Blogs > Lions Lowdown

One thing you can count on with the Detroit Lions is that they are never, ever boring. Follow the latest news including injuries, roster moves and more here daily from Oakland Press beat writer Paula Pasche. Plus you'll find regular commentary about the team.


Pettigrew last one in

  When tight end Brandon Pettigrew agreed to a five-year deal with the Lions early this evening it meant the Lions had all eight rookies signed in time for the start of training camp on Saturday afternoon.
   Pettigrew, a first-round pick, signed a five-year deal.
   Earlier in the day the Lions confirmed that DT Sammie Hill, a fourth-round pick, signed a three-year contract while wide receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick out of Penn State, also agreed to a three-year deal.


  Jim Schwartz displays his sense of humor now and then which is a good thing.
   At his press conference this morning he talked about meeting with Tigers manager Jim Leyland who chain-smokes Marlboros.
  “After an hour with him I thought I could get in on the class-action suit against the tobacco companies, I might have a couple black spots (pointing to his chest). He was very, very gracious with me. ... To hear advice from a guy like Jim Leyland and his perspective on things not only in this city, but in the business, you take everything,’’ Schwartz said.

One more to go

  Wide receiver Derrick Williams, a third-round pick out of Penn State, was signed to a three-year deal this morning.
 That leaves just TE Brandon Pettigrew, a first-round pick out of Oklahoma State, as the only unsigned rookie. Players report today until 6 p.m.
“We’re pretty optimistic, things are moving pretty quickly now,’’ coach Jim Schwartz said this morning about Pettigrew.
  He expects everyone to report today.
 The first on-field session is set for Saturday afternoon after the players go through a battery of conditioning tests.


Delmas signed

  The Lions announced they have signed safety Louis Delmas to a four-year contract on the day before players report to training camp.
   Delmas, a second-round pick from Western Michigan, made the most of his offseason workouts, impressing coaches and possibly earning a starting role.
  The Lions also announced they released veteran defensive end Eric Hicks.
    Still unsigned are first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew, third-round wide receiver Derrick Williams and fourth-round defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
   Players report at 4 p.m. on Friday with the first workout set for Saturday afternoon.

One more on board

   Second-round pick safety Louis Delmas has agreed to contract terms with the Lions according to
   Delmas, who played at Western Michigan, was a standout in the offseason workouts and is expected to start.
    He was one of four remaining picks who had not been signed. Still unsigned are first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew, third-round wide receiver Derrick Williams and fourth-round defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
    Stay tuned for updates.
   Players report to training camp at 4 p.m. on Friday. The first session is set for Saturday afternoon.

Still more work to do

  Time is closing in. Players report at 4 p.m. Friday for meetings and then will start training camp workouts on Saturday afternoon.
 Four draftees have yet to be signed.
   Still without contracts are first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew, second-round free safety Louis Delmas, third-round wide receiver Derrick Williams and fourth-round defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
    It would be huge news if Matthew Stafford hadn’t signed, but the Lions took care of that before they drafted him.
    Coach Jim Schwartz said this week he expects everyone who is signed to be in camp on time. He will wait until physicals are complete to comment on any injuries that could keep players out at the start of camp.
    Stay tuned for updates.


Night moves

  GRAND BLANC — Jim Schwartz is a big rock ‘n’ roll fan and today he got to meet Bob Seger, a Hall of Fame rock ‘n’ roller who just happens to still live in the Detroit area, specifically in Oakland County.
   Both played in the Buick Open Pro-Am at Warwick Hills.
  After Seger’s round with Tiger Woods and before Schwartz teed off with former Buick Open champ Brian Bateman, Seger and Schwartz were introduced in the locker room.
 “I’ve got some old-time riock ‘n’ roll in my past. I think everybody’s put on ‘Night Moves’ at some time,’’ Schwartz said.


Still up for grabs

 GRAND BLANC — It’s probably going to be another month before coach Jim Schwartz names his starting quarterback. That is, unless Daunte Culpepper or Matthew Stafford steps up and makes the job his during the first few weeks of training camp which starts Saturday.
 Schwartz’s plan — of sorts — is to split the training camp reps three ways between his quarterbacks including Drew Stanton.
 “You’ll probably see almost even reps through (training camp). You’ll see different guys start off different drills,’’ Schwartz said. “Go ahead and try to have fun reading between the lines with that because you’re not going to be able to,’’ Schwartz said today almost defying the media to draw up an early depth chart.
  If no one wins it sooner, he would like to know who will start around the time of the fourth preseason game which is Sept. 3 at Buffalo.
  The season opens Sept. 13 at New Orleans.

Vick not headed to Detroit

GRAND BLANC —  Michael Vick may be available, but the Lions are not interested.
“With what we’ve done at quarterback, we’ve invested a lot in the quarterback position. We have a first-round pick (Matthew Stafford), a second-round pick (Drew Stanton), we have (Daunte) Culpepper coming back. From that standpoint we’ve invested significantly in that position,’’ Lions coach Jim Schwartz said today before he teed off in the Buick Open Pro-Am.
The Lions report to training camp on Friday with the first workout set for Saturday afternoon.


More roster moves made

    The Lions just announced they have signed free agent CB William James (Western Illinois).
    They have released three: CB Tra Battle, DE Rudolph Hardie and RB Antone Smith.
    The signings of third-round pick LB DeAndre Levy and seventh-round T Lydon Murtha were also confirmed by the team.
    Players report to training camp on Friday with the first workout set for Saturday afternoon.
   In other NFL news, ESPN is reporting that Brett Favre has decided to stay retired and pass on the opportunity to play for the Vikings. Too bad. The Lions play their home opener on Sept. 20 against Minnesota and Favre would have added a little more spark to that matchup.


Teeing off

 The Lions couldn’t possibly have an interest in signing Michael Vick, could they?
 We’ll get coach Jim Schwartz’s take on the Vick situation and other matters on Wednesday when he meets with the media at the Buick Open Pro-Am at Warwick Hills in Grand Blanc.
 Schwartz will play in a foursome with 2007 Buick Open winner Brian Bateman and WJR’s Paul W. Smith. They tee off on the 10th tee at 12:50 p.m.
 Jason Hanson and Drew Stanton will also be at Warwick Hills, along with Dominic Raiola who tees off at 8:30 a.m. from the first tee with pro Daniel Chopra and WJR’s Frank Beckmann and Steve Courtney.
 Hanson and Stanton will tee off at 1:20 p.m. from the first tee with pro Jason Gore.

