An ominous title to say the least. Having been a season ticket holder for 12 years now (laugh it up), and having some additional access to information, I could write much more on the topic that I will here. But it will still be significant...
To be honest, lets start with the recent past and let me disclose something. At the end of the 2006 season going into the 2007 draft, I knew Matt Millen was at a crossroad. Did he work on the offensive and defensive lines or continue his "Joey" plans and place an array of talent around John Kitna (Joey was traded for a 7th round pick. Turned out to be a deal).
I made the argument at the time that with a veteran QB and other offensive players over achieving (Furrey), they should work on the Defensive line. After all, this was supposed to be Rod's specialty. I said to draft Gaines Adams second (they took Calvin Johnson) and prepare your opponents to face: Shawn Rogers, Cory Redding, James Hall, and recently signed Dewayne White. The front four would be strong enough to cover up for minor linebacker mistakes and reduce the time to throw, which allows the rookie safeties more margin of error.
Instead, the Lions took Calvin Johnson. But that in of itself did not seal their fate. At the top of the second round, they traded down to take Drew Stanton, leaving Buffalo to take Paul Posluszny. The Lions did this somehow mocking themselves because they entered this draft with Middle Linebacker being arguably their largest need. (Perhaps they had counted on a free agent joining them who later went elsewhere? Who can say?). They then took Francis to replace Hall and Alexander the safety. The rest of the draft was largely irrelevant. Considering they were 3-13, this is a big indictment. The teams largest playmaker Dre' Bly, did not fit into the Tampa 2 mold. I still can stop laughing/shaking my head over that comment. Alienate the one guy who is performing...
If the 2007 off season turned toward the cliff, then the 2008 draft and off season put the petal to the metal as they accelerated towards the chasm. First off, the draft is all 'project type' players. Not one can start the season. Gos, the big left tackle would eventually get in there by end of season (although the coaches seemed to not like him DESPITE picking him), and Dizon (2nd pick) was drafted to play Middle despite having NEVER PLAYED the MIKE. He would notch ZERO starts in 2007. oh, and zero in 2008. Sweet.
Now assuming that is bad, and it is, the free agency was possibly (probably) the worst in NFL league history. Not only did we bring in guys like Brian Kelly who would not be on the roster 16 games later, but the locker room had a revolving door installed. If you went to the games, you had better purchase a program to look up the new players on the line-up each week. By the end of the 2008 season, there were STARTING players on the field that did not start the season with the team. And I am not talking 1 or 2.
So today I get my Season Ticket brochure in the mail. It included a letter of hope (a thinly veiled apology?) and was mailed after the Lions completed their 4 man head office by adding Shack Harris. They come into this 2009 season with 3 picks in the top 33 (including #1 overall) and a TON of cap room. A TON. Why? No one is returning. Heck, Bodden is already gone as of writing this and he was supposed to be an 'answer' at corner last year.
This team has little to build on talent wise, so they took a new approach this year. They built on the management team first. Tom Lewand might not be a well know name, but he knows his operations and Mayhew was an up and coming GM candidate. They add experience and success with Shack. And the head coach choice is a previous successful coordinator, not a position coach. I think the jury is out on Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, but Gunter is a coordinator who was dying to be let out of his cage.
Now the Lions has stated since the coup that "you build through the draft". That is true, but with about 30m in free cap, you cant let your money sit idle. You need SO much. Some recommendations:
1. GET A FREAKING MIDDLE LINEBACKER. estimated impact on defense: x2
2. Instead of settling for players on the O-Line, FIX IT. estimated impact on offense: immediate improvement to run game. (see Scott Linehan, who like to run run and then run. and if he cant run, throw to the RB.)
3. Accept the fact that you need to draft another tackle (cough, left tackle, cough) and every defensive player after that you can get your hands on. No 'utility' or 'big play' offensive players in this draft. Enough.
4. Stop trying to "emulate" other programs. (so don't try to be the Cardinals now.)
This #4 had been a staple of previous regimes. Find a team where you like what they do and try to copy it. Utter failure.
It's funny as you look back now on the Millen era and note that Matt never really did anything consistent with what he talked about. For example: "You need some bulldogs (sic) in the hen house", i.e. players that are critical in the locker room. Then he shipped out any player who opened their mouth. Then he would ask where all the leadership was. Or "You can cover up for a journeyman o-lineman, you dont need 5 stars". Ok, but a journeyman would be someone in the old "Tony Semple" mold. Never going to the pro-bowl but always giving his blue-collar 100% and gutting it out. Not Peterman. And certainly not George Foster.
Other mistakes are too obvious and too public to repeat and retread. Time to let it go. "Poof".
So there you have it. Way more Detroit Lions information than you wanted (or needed). Enjoy.