Forgive me for stealing the words of George W. Bush but an achievement this great deserves the words of an equally great man. After years and years of coming up short, William Clay Ford finally reached what had clearly become his obsession: 0-16. It had become all too obvious over the last decade that Ford eyed the doughnut-season as much as Robert Kraft and Jerry Jones eye the Super Bowl. It wasn’t easy. Ford attacked the mark from virtually every conceivable angle but never fared better than 2-14 before this season. Ford’s persistence paid off. His philosophy of hiring grossly unqualified people at every position of the organizational ladder was solid. He just needed the right mix of players to supplement the plan. Chemistry is such a delicate art in the NFL. Ford finally nailed it.
It’s too bad that everything I just wrote isn’t true. Going 0-16 sounds a whole lot better when it was done purposefully. Anyhow, instead of dwelling on whatever negatives come with a 0-16 season and a 40-104 decade, let’s talk about the fact that Ford and his brain trust (is that an oxymoron?) have accidentally stumbled upon one of the great draft positions in recent memory. The Lions will draft #1 overall in the first round. They will also draft #20 overall in the first round because the Cowboys a). wanted badly to have two Roy Williams on their team and b). detonated an IED in their locker room in the form of T.O. Having two selections among the first 20 picks is a GM’s dream. Unfortunately, it looks like it will be Martin Mayhew’s dream since Ford woke up long enough to name Mayhew the permanent GM. Who needs to talk to Bill Parcells, Bill Cowher, or Scott Pioli when you have Matt Millen’s understudy?
Nonetheless, Mayhew will have a bounty of draft picks to shape the future of the franchise. He did pull off the heist of the Cowboys by orchestrating a first and third round pick for Williams. Hopefully that is a sign of competency. The Dolphins were in a similar position last year. Wayne Huizenga called on Bill Parcells to rebuild the franchise and the Tuna answered. The Dolphins tied an NFL record with a 10-win improvement. Parcells targeted the offensive and defensive lines in the draft. He acquired Chad Pennington who despite being one of the most criticized QBs in the NFL also happens to be the most accurate QB in NFL history. Parcells then focused on the positions that are the most vital to success in the NFL: the lines. The Lions need to do the same. All positions are important but if you can’t block or rush-the-passer, then you are, well, the 2008 Detroit Lions. The Lions need to come away with an elite offensive lineman. The best in the draft will probably be Andre Smith from Alabama. Miami took Jake Long last year with the #1 overall pick and he solidified its line. Smith would team with Gosder Cherulis to give the Lions a talented, young line. Kevin Smith is too good to waste. Calvin Johnson is too good to waste. Andre Smith should be the key to opening up space for them.
The 2009 Draft will be fairly deep at most positions which is good because the Lions need help at most positions. Barring any trades, the Lions will have nine selections including five of the first 84 picks. That—along with a savvy free agent acquisition— is enough ammunition to turn the entire fortunes of a franchise around. Miami and Atlanta combined to go 5-27 in 2007. This year they went 22-10. They each picked up an important player turned-MVP-candidate via free agency (Pennington and Michael Turner) and they each made outstanding selections with their first round picks. Miami took Long first overall and Atlanta took Matt Ryan third overall. Both sets of acquisitions helped turn moribund offenses (27th and 29th respectively in 2007) into solid units in 2008. The Lions already have two key offensive cogs in K. Smith and C. Johnson. The only thing missing offensively is an elite tackle and a capable QB. Where have we heard that before? If the Lions follow the lead of the Dolphins and Falcons, they can pick up one of those in the draft (Andre Smith) and one in free agency (Matt Cassell or Kurt Warner). Or, they can draft Matt Stafford and watch him get sacked 64,000 times.
As bad as the Lions have been on and off the field, they have actually made three average-to-excellent first round picks in a row. Ernie Sims and Calvin Johnson are above average NFL players and Gosder Cherilus should end up being a decent right tackle. Maybe Mayhew was behind those picks or maybe the Lions just got lucky. Either way, there is reason for optimism. And by that I mean that there is a non-zero chance that Ford will move the Lions to another city. I can’t believe I actually got excited about the Lions for a second. What was I thinking? Can we somehow work out a trade with, say, Los Angeles? Maybe we can import some of its smog in exchange for the Lions. It took William Clay Ford less than 18 hours to name an in-house candidate as the GM of the worst franchise in the history of professional sports. If you think this thing is getting better anytime soon, then I have a Lions hat that I’d like to sell you.
P.S. How did the Red Sox get Brad Penny for $5 million?