Two more signed

   The Lions are getting closer to having all their draft picks signed in time to report at 4 p.m. Friday for the start of training camp on Saturday.
   Third-round pick linebacker DeAndre Levy and seventh-round tackle Lydon Murtha have been signed this week according to The signings haven’t been confirmed by the Lions.
  Still without contracts are first-round tight end Brandon Pettigrew, second-round free safety Louis Delmas, third-round wide receiver Derrick Williams and fourth-round defensive tackle Sammie Hill.
   The Lions have a good record at getting all players signed (at least they have a good record on something) and into camp on time. President Tom Lewand has said he is confident that will happen again this week.


Finding a way to connect

As a first-year coach Jim Schwartz has plenty on his plate as he prepares for the opening of Lions training camp on Saturday.
 One thing he would like to do is get the fans more involved. Starting Wednesday, Aug. 5 the camp at Allen Park will be open to fans on certain days even though bleacher seating is limited.
 Don’t be surprised if next year the Lions take training camp on the road like they did during the Bobby Ross era when they camped out at Saginaw Valley State. Thousands of fans showed up for the free practice sessions on a daily basis. They loved to cheer the big catch or the touchdown scamper and it was clear to see the players fed off the energy.
   Schwartz has no beef with the Allen Park practice facility which he calls one of the best in the NFL.
 “Probably the biggest issue here — this is a great place to have camp, we have plenty of room, we have a great facility, a great cafeteria here  — but it does limit access to the fans and that’s one thing we’re always looking for ways to try to provide for chances with fans to connect with the team to be there,’’ Schwartz said. “There’s nothing imminent with it. We’re certainly comfortable here.’’


Say no to Michael Vick

According to reports in today's Oakland Press, Michael Vick might soon discover just who’s interested in giving him a second chance.

Two people familiar with the meeting confirmed Roger Goodell, the NFL commissioner, Vick, agent Joel Segal and two other members of the suspended quarterback’s team met Wednesday at a security firm in New Jersey. The two people requested anonymity because the league has not acknowledged the meeting.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declined to confirm the meeting when contacted by The Associated Press on Thursday and insisted no decisions on Vick’s future have been made.

The question here is: Would you pay to see Michael Vick in a Detroit Lions' uniform?

Goodell suspended Vick indefinitely in August 2007 after the former Atlanta Falcons quarterback admitted bankrolling the “Bad Newz Kennels” dogfighting operation. Goodell has said Vick must show remorse and signs that he has changed before he would consider reinstating him.

Radio reports say Goodell is expected to announce Vick is free to sign and practice with any NFL team, but will serve a four-game suspension to start the season.

Keep in mind, Michael Vick has served his time, paid his debt to society and apologized repeatedly for his role in the dogfighting scheme.

At some point, a person must be given the right to earn a living. Football is Vick's profession. As long as Vick is a free man who has done everything the court system and the NFL have asked of him, Vick should have the right to shop his services around like anyone else.

True. Just not here, not now, not with the Detroit Lions.

Vick is a talented football player. No dout about that. He brings excitement to the game with both his passing and running skills. There's a team out there who could use a Michael Vick to get over the top.

Just not the Detroit Lions, who have many, many other holes to fix before worrying about who's taking the snaps from center.

Detroit enters training camp a week from today with Duante Culpepper and No. 1 draft pick Matthew Stafford expected to fight it out for the starting quarterback position.

Bringing in Vick is not the type of publicity an 0-16 team should be looking for. Vick brings baggage, a lot of baggage in the form of PETA protests and unpopular public opinion. Even Vick, with moves to elude most linebackers in the NFL, can't run and hide from that kind of heat.

The NFL is about winning and putting fans in the seats. No doubt, Michael Vick will sell a few tickets, but this is a quarterback who hasn't taken a snap in over two years. Winning is far from a sure thing with him.

It's going to be interesting to see how this drama plays out around the league in the coming week. Vick should be reinstated. The fun part will be seeing which teams are willing to take a risk and give him a chance to start anew.


Camp to be increasingly accessible

It may still be a far cry from the throngs that showed up for camps at Saginaw Valley State University years ago, but the Lions organization is trying to make training camp a fan-friendly experience again.

Fans will be allowed access — 700 at a time — to 18 practice sessions while the Lions are in training camp at their Allen Park facility, as well as invited to an open public practice called "Lions Uncaged!" at Ford Field on Saturday, Aug. 8.

Access for the Allen Park practices will be on a first-come, first-served basis and gates will open 30 minutes prior to each practice session. Beginning Wednesday, tickets for "Lions Uncaged!" will be available at outlets of SVS Vision Optical Centers, the presenting sponsor for the event, which will feature a 45-minute autograph session at noon, followed by practice at 1 p.m. Information was also distributed Wednesday for three additional practices reserved for season ticket holders, suite holders and sponsors.

The Lions drew more than 100,000 fans during some of the years of camp at Saginaw Valley, but have steadily worked to increase the access to fans since moving to the Allen Park facility.

The schedule of open practices:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 5 (2) — 9 a.m.; 3:15 p.m.
  • Thursday, Aug. 6 — 9 a.m.
  • Friday, Aug. 7 (2) — 9 a.m.; 3:15 p.m.
  • Sunday, Aug. 9 — p.m. practice TBA
  • Monday, Aug. 10 — a.m. practice TBA
  • Tuesday, Aug. 11 (2) — a.m. and p.m. practices TBA
  • Wednesday, Aug. 12 — a.m. practice TBA
  • Thursday, Aug. 13 (2) — a.m. and p.m. practices TBA
  • Monday, Aug. 17 — p.m. practice TBA
  • Tuesday, Aug. 18 (2) — a.m. and p.m. practices TBA
  • Wednesday, Aug. 19 — a.m. practice TBA
  • Thursday, Aug. 20 (2) — a.m. and p.m. practices TBA

For complete times, weather updates and any changes to the schedule, check the Lions' official Web site.


