Town hall talk
I spent my evening at the town-hall meeting the Lions hosted for about 400 fans in the atrium of Ford Field. Reviews were mixed. I talked to a couple fans who thought the gesture was a great idea, and others one in particular (read tomorrow's paper) who saw Monday's hour-long session as a desperate sales pitch.
Me? I can't say it was a bad idea for the Lions to do what they did. They're coming off an 0-16 season, they had to extend an olive branch to fans somehow. But if you follow the team on a regular basis there wasn't a ton new said. No revelations of who'll be the No. 1 pick, no Super Bowl-or-bust declarations, and no real timetable for a turnaround.
New coach Jim Schwartz drew a few laughs, including when a fan asked, through moderator Dan Miller, the Lions play-by-play voice, about the possibility of cheerleaders at Ford Field. My wife already said no to that, Schwartz joked.
Schwartz also drew a big round of applause at the end when he ended the hour-long session with a promise to keep the Thanksgiving day game in Detroit.
It's going to be one of the first things I talk to the players when they come back in March, Schwartz said. We're going to put a barbed-wire fence around that Thanksgiving day game. I'm not going to have people around the country talking about taking that game away from us. We're going to put a barbed-wire fence around that. The players are going to understand the importance of it, and here's the reason: Cause it is a tremendous advantage to have that game at home here on a yearly basis. I know we played it last year and you pick up a bye week after it.
A few other topics of note that came up Monday:
Team president Tom Lewand seemed to take a shot at the failed Rod Marinelli-Matt Millen regime when he talked about building it for the long haul so that when you get it right it stays right. Jim talked about consistency, that's what you're going to see week in and week out. Not 38-point blowout one week, hanging in there 'til the end in another week, trying to come back from a 21-point first-quarter deficit another week. That can't happen. If you build it the right way, then week in, week out you give yourself a chance. ... We have to build it that way so that we have the kinds of confidence from top to bottom, throughout the organization and throughout that locker room, so that if we're at a position again like we were a few years ago where we're 6-2 it's not, 'Oh my God, how did we get here?' It's, 'OK, we expected that. We're going to take this a week at a time, a day at a time, and we're going to do this the right way.'
General manager Martin Mayhew on who the Lions will target with the No. 1 pick in April's draft: For us right now, we don't have a whole lot of areas where we have a great degree of talent so for us this season it probably will be a situation where we'll be looking at best player available.
Lewand said later that Tom Condon, the agent for Georgia quarterback Matt Stafford, the potential No. 1 overall choice, called him Monday and was very eager to let me know that Matt Stafford had selected him as his agent and did I need any information he'd be happy to provide it. If I wanted to go down to Georgia to meet the family we could do that, too.
Schwartz reiterated his belief that quarterback is the most important position in the NFL. Asked about different schools of thought on whether you draft a quarterback or go with a veteran, he said, I think you don't want to be stopgap at that position. You want to be long term.
Lewand said the Lions are in good shape when it comes to the salary cap. Depending on some of the moves that we make with players that are currently on our roster we expect somewhere in the neighborhood of roughly $35 million of salary-cap room. I think that enables us to do the kinds of things we're going to want to do from a personnel standpoint both in free agency and importantly in the draft. The Lions are believed to be $26-$28 million under the cap right now. Lewand didn't mention any candidates to be cut, but Leigh Bodden (due an $8.6-million bonus), Dwight Smith (signed next year at $2.25 million) and Daunte Culpepper (due a $2.5-million bonus) come to mind. He did indicate a two players who might be priorities to re-sign and nearing or at the end of their deals in kicker Jason Hanson and center Dominic Raiola.
Lastly for tonight, Lewand hinted that changes to the uniform and leaping Lion logo will be coming, though maybe not until the 2010 season. Uniform changes for this year had to be submitted last November. Stay tuned, Lewand said. He also intimated the Lions could one day return to hosting training camp at a remote location like Saginaw Valley State.