 gap and not get double teamed. Well, Suh's job was to eat up double teams too. Haloti Ngata is not going to be Suh, and Mark Schlereth said exactly this on Mike&Mike this morning, but he's the best the Lions were going to be able to do. Let's play a little Best Case/Worst Case.

Best Case Scenario:
Haloti Ngata drops the 20-30 lbs he doesn't need because he isn't a NT anymore. This allows him to play faster while still preserving his power. He has a career year in sacks, the Lions' D doesn't miss a beat, and they sign him to a 2-year deal to end his career in Detroit.

Worst Case Scenario:
Age has caught up with Ngata, and he's a bad fit for the 4-3 scheme. He can still stuff the run with the best of them, but he is unable to make an impact in the passing game. With the Lions' interior line no longer eating up double-teams, their edge rushers are less impactful as well and the defense returns to mediocrity.

To be honest, that worst case scenario was a lot more likely before the Lions traded for Ngata. The names that were being bandied about - Knighton, Odrick, Dan Williams, Stephen Paea - were not going to be difference makers in the middle. Now Ngata isn't the same guy he was in 2010 when he was the best defensive tackle in football, but I think he has 2 or 3 good years left. If he drops some weight, which I think he should, he may have a couple REALLY good years left.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Lions are $crUHed, Pistons go in the tank

Ndamukong Suh is taking his talents to South Beach. It's not official yet, but the word is the Lions offered $102M over 6 years ($17M/yr) and that offer was torpedoed by the Dolphins' offer of 6 years, $114M ($19M/yr). That's just too much money for a team with as many holes as the Lions have (and the Dolphins, to tell the truth) to spend on one player, even one as good as Suh. The problem with this is the Lions created this situation, then appeared surprised when it blew up in their faces.

A particularly painful aspect of the loss of Suh is something that a number of writers have pointed out, namely that the Lions could have taken DT Aaron Donald with their 10th pick last year instead of TE Eric Ebron. We could play this game all day. The list of players the Lions could & should have taken there is pretty long. OT Taylor Lewan, WR Odell Beckham Jr, Aaron Donald, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Darqueze Dennard... But if you're looking for the next Suh, look no farther than Donald. His rookie numbers (37 tackles, 9 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, 1 pass defensed) are eerily similar to Suh's rookie stats (49 tackles, 10 sacks, 1 FF, 1 INT, 3 PD). The Lions were ramping up toward salary cap-ageddeon, and they made no moves to avoid their fate.

Now what? They could draft one of the top 3 DTs this year, one of whom should be available with that 23rd pick. They could re-up with Nick Fairley, who has yet to live up to the hype. They might make an offer at Stephen Paea and hope he continues his upward trend. Or they could go for either Odrick or Knighton. However they plan to recover, they're still saying good bye to one of the best defensive players ever to wear the Honolulu Blue.

I don't really blame Suh for taking the money and moving to Miami. Some fans may take issue with it and call him greedy or whatever, but let's be realistic for a moment. How often does a star take "the hometown discount"? How often does the team set aside the business aspect of the business and do the HUMAN thing? Suh never struck me a being particularly sentimental. Practically everything he did in the public sphere seemed calculated and contrived. Using those words makes it sound like I think Suh's a bad person. I don't think that, but I don't think he's a particularly GOOD person either.

As I keep saying, the team put themselves in this position by restructuring Suh's deal twice. If you're mad that the Lions are $crUHed now, blame the Lions. They didn't have to open up the wallet the way they did for Calvin Johnson and Stafford. They shouldn't have restructured Suh's contract the way they did, blowing any leverage they had and inflating his franchise tag. They didn't pick up Fairley's option, leading to a worst-case scenario where he neither proved that he's a franchise DT nor did he play his way out of a nice contract. Mayhew created this lose-lose-lose scenario, and it was entirely foreseeable and preventable.