Lions trade Curry to Rams for DT

Despite the perception that player-for-player trades are rare in the NFL, Detroit Lions GM Martin Mayhew may have already pulled off his fourth such deal of the offseason.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Wednesday that the Lions had swapped wide receiver Ronald Curry to the Rams for defensive tackle Orien Harris, giving both teams a minor boost at a worrisome position.

A 6-foot-3, 300-pound space-eater in just his third season out of Miami (Fla.), Harris is already on his seventh team. The Rams traded RB Brian Leonard to Cincinnati for Harris’ rights earlier this year.

Originally a fourth-round draft pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006, the 26-year-old Harris played in two games with the Browns at the end of that season, was inactive for both Buffalo and New Orleans in 2007, and played in 14 games — starting once — for the Bengals last fall.

Despite only 14 career tackles, Harris still has far more experience than Lions' fourth-round pick Sammie Lee Hill, one of the only other depth players at the position. The two will likely be the backups behind starters Grady Jackson and Chuck Darby, and will become even more valuable should Jackson, as feared, start the season with a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. The Lions tried and failed to sign veteran DT John Thornton as a free agent earlier this month.

Signed as a street free agent on April 16, Curry was made expendable when Mayhew traded for slot receiver Dennis Northcutt three weeks ago. The eight-year veteran Curry, who’d spent his first seven seasons with the Raiders, was attractive to a St. Louis team that had cut ties with both Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt in the past two seasons and is rebuilding its receiving corps with a slew of youngsters.

In the spring, Mayhew sent disgruntled quarterback Jon Kitna to the Cowboys for veteran defensive back Anthony Henry, then swapped defensive tackle Cory Redding to Seattle for linebacker Julian Peterson. Three weeks after taking over as the team’s interim GM last year, Mayhew sent wide receiver Roy Williams and a fourth-round pick to Dallas for three draft picks.

UPDATE (July 24): The Lions confirmed the trade Friday, likely after waiting for both players to pass physicals with their new organization.

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Follett signs rookie deal

The Lions brain trust continued to motor its way through its flock of unsigned draft choices prior to the opening of training camp, inking Cal outside linebacker Zack Follett — the middle of the team's three choices in the seventh round — to a contract on Monday.

Adam Caplan of reported the deal, which was announced on the team's official Web site, was for three years.

Preceding Follett into the fold were No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford, seventh-round tight end Dan Gronkowski and sixth-round running back Aaron Brown.

While the terms of Follett's contract, which were not disclosed by the team, surely pale in comparison to the NFL-record deal signed by the team's quarterback of the future, the linebacker's resume may be the closest rival to Stafford's among the Lions' 2009 haul of draftees.

Expected to back up offseason trade acquisition Julian Peterson on the strong side, Follett will have to live up to his reputation as a punishing hitter and excel on special teams to make the squad.

It was likely Follett's tremendous production more than his collection of highlight-reel hits scattered about YouTube that got him drafted, but it was just as probably that same penchant for head-first hitting that pushed him as far down in the draft as he was selected.

A versatile player, Follett flourised at each of the three linebacker positions in the Golden Bears' 4-3 defense, then exploded as a senior when Cal switched to a 3-4, allowing him to play more going forward, rather than in reverse. He earned freshman All-American honors as a backup middle linebacker, Pac-10 honorable mention as a sophomore weakside linebacker, and second-team Pac-10 honors on the strong side, despite missing three games of his junior season with a (likely self-inflicted) neck stinger.

The kid who once was ejected from a Little League game at 8 years old for blowing up a catcher got to initiate plenty of similar collisions in college, ranking 10th on Cal's all-time tackle list (245), his 13 forced fumbles a school record and a tie for the Pac-10 mark. He also ranks fifth in Cal history with 51 tackles for loss and sixth with 23.5 sacks.

A Bednarik semifinalist as a senior, the 6-foot-2, 236-pound Follett had 10.5 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in his final collegiate season.

If the Lions do indeed stick to their stated plan to sprinkle 3-4 elements into the defense, Follett would give defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham a third player — along with Peterson and second-year defensive end Cliff Avril — ideally suited for rushing the passer from a two-point stance.

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Will we see the Lions?

The Detroit Lions could remain the strongest draw in town, but their 0-16 campaign will test fans.

A poll of online readers at The Oakland Press showed nearly 3 out of 4 are more excited about the division-leading Tigers than the hapless Lions. You'd think that was natural, a team is in the hunt for a championship.

But that's higher than normal, because football has always gotten Detroiters riled up and the Lions have long been an area of intense interest, even in the off season, even when Wayne Fontes was coach, even when Matt Millen ran the team.

I know the Tigers are in first place, but they've been there for a while (at times the 3rd best team in the league). But they're not that exciting, really; they keep having these losing streaks to take away momentum. They're not selling out, forcing the Tigers to run numerous ticket specials.

So how will the Lions fare when it comes to putting bottoms in the seats? If a first-place pro team struggles, what could the worst-place team do?

Throw in the economy and (as fellow Lowdowner Jeff Kuehn pointed out) a possible 0-6 start, and the Lions could only have nine games on TV (the eight road ones and Thanksgiving). And what if Thanksgiving doesn't sell out?

We love our football, but could this cause long-term damage to the finances and stability of the team. Despite it's on-field performance, the team has been fairly consistent, selling out every Ford Field game until last year and maintaining a front office with a strong marketing team and good community involvement.

But could we get to the point of small crowds with tens of thousands of empty seats. If the Lions aren't on TV, it's easy to forget about them. And the Detroit papers have given up on delivering Monday's paper, pushing the Lions further away from fans.

As much as I've liked the Lions over the years, I've also hated some aspects of the NFL, especially it's damn-the-fans approach to television coverage. Blackouts are the worst thing they can do, because it takes away marketing the league and the sport. Not only do you not get to watch the Lions, but you don't get another game.

Perhaps the national economic downturn will lead to other cities have this problem and perhaps the blackout rules could be amended. I doubt it, but I know it will be a test to remain faithful to the team if things don't get better.

Of course, one thing would help — a win or two early on and some good play throughout the season.

Giving up three touchdowns early on every week will only ensure everyone gets their yards raked on Sundays.

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Lions ink draft pick Brown

The Lions have come to terms with sixth-round draft pick Aaron Brown, giving the team three of its 10 draft picks under contract as the start of training camp looms at the end of the month.

