Friday, March 2, 2007

Lions trade Dre Bly -- Is it Willie Roaf all over again?

NFL Free Agency begins in earnest today and the Detroit Lions have kicked off the off-season by trading Pro Bowl cornerback Dre Bly to the Denver Broncos for running back Tatum Bell, offensive tackle George Foster, and a fifth round draft pick. The move, on its own, is a good one. Dre Bly, while he was the best cornerback the Lions had, and did go to the Pro Bowl a few times in his Lions career, won't be missed. He was a problem in the locker-room (going on TV and trashing your starting quarterback, as Bly did to former Lions QB Joey Harrington two seasons ago, is never the sign of a good teammate) and never bought into the new defensive scheme of head coach Rod Marinelli. So, while Bly made the occasional big play, he was probably hurting the Lions overall, so losing him isn't the worst thing in the world (even if does mean the unproven Stanley Wilson and the oft-injured Fernando Bryant are our new starting cornerbacks).

And Bell and Foster should be good additions. Bell ran for 1,000 yards despite splitting time with Mike Bell in Denver last season (though, with Denver's great blocking scheme, it seems almost anyone could run for 1,000 yards a season for the Broncos) and Foster is a former first-round pick who should solidify the right tackle position on a weak Lions offensive line.

So, why am I worried about the move? The answer is Willie Roaf. Roaf was an offensive lineman drafted in 1993 by the New Orleans Saints and turned out to be one of the best offensive tackles in the history of football. Roaf, though, should have been a Detroit Lion. The Lions likely would have selected Roaf in the same spot the Saints drafted him in, but instead, they traded the pick to New Orelans for linebacker Pat Swilling. Swilling, before coming to Detroit, was a superstar, but was a bust for the Lions, and was out of football soon after. Year after year after year I watched Roaf dominate defensive ends and stand out as one of the best players in football, knowing that had we not made that trade, he likely would have been a Lion.

Now, flash forward 14 years (and, wow, that makes me feel old, it does not seem like 14 years ago) and the Lions are on the verge of making the same mistake they made with Roaf. In the 2007 NFL Draft, the Lions are set to draft second overall, and before today's trade (and the acquisition of Foster) it was assumed the Lions would take Wisconsin Offensive Tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas is as close to a can't miss prospect as one can find. He's had a monster scouting combine, has all the intangibles one would want to see in a football player, and even has been quoted as saying he wants to come to the Lions. (A player wanting to come play for the Lions? Sign this guy, yesterday.)

Yet, now, with their need for an offensive tackle solidified, Thomas may no longer be in the Lions plans. That would be a gigantic mistake. Sure, defensive end and middle linebacker are positions which need upgrading, and players like Gaines Adams and Patrick Willis could help in those areas, but the Lions can't pass on Joe Thomas if they think he will be even half the player Willie Roaf was. Thomas could be a standout for the next decade at a position which your entire offense depends. The Lions made a mistake in 1993 by making a trade and passing on Roaf. They can't and shouldn't make the same mistake in 2007. Now, if they go through their notes from the combine and the upcoming personal workouts and interviews and they honestly believe Thomas won't be the standout offensive lineman almost everyone believes he will, that's at least excusable. Wouldn't be the first time the Lions did not correctly evaluate a prospect's talent potential. But, if they pass Thomas him because they believe George Foster solves their woes at right tackle, and they believe Thomas will be the next Willie Roaf, then drafting anybody else will be another in a long list of Lions mistakes which the Matt Millen regime will never live down.

Add To: Digg! Reddit Del.Icio.Us Stumble



© New Blogger Templates | Webtalks