The Pistons, once 2 games out of the 8th (and 7th) spot in the playoffs, have gone 0 for their last 6. They are now 5 games out of 8th with 20 to go. They have a better shot at getting a top 5 draft pick over getting a playoff spot (they're 3 games away from the pick). The odds break this way:
  1. The worst team has a 25% shot at pick #1, a 21.5% chance at pick #2, and a 17.8% chance at pick #3
  2. Next worst has a 19.9% shot at #1, 18.8% for #2, and 17.1% for #3
  3. The 3rd seed has a 15.6% shot at #1, 15.7% for #2, and 15.6% for #3
  4. 4th seed - 11.9% for #1, 12.6% for #2, and 13.3% for #3
  5. 5th seed - 8.8% for 1st pick, 9.7% for 2nd pick, and 10.7% for 3rd pick
Right now the top 5 prospects for the draft are (in some order) Jahlil Okafor, Karl-Anthony Towns, Emmanuel Mudiay, D'Angelo Russell, and Kristaps Porzingis. I really like Towns, especially if Monroe leaves in free agency, but KAT is most likely going with one of the top 2 picks so Detroit would need lotto help. After him I think the best fit would be Porzingis, but this high in the draft you should take BPA (best player available), regardless of need.

In all probability the Pistons stay right around where they are, drafting 8th, and end up with Stanley Johnson or Mario Hezonja. That wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but they REALLY need the type of talent you can only get with a top 5 pick.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Lions' FA Outlook

NFL free agency has hit, so I guess I'm talking about the Lions again. Unless the Lions have some kind of pre-agreed upon, under the table deal with Suh, he's out the door. The Lions only have about $14M in cap space, once you account for the rookies they'll have to sign after the draft, and between free agency and the draft, they need:

3 DTs
2-3 CBs
1 DE (at least)
1 OT (at least)
1 G
1 FB
1 K
1 KR

Assume 1 of the DTs, 1 of the CBs and 1 of the offensive linemen get drafted. I think they'll re-up with Matt Prater at K (Prater signed a 3-yr, $9M deal with the Lions today), Jed Collins at FB, Jeremy Ross at KR, and possibly George Johnson at DE. That should cost between $4M-$6M. They can fill one of the DT spots and a CB with replacement-level players for another $1M. So with, say, $9M to play with, the Lions need a DT, a CB and an offensive lineman of some stripe. Who's out there?

Defensive Tackle

Terrance Knighton (big #98 in the above clip) or Jared Odrick could be had for between $3M-$4M/yr, and they're the best 2 available after Suh. Fairley hasn't been worth it, but they might be able to re-up with him for $3M also and hope he finally plays like a top draft pick.

Rashean Mathis is 35 and shouldn't be brought back. Brandon Flowers could probably be had for $3M or so, a guy like Byron Maxwell could be had for $1.5M-$2M, and I also like Darius Butler who could go for $2.5M-$3.5M.

Offensive Tackle
If the Lions want to pick up a tackle in free agency, I wish them a lot of luck. There aren't many good ones to be had, and really good LTs go for $10M/yr (and none are available). Brian Bulaga is a RT and the best available, and my guess is he's going to get at least $4M. Green Bay is going to re-sign him anyway, so forget it. Doug Free was the Cowboy's RT, so he's good but should be slightly more affordable somewhere between $3.5M & $4M. Either of those 2 guys are good enough to play LT and allow Riley Reiff to slide over to RT. Ryan Harris would be more of a stop-gap RT. He'd be easily gotten at $1.5M, and possibly even cheaper.

Offensive Guard
The best out there is Mike Iupati, who's a road-grader as a run blocker but mediocre at protecting the QB. He'll go for around $2M-$3M. Then there are the aging vets like Daryn Colledge, Willie Colon, and Dan Connolly. They could be had for a 1yr, $2M type of deal. That's all fine and dandy, but the guy I really like is Orlando Franklin (#74 above, getting his feet around the DT). He's not going to get the attention Iupati will, but I think he's a much better fit for what the Lions want to do, he's better in pass pro, and he also plays offensive tackle. $2M might be enough to get him to play here.