The move was noted in the transactions list on the team’s official Web site.

Brown, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound running back from Texas Christian, will likely battle Aveion Cason and undrafted free agent Antone Smith for the third running back slot behind starter Kevin Smith and offseason free-agent acquisition Maurice Morris.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford, the No. 1 overall pick, agreed to a contract on the eve of the draft, while the Lions inked a deal with tight end Dan Gronkowski, the third of three seventh-round picks, during last month’s minicamp.

Built more like a wide receiver than a feature back, Brown's niche will likely be on special teams and as a change-of-pace runner, possibly split out wide as a receiver. Blessed with 4.49-second speed in the 40, Brown had a 27.2-yard average and a score on 32 career kick returns. After earning Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year and freshman All-American honors after a 758-yard effort in 2005, Brown's best season was his sophomore year for the Horned Frogs, when he racked up 801 yards and nine scores on the ground, adding 455 yards and a TD on 34 receptions.

Injuries slowed him as a junior, limiting him to 490 yards, then he was suspended for the first three games of his senior season for violating a team policy. He'd finish his senior year with 547 yards and a touchdown, then run for 102 yards and a TD in TCU's 17-16 win over Boise State in the Poinsettia Bowl.

Off-the-field issues — he missed all but one game as a senior in high school, as well — and injury concerns were as much a reason as any physical deficiencies for his lasting to the sixth round.

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The worst Madden teams of all-time

The 2008 Lions are arguably one of the worst teams in NFL history. People can counter with the 1976 Buccaneers, which went 0-14, or even the 1942 Lions, which went 0-11. But arguing which is the worst NFL team of all-time got me to thinking, will the Lions be the worst rated team in Madden history when the new version of the game is released on August 14?
Well after some research, it appears the Lions will become the second worst rated team in video game's history when Madden 10 is released. The Lions overall rating is a 65, two points lower than Madden 09's worst rated team, the Dolphins.
The worst team of all-time distinction goes to the Houston Texans, who were rated a 44 in Madden 02. The Texans were added to the game, which was released in 2001, before they began play in 2002. The Texans were rated 65 in Madden 03. The folks at IGN wrote an article about the 10 worst Madden teams of all-time back in 2008, which can be viewed here.
IGN’s second worst team of all-time was the 1994 Bears, which were rated poor in seven of nine categories in Madden 95 before overall ratings were used.
The actual Lions team that went 0-16 was actually rated pretty good by Electronic Arts. The Lions had an overall rating of 78 in Madden 09, with seven teams being rated lower. But we know how things panned out.
As for the Lions’ quarterback debate, according to the new version of Madden, Matthew Stafford (overall rating 79) should get the nod over Daunte Culpepper (72 rating). Stafford has a throw power of 97 and throw accuracy of 80, while Culpepper has a throw power of 90 and throw accuracy of 80.
The highest rated Lion is Jason Hanson (95), followed by Calvin Johnson (92) and Julian Peterson (90). To view the complete Lions roster and how it's rated visit the EA website.


Defense could be supplemented (UPDATED)

The biggest criticism of the Lions' draft haul in April was the lack of immediate impact defensive players, primarily in the front seven.

The Lions could add another prospect to the front lines as early as 1 p.m. Thursday, when the NFL holds its annual Supplemental Draft, the addendum to the April selection process where latecomers get a chance to be selected by an NFL team.

Kentucky defensive end Jeremy Jarmon — who ranks third on the Wildcats' career sacks list (17.5) — was declared ineligible for his senior season by the NCAA after testing positive in February for a banned substance in a dietary supplement. The suspension came too late for Jarmon — who considered coming out, anyway — to make it into April's draft, forcing him into today's pool of eligible draftees, where he could be added to the defensive line rotation for as little as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Jarmon is one of eight players who submitted paperwork for the NFL's late-summer catch-up draft, but has drawn the most interest, including — as ESPN reported Wednesday — from the Lions. Eighteen teams showed up for his July 10 workout, where the graduate student — who has already completed his bachelor's degree in political science and was studying abroad while working on a second major — measured in at 6-foot-3 and 278 pounds and ran a 40-yard dashes anywhere between 4.79 and 4.83 seconds. The three-year starter earned all-SEC honors as a sophomore, and second-team distinction in his junior season.

Drafting Jarmon would give the Lions a young pass rusher to play behind the likely starter at left end, Jared DeVries, one with the size that new coach Jim Schwartz prefers in his ends. Veteran Dewayne White and second-year speed rusher Cliff Avril — both of the smaller build preferred by the previous coaching staff — will likely share time at right end.

Unlike April's draft, teams do not have to use selections in the Supplemental Draft. Any team interested in any eligible player e-mails their interest to the league office, along with the round in which they'd select the player. The team with the highest-round bid gets the player, and forfeits the corresponding pick in the next spring's draft. Last spring's draft order (where the Lions were first overall) is the deciding factor in the case of multiple teams entering the same bid.

Also eligible for today's draft are:

  • Blake Boyd, LB, Western Kentucky
  • Torris Magee, WR, Southern Mississippi
  • Dixon McKinner, DE, Texas Tech
  • Joe McMahon, OL, Central Michigan
  • Demetrice Morley, S, Tennessee
  • Deon Murphy, WR, Kansas State
  • Corey Surrency, WR, Florida State

For a more thorough analysis of the prospects, check out these sites: CBS, The Sporting News, and ProFootballWeekly

UPDATE: The Redskins snatched Jarmon with a third-round pick, the only selection made in Thursday's Supplemental Draft. For a team that has an immediate window of opportunity, like the Redskins, that makes sense. For a rebuilding team like the Lions, third round is a bit high.

Put it this way: In last year's draft (which was nearly unanimously classified as one of the weakest in recent memory), a third-round pick for Jarmon would have put him ahead of Georgia Tech's Michael Johnson (3rd), Wisconsin's Matt Shaughnessy (3rd), Texas' Henry Melton (4th), USC's Kyle Moore (4th), Texas Tech's Brandon Williams (4th) and Richmond's Lawrence Sidbury (4th). Jarmon would have ranked below all of those players.

UPDATE II: NFL Network's Adam Schefter reported that the Redskins picked Jarmon in the third because the Lions were set to take him at the top of the fourth round.

