The Lions signed two free agents early this offseason, having agreed to terms with wide receiver Bryant Johnson as well as veteran defensive lineman Grady Jackson. Er wait, sorry, that was last year, not this year. The two are easy to confuse, and eerily familiar.
The Lions have made a “splash” in this year’s free agent pool, having signed veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, and wide receiver Nate Burleson. The boys in Honolulu Blue also added veteran defensive tackle Corey Williams via a trade with Cleveland.
Vanden Bosch will turn 32 in the middle of the 2010 regular season, but has been a pro bowler 3 of the last 5 years. There are always serious concerns about any NFL player entering his 30s, especially at a position that relies heavily on both quickness and toughness. Vanden Bosch is scheduled to make $26 million over the next four years, 10 of which he will earn in his first season. In 2009, about this time, the Lions were excited about signing, then, 36-year old defensive tackle Grady Jackson. No question that the difference in age is a large one, but Jackson turned out to be an over-the-hill and sub-par lineman at best. He played in 15 games, recorded no sacks, 1 forced fumble, and 4 “STFY” (a stat that combines sacks and tackles for loss). It’s sometimes tough to measure an interior lineman’s impact in statistics, but it was clear that Jackson was out of shape, and often winded during drives. He was not the run stuffing, block guzzling DT they expected. After the failed Jackson experiment, the Lions went out and acquired two 30-plus year old defensive lineman in 2010.
Nate Burleson is an interesting signing, especially when you consider his contract. Burleson signed a 5-year $25 million deal, $11 million in guarantees. That’s quite an investment in a 28-year old receiver, who hasn’t really come close to matching his career best 2004 season with the Vikings.(68 receptions, 1003 yards, 9 TDs). Interestingly enough, that season was under offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. This year he put up similar reception numbers, but did not find paydirt very often. When the Lions signed Bryant Johnson, who is the same age as Burleson, in 2009, they were hoping they had found a receiver who could make teams pay for triple covering Calvin Johnson. They hoped they had found a guy who was a legitimate up-and-down threat, and a slasher over the middle. Sound familiar? Now, given, Johnson NEVER had the production Burleson had in 2004 or 2007. The Lions are willing to pay for those seasons, though. Just in guarantees alone, Burleson will receive $2 million more than Johnson’s entire 3-year contract. Burleson could be a hit, or he could be the same guy who’s struggled the last few seasons to get off the line and find paydirt.
It seems the Lions continue to subscribe to the idea that if you throw a hand full of darts at a dartboard, one’s bound to hit the bulls eye, right? The brass continues to spew the same mantra that in order to build a winner, you must build through the draft. Yet, the Lions continue to plug holes with pieces of bazooka already well-chewed and flimsy. Sure, you can’t fill all the holes the Lions have in one year solely through the draft, but you can certainly find a receiver with just as high of a ceiling as Nate Burleson, and for much less guaranteed money. Vanden Bosch was probably a good signing, and will help the team much more than any rookie defensive end in the 3rd-4th round can this year. Corey Williams seems like another meaningless Grady Jackson, or Big Daddy Wilkinson.
The Lions have been difficult to figure out, and perhaps they think they can compete this year, but if these three don’t work out, time for a new strategy on the free agent senior citizens.