There's no replacing Suh. He's a next-level guy at his position, and the Lions screwed that up. But to tell the truth, the Lions are going to be a lot better off using that money to bolster the team at 3 positions instead of spending it all on Suh and hoping for a trickle down effect. The problem is as good as they were last year, they're still 4 or 5 players away from contending, and that's with Suh ON THE TEAM. The tradeoff is they lose their best player but upgrade 3 positions and have the ability to re-sign a guy like George Johnson, who was good last year. They would get worse by keeping Suh because they would lose the ability to re-sign those other guys.

The defense might actually be better next year with a rookie DT and Knighton, Tulloch returning to his Mike LB spot, and Maxwell joining Slay at CB. The offensive line would definitely be better with the addition of either Free or Franklin, which would improve the entire offense. They might add a WR who can return kicks instead of re-signing Ross, who isn't much of a WR. They also probably need a running back, unless you're a believer in Theo Riddick as a scat back (I'm not). I think they can get this team back to the playoffs next season, but they can't afford another draft like the last one and they NEED another free agency signing like last season's.

I'm totally stealing this from Grantland, but here's the verdict on Detroit's 2014 Free Agency signings, as written by Bill Barnwell:
Re-signed: Dominic Raiola, Brandon Pettigrew, Rashean Mathis
Arrived: Golden Tate, James Ihedigbo
Departed: Willie Young, Jason Fox, Louis Delmas
I was skeptical of the move to give Tate a five-year, $31 million contract with $13.3 million guaranteed, but it looks like a masterstroke one year later. Tate kept the Detroit passing attack afloat while Calvin Johnson was down with his ankle injury, a bargain for a guy whose cap hit was just $3.1 million. Even at $5.4 million in 2015, he’ll be one of the better bargains in football. Ihedigbo and Mathis were starters in a shockingly effective secondary. The only downside was the departure of Young, an underrated pass-rusher who had an impressive season for the Bears.
Grade: A-minus

They rated 3rd overall, behind the Broncos and the Pats. Their draft was regraded from B- to C by Mel Kiper Jr, and I think it's probably worse than that. If they have a B free agency and a B draft, they should be back in the playoffs.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Voice of the Turtle...

There's nothing that makes it feel like winter is ending like the start of Spring Training. Every Tigers' Grapefruit League opener, Ernie Harwell would quote the Song of Solomon (2:11-12... as a side note, "the voice of the turtle" actually refers to a turtle dove, but I like to picture an actual singing turtle instead):
For, lo, the winter is past,The rain is over and gone
The flowers appear on the Earth
The time of the singing of birds is come
And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.

The Tigers are coming off of a semi-successful 2014 season, in which they won their division for the 4th year in a row but got swept in the 1st round of the playoffs by Baltimore. In the offseason, the Tigers lost key contributors Max Scherzer, Torii Hunter, and Rick Porcello, and they added Yoenis Cespedes, Anthony Gose, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. Justin Verlander, Jose Iglesias, and Bruce Rondon all expect to be healthier, while Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez recover from offseason surgery. In other words, it's March.

The Tigers kicked off the Spring Training season by getting an absolutely meaningless revenge on Baltimore for sweeping them out of the playoffs by beating the Orioles 15-2. Victor Martinez didn't play, but he expects to be ready by Opening Day. Miguel Cabrera had a BP session on Monday, which is a sign he'll get some reps in BEFORE Opening Day. And Verlander says he feels a lot better than last year, so... hopefully he can make up for the loss of Detroit's best 2 pitchers last year? The list of Tigers who need to improve on down seasons last year is rather long and scary (Verlander, Nathan, Cabrera, Avila, Price...) and the list of Tigers who had unrepeatably GREAT seasons last year is short and equally scary (Victor Martinez).