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Daunting challenge from the start

Idle chatter by the water cooler with a fellow reporter at The Oakland Press put a damper on an otherwise positive outlook as the dog days of summer tick away ever so slowly.

Enough, already! Let’s get the two-a-days going. Let’s see the improvements the 0-16 Lions have made in terms of personnel take the field and start competing for jobs.

Watching the time tick away until camp begins is worse than watching my grass grow.

Worse than that, however, is listening to the office pessimist lament about how the Lions are “guaranteed” to open the year with six straight losses, thus causing things to snowball, triggering a loser mentality to rip through the locker room again.

“Shut up, dude!”

“What’s the matter with you? Haven’t you been tuned in during the offseason? Didn’t you hear the news? Both Matt Millen and Rod Marinelli — the braintrust behind last year’s historic fall — were shown the door? A new regime, a new head coach in Jim Schwartz has already put a different thumb print on this year’s team.

“Did you not pay attention on draft day when the Lions solidified needs at quarterback, tight end and linebacker? Where were you when they signed former University of Michigan stalwarts Jon Jansen on the offensive line and Larry Foote to bolster the linebacking corps?

“The Lions are better than last year’s team. A lot better.”

I was rolling. There was passion behind the evidence being presented. It was only a matter of time before the co-worker would take a look at the evidence and see the light.

Instead, he dropped the bomb!

“I don’t care who they drafted, who they signed or who they recruited to coach this team. Did you look at the schedule? You tell me which game among the first six will result in a win.”

Here’s the first six games on the schedule: at New Orleans on Sept. 13, home to Minnesota and Washington, at Chicago, home to Pittsburgh and at Green Bay.

Whatever steam I had suddenly evaporated. The co-worker had a point. Six of them to be exact.

That’s not a hill to climb, it’s a mountain. At best, the Lions might scratch out wins over division rivals Minnesota and Chicago, but you’re fooling yourself if you think the Lions are on the same level as New Orleans, Washington, Pittsburgh and Green Bay.

New Orleans came into Ford Field last year and scored the first seven times the Saints touched the ball. In fact, they just scored again. Pittsburgh won the Super Bowl. The Lions haven’t won in Green Bay since before Brett Favre played there and Washington has also owned the Lions in recent years.

Getting off to a good start might be asking a bit much of a team coming off a winless year. Winning two of those first six games is probably a realistic target.

After the bye week in Week 7, Detroit entertains St. Louis and travels to Seattle and Minnesota before playing host to Cleveland. Frankly, that’s the first opportunity the Lions might be able to put together a string of wins.

This is no small thing we’ll talking about here.

The start of the season is crucial for a team looking for a slimmer of success to build hope, gain confidence and begin the process of learning how to win again. Getting a win coming out of the gate is crucial to the team’s growth.

So, as the co-worker at the water cooler said, you tell me. Where do you see the Lions getting off the winless wagon? Who do you see this team beating to launch Jim Schwartz’s coaching career here? How many wins do you see when you scroll through the schedule?

Don’t underestimate the importance of those first six games. Yes, the Lions are better than they were a year ago — by a long shot. They could still be 0-6 come the bye week.

Like I said before, “Shut up, dude!”


Road work scheduled

If there happens to be some traffic congestion around the Lions' Allen Park practice facility come July's training camp, don't blame the Michigan Department of Transportation.

A more likely scenario is the Lions' new fullback, noted roadgrader Terrelle Smith, who has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher in eight of his 10 seasons, pushing through a highway project of his own, laying down a new segment of M-44.

The offseason free agent acquisition from the NFC champion Cardinals spent two years in the desert clearing the way for running backs Edgerrin James and Tim Hightower. Early last season, Smith told the rookie Hightower that the road to success was on Highway-45 (Smith's jersey number with the Cardinals), but steadily saw his own playing time decrease, as the pass-happy Cardinals realized that they didn't need a stellar rushing game — Arizona was last in the league in rushing yards per game in the regular season — to make a Super Bowl run, and more often went with three- and four-wide receiver sets.

"I never really slacked off ... they were just going away from the traditional fullback," said Smith, who knew there would be a better chance for him to play in Detroit, especially with last year's midseason pickup, Moran Norris, signing with San Francisco, setting off the usual carousel of movement among the fullback fraternity. "If it's not Lorenzo Neal, then it's Moran, and if it's not Moran, than it's me. That's just kind of how it works."

How Smith works isn't as easy to quantify.

Smith had half (29) of his 58 career carries in his rookie year with the New Orleans Saints — after following the man who is now his position coach, Sam Gash, at the position — and hasn't had more than 18 touches in a single season since then. All three of his career touchdowns came on receptions, none of them since he was with the Cleveland Browns in 2005.

"I'm a role player, and my role is to lead the way, and let my back run through the hole. It is not a statistics position. Nowadays, they want to use those 'tweener backs, those big running backs who can put their hand on the ground and run out and catch passes," Smith told the Arizona Republic last year. "To a point, it's kind of disheartening to a guy who is made and built for this (job), but in the end, if you can't block, you can't play the position. I don't ever cry, 'Give me the ball. Give me the ball.' It's not what I do."

What he does is block, which is perfect for the Lions' new preference for power offense. Don't get him wrong: He can catch, too. He just doesn't care if he doesn't get touches.

"I don't want 'em. It brings too many issues, too many problems, this and that," he said at the recently-completed minicamp. "If you're gonna throw me the ball, I'll catch it. If not, I'm gonna block somebody."

One of the people he may be blocking — at least for now — is the other fullback on the roster, Jerome Felton. Last year's second pick in the fifth round, Felton was primarily a featured running back at Division I-AA Furman University. His struggles to block as a rookie were part of the reason that then-interim general manager Martin Mayhew made one of his first moves the signing of Norris to solidify the lead-blocking role.

"I'd seen film on him, but not enough, because he was injured. Moran was hungry, and that's one of the things we talk about, is being hungry," Smith said of trying to help Felton through the tough transition from runner to blocker. "That, and you've just got to take this one play at a time. I've been through this 10 times."

Smith has also been through the wringer of constant relocation — from New Orleans to Cleveland to Arizona and now to Detroit — as well as the stress of coaching upheaval, part of the reason he's happy to be in on the ground floor with first-year head coach Jim Schwartz's staff.

