Offseason Blueprint: Detroit Lions

Notable Free Agents: Dan Orlovsky, QB, Rudi Johnson, RB; Jason Hanson, K; Shaun Cody, DT; Paris Lenon, LB.

Projected 2009 Cap Space: $26,000,000

Draft Order: 1

Top Needs: A team doesn’t go 0-16 by accident. The Lions have major holes to fill at every position although offensive line, linebacker, quarterback and secondary are arguably their biggest needs.

Offseason Outlook: Where do I start? This team is such an utter mess that it’s going to take new GM Martin Mayhew at least 2-3 years to rebuild the roster. And that’s assuming most of his moves pan out.

Even though it would be a long, slow process, Mayhew’s best approach would be to blow up the entire roster and start over. The two biggest problems with the Matt Millen era is that it lacked direction and he couldn’t spot talent if it fell from the sky and dropped in his lap. What Mayhew needs to do is build from the inside out and it all starts with the offensive line.

Many will argue that the Lions need a franchise starting quarterback first and foremost, but without an offensive line it won’t matter who they have under center. That’s why drafting Virginia’s Eugene Monroe with the first overall pick might be Detroit’s best move. Monroe is the type of player that could anchor the Lions’ offensive line for years to come and considering the team has a decent amount of cap space, Detroit could get a piece or two in free agency to help rebuild the offensive line as well. (Although the top available linemen – Matt Birk, Mike Goff, Mark Tauscher – are all over the age of 30.)

Even though it would pain most Lion fans to watch either Daunte Culpepper or Drew Stanton take another snap under center, the fact is that the other options aren’t that great either. The Patriots seem content to hang onto Matt Cassel and even if they weren’t, it would take multiple draft picks (multiple draft picks the Lions need to help rebuild the roster) and mucho dinero to acquire him from New England. And unless Jeff Garcia (already a failed experiment in Detroit), Rex Grossman or Kyle Boller gets your motor running, the unrestricted free agent market isn’t too promising either. In fact, the Lions’ best option at quarterback next year might still be on the roster in Jon Kitna. He was too happy with the way the team placed him on IR with a back injury midway through the season last year, but the coaching regime that made that decision isn’t in Detroit anymore. He could essentially be a solid stopgap at quarterback so the Lions could address the offensive line and defense this offseason.

Of course, the Lions could draft Georgia’s Matthew Stafford with the first overall pick, but again, if they have no line to protect him, he could wind up being another Joey Harrington. It all comes down to what Mayhew and the Detroit scouting team thinks about Stafford. If they believe he’s a franchise-type quarterback, then he’ll be in Honolulu blue next year. But if he’s not very high on their boards, then they need to address other areas and maybe Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy or another quarterback prospect will be available next year.

In terms of addressing their defense, the Lions could go any direction they want. They could throw big money at any one of the top free agents (Julius Peppers, Terrell Suggs, Nnamdi Asomugha, Karlos Dansby, etc.) and then draft the best available in April. Or they could choose to rebuild the roster with bargain-type free agents that fit into new head coach Jim Schwartz and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham’s scheme. Either way, there are a plethora of solid defensive players in both free agency and the draft, so there should be no excuse for Mayhew not to address that side of the ball this offseason. (Of course, he still has to convince free agents to come to Detroit, which won’t be any small task.)

Lions fans have every reason not to be optimistic that good things are on the horizon. But the good thing is that the Matt Millen era is over and now Mayhew will have an opportunity to implode the roster and start over. And despite the overall lack of talent, Mayhew does have a franchise player in Calvin Johnson to build the offense around. Hopefully he can build off his first move (wisely dumping receiver Roy Williams for multiple draft picks) as Lions’ GM and right a sinking ship.

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