The Pistons have dropped 3 straight, falling to 2 1/2 games out of the 8th seed, behind Brooklyn, Charlotte, Indiana and Boston. Additionally, in this losing streak they gave up double-digit leads over Cleveland and New York, and they lost a VERY winnable game in DC to the Wizards (who were on a losing streak of their own) in part due to some very poor FT shooting from Drummond (3-10) and some REALLY poor interior defense.

The Pistons have a winning % of .390 right now and, like I said, are 2 1/2 games away from making the playoffs as an 8th seed. On the other side of things, there are currently 7 teams with worse records. If Stan wanted to tank (he doesn't, but let's run with this for a moment), they couldn't likely fall to within the bottom 5 but the 6th pick is possible. So, that's their range. 7th seed in the playoffs is still within reach (Detroit would probably have to win 14 of their remaining 23 games) and the 6th pick in the draft is also reachable (again, needing to finish roughly 5-18). The most likely scenario is neither thing happens and they end up picking in the 8-10 range. Again.

Look, I'm anti-tanking. Most of the time. I absolutely HATE what Philly is doing right now, and I doubt it's actually going to work for them. But, there are times when I see the season as a lost cause and support blowing it up for the draft. Last year the Pistons had every excuse to do just that, especially after firing Cheeks and needing their draft pick to fall in the top 8 to keep it. When they traded Tayshaun back in 2013, the roster was gutted and Drummond & Monroe were banged up. They could've easily wrapped those two guys in bubble wrap until the next year, lost 5 extra games and ended up with a top 3 pick. In 2014, 5 more losses would've netted them a top 4 pick. They either get Oladipo, Otto Porter, or McLemore in 2013, or else one of Wiggins, Parker, Aaron Gordon, Exum or Smart in 2014. 

To me, this is not one of those types of seasons. There's a better shot at making the playoffs than getting even a top 5 pick (let alone a top 3 pick). Actually, the best guy for the Pistons to draft is probably either Stanley Johnson or Kelly Oubre, who would most likely be available with a pick in the 8-10 range. That's where the Pistons are now. So, no need to tank. They can even make a run at the playoffs. If they make it, great. If they fall short, they'll have a top 15 pick (and maybe even top 10) and some cap room to play with. I say let it ride.


The Wings were more active at the trade deadline than I expected them to be. First they swapped a couple of mid-level prospects for Eric Cole, a 36 year-old RW currently with 33 points (18 goals), more of a scoring power forward. His 33 points would put him 6th on the team and the 18 goals rank 4th, behind Nyquist and ahead of Zetterberg. He's a rental, but Cole adds an extra scoring presence that will be much needed for a deep playoff run.

Still needing a right-handed shot & scoring from the blue line, they traded a 2016 3rd-rounder for 38 yr-old D Marek Zidlicky, with 23 points (4 goals). After Danny DeKuyser and Niklas Krowall, he's probably the best offensive defenseman on the team and he adds some experience on the blue line, which is pretty young right now.

Both of these moves were swaps for immediate returns, given that both players acquired are north of 35 yrs old. Neither of these move blew up twitter, but they definitely bolster a team looking to make a Cup run. The Wings reportedly were trying for Toronto D Dion Phaneuf, talks broke off and Ken Holland quickly shifted toward Zidlicky. I'm VERY interested to see what this team does when the playoffs come around.


Despite spending an inordinate amount of time talking football last week (to the exclusion of all other sports), I do have a bit of Lions housekeeping to cover before signing off. Monday was the last day the Lions could use the franchise tag on Ndamukong Suh. Since it would cost them a prohibitive $26M/yr to do that, they let him slide.

This is the Lions' own fault since they restructured his contract twice to backload it, meaning the franchise tag would've cost something in the more reasonable range of $12M. They still have some time to get him re-signed prior to hitting free agency, but Suh most likely wants to hit the open market. This doesn't mean he's gone for sure, but I would be surprised to see him in a Lions' uniform next year.