"I don't want to come into a situation where I'm a piece of the puzzle, then the head coach goes. I don't like that. I've been in that situation in Cleveland. Like I tell everyone in Detroit ... I'm part of the solution, and not the problem," said Smith, who laid low throughout the offseason schedule, but plans to turn it up when camp opens on July 31. "Minicamp is like PE. You gotta learn the plays, work on stuff. ... I like the fact that nobody knows about me, nobody's talking to me. We get into training camp, people are going to think I'm stone crazy."

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Would you pay to see this, if reduced?

The excitement of a new season this year must be tempered with the losing streak that is continuing from late in 2007. Throw in the seeming collapse of the state's economy and automotive industry, and it's a tough time to sell one of the most expensive tickets in town.

For Oakland County residents, there's the cost of the ticket, the cost of the trip and parking in Detroit and then the cost of shirts or hats along with some food and/or beer.

Though an event, I imagine many people are not going to sacrifice as much as they would have to see their beloved Detroit Lions.

But my cousin said that he's keeping his season tickets and seems happy with minor concessions — maybe about a $100 off the total price — offered by the team. What are your thoughts?

Is now the time to buy season tickets, maybe getting better seats for the anticipated return to winning (and I'm thinking 4-12, here, with maybe one good upset along the way, but who knows, they may hit 8-8 one day)?

Or is now definitely the time to let the Lions go and focus on the outdoor autumn work and indoor projects?

I generally about now starting thinking about what game to go during the season and get going on the arrangements of tickets and scheduling it. Now, I don't know. I last went on Thanksgiving and it was a depressing blow out, though reduced prices at the concession stands helped with some Christmas shopping for my daughters. If I don't go and the Lions are regularly blacked out from TV, it might be easier to break the habit.

What are your thoughts on visiting Ford Field as the season approaches?


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Report: Stafford's free tix lead to Georgia violation

Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler should be quarterbacking rivals for years to come in the NFC North, but the University of Georgia may be wishing that the two former SEC quarterbacks weren't so friendly last year.

The Athens Banner-Herald published a story saying that Georgia self-reported eight violations, including one that came from a tip from the NFLPA, which was concerned that agents were inappropriately contacting a Georgia draft prospect. The school's report cited an instance of four players getting complimentary tickets to an Atlanta Falcons game in November 2008.

The player involved texted then-Broncos quarterback Cutler — whom he'd known since high school — to request the tickets. The school kept the player's name private, citing student privacy laws, but the Banner-Herald reported that a former teammate, Shaun Chapas, identified Stafford as the player getting the tickets.

For the full Banner-Herald story, click here.


Veteran LB Lewis released

The Lions confirmed Thursday they have released linebacker Alex Lewis, a five-year veteran, ridding themselves of another Matt Millen pick.

Made expendable with the offseason trade for Julian Peterson, Lewis was due to make $1 million this coming season, a hefty price for a special teamer. The 5-foot-11, 237-pounder led the team in special teams tackles each of the past two seasons, but was unable to fulfill Millen's hopes that he could hold down the starting strong-side linebacker spot after the departure of oft-injured Boss Bailey and Teddy Lehman in the 2008 offseason. A starter just five times in his first four seasons, Lewis started just four games in 2008, and finished the year on injured reserve.

Despite his less-than-stellar resume, Lewis still may go down as one of Millen's rare late-round "finds." His competition for the distinction of the best in that category can be boiled down to:

  • Scotty Anderson, WR (5th round-a, 2001): 34 career games, 54 receptions; out of football.
  • Mike McMahon, QB (5th round-b, 2001): 14 career starts (7 with Philadelphia in 2005), 2,867 yards, 15 TD, 21 INT, 55.1 rating; out of football.
  • Terrence Holt, S (5th round-a, 2003): 43 career starts, 189 tackles, 8 INT; played out just one season of a five-year, $15 million deal with the Cardinals after leaving the Lions.
  • James "Dirty" Davis, LB (5th round-b, 2003): 55 games, 198 career tackles; out of football.
  • David "Circus" Kircus, WR (6th round, 2003): 28 games, 15 receptions; out of football.
  • Dan Orlovsky, QB (5th round, 2005): 7 starts, 1,679 yards, 8 TD, 8 INT, 71.3 passer rating; currently a backup with Houston.

Mission here is to inform, have fun

Twenty-two days and counting until the new-look Detroit Lions open training camp, officially putting the worst season in NFL history in the rearview mirror.

Finally! The day can’t come soon enough when talk of a quarterback controversy between top draft pick Matthew Stafford and veteran Duante Culpepper fills this space rather than flash backs to Matt Millen exit interviews.

Like the Lions — who are starting anew with head coach Jim Schwartz, a franchise quarterback in camp and several new verteran free agent acquisitions — The Oakland Press is reshaping the way we cover the Lions this year.

This blog posting is intended to make you an educated consumer on this site. You may not agree with the way the blog is presented, you may disagree with the number of contributors or the level of expertise of each contributor, you may not like the change. That’s OK. In today’s modern world of interactive journalism, everyone is an expert, free to express his or her opinion in various forms of communication. We get that. In fact, we embrace that.

That’s the wonderful (and miserable) thing about the Internet. the ability to interact between the writer and consumer.

So here it is, the ground rules for what to expect when you visit Lions Lowdown and what we expect in return from you.

The purpose of this blog is to inform, educate, humor and interact with readers looking for more coverage than The Oakland Press pool of reporters can squeeze into the daily printed product.

To do that, we have called on the expertise of several staff members to post to this site.

Beat writer Paula Pasche, who is on vacation until the team opens training camp on July 31, will be the point person here. As news happens in training camp, as players succumb to the dog days of August or tough drills of Schwartz, Pasche will let you know about it. Count on it. Expect no less.

When Schwartz sees things he likes in the play of his quarterbacks, or expresses displeasure with the way the offensive line is protecting the money men, you won’t have to wait until tomorrow’s paper to read the news. We’ll post reports following each workout.

Because the Internet has no boundaries like the printed product does, we feel this blog is simply too big for one person. The Internet is not bound by a midnight deadline or a specific page count.

Lions fans are hungry for news and analysis as much they crave wins on the football field. To that end, staff writers Matt Mowery and Dave Pemberton along with columnist Pat Caputo, online editor Stephen Frye and yours truly will be contributors to this site. While Mowery and Pemberton won’t have their laptop computers just outside the practice site as Pasche will, both writers will spend enough time on the beat to provide features and analysis pieces. Both Mowery and Pemberton are seasoned journalists and have been behind the scenes contributors to Lions coverage in recent years.

The idea is to first and foremost, break news and educate you to the best of our ability as news happens regarding the Lions. Beyond that, however, we also hope to tap into this new form of communication by doing our best to entertain and have fun with Detroit’s pro football team.

You. of course, are encouraged to take part in the process. When you don’t agree with something we’ve written, by all means, let us know. When you have a question you think one of our reporters should ask a player or coach, again, let us know.

When a writer posts a story or an opinion on this blog, you’ll be able to identify a name at the end. While we don’t require the same from you, act as if your name appeared at the end. It’s easy to speak your mind when no one knows who you are or where you live.

When a player drops a punt or fumbles the ball, his name is right there on the back of his jersey for all to see. When a reporter or columnist posts a blog, his or her name and reputation are at stake. Keep that in mind when you chime in on this site. State your opinion with the same amount of respect and confidence as if your name and reputation were on the line.

Our intention is to keep feeding this site with fresh news and opinions. Expect to find something on this site Monday-Friday even as the team remains in a deep sleep until the start of training camp.

As news breaks, we’ll report it. If things remain quiet, we’ll do our best to entertain and encourage interaction to kill the time between now and the end of the month.

Enough said. Like the Lions, we hope this is the start of something big. How big will be determined in large part by you.

Jeff Kuehn,

sports editor


Stafford to start rumors

There are rumors floating around that Matthew Stafford will be named the Lions’ starting quarterback for Week 1 before the start of training camp. Now these rumors are likely just that rumors, but let’s hope Stafford is not just handed the job.
Stafford should be named the starter when he is ready to play at the NFL level, not when he is better than Daunte Culpepper. Let’s be honest, beating out Culpepper doesn’t exactly put you in line to make the Pro Bowl.
If Stafford is sent out too early then this town will eat him alive. There were already fans who booed the pick and are just waiting for Stafford to throw an interception so they can say, ‘I told you so.’
Stafford could have the most pressure on him of any No. 1 overall pick in history. Think about it. He is drafted by the first team to go 0-16 in NFL history. Add in the fact that there’s a rookie GM and a rookie head coach, who are both looking to prove they belong.
If that’s not enough, consider the fans he has to win over. The same fans that remember the last two first rounds choices the Lions used on quarterbacks (Joey Harrington and Andre Ware). These fans won’t be won over easily. In fact, it’s likely the exact opposite. There are probably countless fans waiting for Stafford to fall on his face because they have grown accustomed to the Lions losing.
Changing the losing mentality of the Lions won’t be easy for Stafford, but don’t make it any harder by throwing him in too fast and giving him a job he couldn’t have possibly earned in mini-camp. Lets put some pads on before any decisions are made.


Lions Hall of Famer Creekmur dies

Lions Hall of Famer Lou Creekmur, the anchor of the offensive line for three NFL championships in the 1950s, died at University Hospital in Tamarac, Fla., Sunday evening.

Creekmur was 82, and had been in failing health for several years.

The Lions' second-round pick in the 1950 draft out of William and Mary College, the overaged Creekmur — he'd served a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1945-46) in Berlin before returning to school for his final three years — was an immediate starter on the line. He'd earn a Pro Bowl berth his rookie season, and the first of six selections to the All-NFL team (two as a guard, four as a tackle) just a year later.

With Creekmur on the line, the Lions would win titles in 1952, 1953 and 1957.

"Bobby (Layne) had a nickname for everyone, and Lou's was 'The Spirit,' " said teammate Yale Lary, referring to Creekmur's No. 76 jersey as well as his tenacity. "That group in the '50s was special and I don't think will ever be equaled. Lou was a real team player and an important part of those teams."

In all, Creekmur registered eight consecutive Pro Bowl selections in his 10-year career. However, he'd have to wait 32 years after retirement to earn a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1996, joining Lion teammates Bobby Layne, Jack Christiansen, Joe Schmidt, Frank Gatski, Doak Walker, John Henry Johnson and Lary as an enshrinee in Canton.

"Lou always will be remembered as one of the true standout players in Lions history," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a release on Monday. "Offensive linemen often don't get the credit they deserve and, until his induction into the Hall of Fame, that certainly was the case with Lou. If you look at the number of All-NFL and Pro Bowl teams he was selected to, and at the success of the Lions teams when he played, you know that Lou was one of the all-time great linemen in NFL history."

In an era before left tackle was a glamor position, Creekmur — who played at 6-foot-4 and 255 pounds, and was nicknamed "The Smiling Assassin" — was a master at protecting his quarterback, Layne. He knew the consequences, if he hadn't. Layne was notorious for calling out a teammate who missed an assignment.

"It was so embarrassing that we all made a pact that we would never miss a block that would ever disturb Bobby Layne," Creekmur was quoted by biographer Don Smith in 1996. "I'll tell you, the treatment he (Layne) gave us off the field couldn't have been better. ... It sounds funny to say this, but the whole team showed such a love and respect for each other, we would break our backs for each other. We were a lot of rabble-rousers. We lived high on the hog, but on Sunday we were dedicated."

Often bounced from tackle to guard — and even given the assignment of starting at defensive guard in 1955, when the Lions started 0-6 after the retirement of Les Bingaman — Creekmur never made the money that today's star linemen rake in.

He admitted his low salary — at its highest, $1,000 per game — was a key factor in his short-lived retirement after the 1958 season, especially when his starting salary as a terminal manager for the Saginaw Transfer Company, a Detroit-area trucking company, paid him $15,000 a year. By Week 5 of the following season, Lions coach George Wilson had convinced Creekmur to come back to the team. Creekmur signed a contract with the team on Wednesday, practiced Thursday, flew to Los Angeles on Saturday and started against the Rams on Sunday. Playing out the rest of that season earned Creekmur eligibility for the NFL Players pension.

In addition to his enshrinement in Canton, Creekmur is also a member of the state halls of fame for Michigan, Virginia and his native New Jersey, the William and Mary Athletic Hall of Fame and the Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame. He was also selected to the Lions' All-75th Anniversary team last year.

Survived by his wife of 33 years, Caroline, as well as a daughter, two sons, two stepdaughters and nine grandchildren, Creekmur will be remembered in a memorial ceremony at a later date. Memorial donations can be made in Creekmur's name to the Boys and Girls Club of Broward County/Reitman Unit (3025 W. Broward Blvd., Ft. Lauderdale, FL 33312).


So long, Air

Steve 'Air' McNair died this weekend, killed by gunshots early into his retirement. While police and investigators are sorting out what happened to him and a lady friend, I looked back at how he ended up in Tennessee.

The former Alcorn State star was the third-overall pick in 1995 by the Houston Oilers, who would later move to Tennessee, first to Memphis for a temporary year and then Nashville, where he would lead the Titans to the brink of an NFL championship. But the pass came up 1 yard short, there was no OT, and the Rams went on to glory. McNair retired from Baltimore, respected but not a champion.

The Lions have missed many good opportunities on draft day, but the 1995 draft was not one of them. Sure, they could have gotten Ty Law or Derrick Brooks, but they drafted Luther Ellis in the first round with the 20th pick. Ellis had a pretty decent career in Detroit, before leaving for Denver, and he was well-liked both on and off the field. They missed a chance at the bust of Rashaan Salaam, who went to Chicago with the 21st pick.

And thinking of 1995, that was a decent draft year for the team, as they picked up David Sloan (3rd), Stephen Boyd (5th), and Cory Schlesinger (6th) in the later rounds. But they didn't get the game-changer or franchise leader like McNair. Too bad they were down 51-7 in Philly in the playoffs before anyone was ready to make some plays, following 1994's 16-12 playoff defeat in Green Bay.

What were once considered troublesome years by Lions fans now look like the Golden Age. It's just that, by squeaking by into the playoffs, they missed the chance to sign a player who could have made a real difference like McNair.

Of course, what would his career have been like in Detroit? — Stephen Frye


Lions director of security loses battle with pancreatic cancer

Ricky Sandoval, the Lions' director of security for the past eight years, died Thursday morning at Harper University Hospital in Detroit after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

Sandoval, a Royal Oak resident who turned 49 on June 30, was survived by his wife Gael. Earlier in the week, the Lions organization honored their longtime employee by naming the Allen Park facility's indoor practice field after him.

"This is a very sad day for our organization and for everyone who knew Ricky," Lions president Tom Lewand said in a release. "Ricky set a new standard for courage as he not only fought this disease, but did so with incredible spirit, dignity and determination.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Gael who, like Ricky, was a tremendous inspiration to all of us as she helped Ricky fight such a courageous battle. We also extend our deepest sympathies to the families of both Gael and Ricky."

In 2006, the Lions players, coaches and staff were unanimous in selecting Sandoval to receive the franchise's nomination of the Ed Block Courage Award, an honor usually reserved for one player from each of the NFL's 32 franchises, one that recognizes men of courage in the league.

Hired as director of security in 2001, Sandoval oversaw all of the team's security needs at its Allen Park headquarters, as well as heading the security detail on the road, and acting as a liason with local law enforcement agencies. Prior to his time in Detroit, Sandoval worked for the San Francisco 49ers for 11 years (1987-98), as well as for Contemporary Services Corporation, a Texas firm that has handled security for Super Bowls in the past.

Funeral arrangements were still pending as of Thursday afternoon.

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Lions finally confirm trade

The Lions officially confirmed the Dennis Northcutt-for-Gerald Alexander trade late Wednesday afternoon, finally tying up the last loose end in the swap of the Lions' former second-round pick at safety, Alexander, to the Jacksonville Jaguars for the veteran wide receiver, Northcutt.

The move was first reported on Friday, but couldn't be finalized until the NFL office re-opened on Monday, and both players passed physicals with their new teams.

Stuck in a positional logjam with the Lions — who drafted a safety in the second round for the third time in four years this spring (Daniel Bullocks, Alexander, Louis Delmas) — Alexander was excited about the opportunity in Jacksonville.

"I'm just excited about being in this situation," Alexander told the Jaguars Web site. "Obviously, there is a shock value, but I'm looking forward to being part of this team. I have to move on to a new situation and learn a new system; get acquainted with a new group of people."

The shock to the whole deal is neither the Lions choosing to deal from an area of relative strength, nor the Jaguars adding to an area of weakness. Jacksonville was concerned about a lack of depth behind starting safeties Reggie Nelson and Sean Considine.

No, the shocking thing about the whole trade was the swapping of a veteran pass-catcher from one receiving-poor team to another, especially considering the investments the two franchises have made in that area. And the move is merely another step in the complete renovation of both teams' receiving corps.

Jacksonville nabbed former Rams Pro-Bowler Torry Holt in free agency, allowing the Jaguars to jettison a pair of former first-round busts at the position, by releasing the troubled Matt Jones and declining to re-sign Reggie Williams. Jerry Porter, a 2008 free agency addition, was also let go. The Jaguars drafted three wideouts — Arizona's Mike Thomas (fourth round), Rice's Jarrett Dillard (fifth round) and Rutgers' Tiquan Underwood (seventh round), but Holt is 33 and has had knee issues, and Northcutt, Jones, Williams and Porter accounted for roughly half the team's catches and TD receptions last year.

The Florida Times-Union has reported that the Jaguars staff didn't feel that Northcutt was still enough better than the rookies to justify the 10-year veteran's $2.75 million salary, and that the team will likely try to pick up another veteran receiver before training camp begins.

The Lions, on the other hand, are still searching for pass-catching options, despite the much-publicized and ill-fated run of No. 1 picks — Charles Rogers, Roy Williams, Mike Williams and Calvin Johnson — at the position. Only Johnson remains with the team (and only Roy Williams is also still in football), while Mike Martz proteges Shaun McDonald and Mike Furrey were let go in the offseason, replaced by veterans Ronald Curry, Bryant Johnson and third-round draft pick Derrick Williams.

Considering both teams' seemingly glaring need for wideout help, the whole thing reeks of a swap of damaged goods.