It’s time for the third installment of the "Square Peg Brigade" series. The point of the article is to visit those players added to the Lions roster in 2010 via trade, free agency, the waiver wire, or filched off of practice squads.
These players found themselves as square pegs in new schemes, or were roster cut—down casualties with their former teams.
It is a testament to the Lions organization that they have brought so many players who improved the depth, and quality of the roster in one year. Some will go down as stopgaps as the Lions wind down their epic rebuilding program. Some will go on as starters, who will make even greater contributions moving forward.
Many will move on to other teams who view them as the upgrade like the Lions envisioned them when they acquired them. In some instances, the Lions will receive compensation, which is a value added proposition.
So, without further ado, here’s three players who are worthy members of the "Square Peg Brigade".
QB Shaun Hill
Hill, the much traveled undrafted rookie free agent in 2002, was Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s protégé in Minnesota where he played two snaps in the "Victory" formation.
In 2006, Hill was traded to the 49ers, where he was the third QB for the entire season.
Hill was pressed into a starting role due to injuries to Trent Dilfer, and Alex Smith in 2007. He did so well, that he was elevated to a backup role in 2008.
Here’s where the thick plottens . . Er, the plot thickens. 49ers head coach Mike Nolan hired Mike Martz as offensive coordinator, after a disastrous tenure in Detroit. Martz launched a smear campaign against Hill, saying that Hill’s arm was weak, and (his crony) J.T. O’Sullivan (remember him?) deserved the starting QB job.
JTO got his shot, and turned in a coach killing performance.
In midseason, Nolan was replaced by Mike Singletary. Singletary’s first act as head coach was to "Frog march" Martz to the door. O’Sullivan packed his bags, while Hill snickered in Martz’s dog house.
Hill came on to go 6-2 in the second half of the season, and looked like a lock as the starter in 2009.
Let’s fast forward to March, 2010, or Hill will make an entire article. The 49ers had David Carr, Alex Smith, Troy Smith, and Hill on the roster. The 49ers were not sold on any of their four QBs as "the franchise". That’s one QB too many, and the 49ers were determined to lighten the load.
Mayhew sniffed out the opportunity, and offered a seventh round draft pick for Hill. The 49ers bit, and swallowed. Hard.
So, in essence, The Lions copped Hill for a box of Cracker Jacks, and two BART tokens. The 49ers were "Mayhewed". Hill, like Stefan Logan was a roster numbers casualty.
A square peg.
So, how’d that work out for you, San Fran? Now, you are still looking for the franchise, and have three QBs that you can‘t move. Kinda looks like you traded away the best QB on the roster. Nice move!
Hill’s 2010 season is well documented, and I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that Hill went on to become the best backup QB in the league.
Are there any dissenting votes? I thought not.
With Hill, what you see is what you get. I, for one, will take it. He’s earned his spurs, and has become one of my "pet cats".
Hmm, I wonder what Hill’s value is on the market these days? I would think a second, or third round pick, at least. Not bad for an undrafted rookie, eh?
Corey Williams could be credited with the Blitzkrieg rebuild of the Lions defensive line into an elite unit in one year.
Williams, was a sixth round draft pick (179th overall) in 2004, who became an All Pro in Green Bay. With a contract year looming in 2008, there was some bad blood when he wasn’t offered anything but the "franchise" tag.
Seeing a problem in the making, Williams was dealt to the Cleveland Browns without ever signing his franchise offer sheet.
Square peg, anyone?
Williams had a promising debut in the land of Cleve, but was out of place as a NT, or DT in the Browns 3-4 defense. The Browns concurred, and dropped a dime on Martin Mayhew in March, 2010.
Williams, the square peg in the 3-4 Browns defense, was sent to Motown along with a seventh round draft pick for the Lions fifth round pick in 2010.
I don’t know about you, but that looks like pretty good fishing to me.
With Williams in the pride, and the insider knowledge that the Lions would draft Ndamakong Suh, the table was set for DE Kyle Vanden Bosch. If KVB had any lingering doubts about going to Detroit, they were dashed when he did the math. "Hm, I’m about to become the leader of an elite unit. "OK, I’m all in".
I know, I made that up, but KVB's thought process had to be along those lines between the first, and second glass of hopium laced wine that head coach Jim Schwartz brought to the midnight party.
Williams has been solid in every respect save one. Those pesky encroachment penalties. Twelve, to be exact. This impacted not only on his own performance, but the performance of the defense as a whole.
You know it’s coming. Somebody stop me! I can’t resist it!
"Williams, are you a right tackle who’s blind in his left eye?"
Williams has shown little inclination to change his habits, so the Lions should change them for him. An intervention, of sorts.
Williams should be sent to the "Riders of the Lonesome Pine" rehab center. He can watch Sammie Lee Hill win his job, and enter the 12 step program.
Note, that none of those steps shall be taken prior to the snap. Setbacks are inevitable, but with patience, and the gentle counseling, and guidance of defensive line coach Chris Kocurek, and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, Williams will be a contributor on defense for many years.
"C’mon, Gunny? Put down that cattle prod!"
WR Nate Burleson
Burleson, a third round draft pick by the Vikings in 2003, was the go to guy in Scott Linehan’s offense. He racked up over 1,000 receiving yards in 2004 when teammate Randy Moss suffered a leg injury. More importantly, Burleson set an NFL record with three punt returns of over 90 yards. This record would later be shattered by Chicago’s Devin Hester.
In 2006, Burleson signed a seven year -- $49 million offer sheet with the Seahawks as an RFA. Here’s where it gets a little intriguing.
The Offer sheet contained a "poison pill" clause. If Burleson played 5 games in 2006 in the state of Minnesota, the entire $49 million would be guaranteed. This effectively prevented the Vikings from matching the Seahawks offer.
The Seahawk’s poison pill play was retaliation for a similar move that stole Steve Hutchinson from Seattle.
Poison pill clauses are no longer allowed by the league office. All offer sheets must now be approved by the league office.
Geez, I wonder why?
Burleson became an unrestricted free agent in 2010. In a Lions staff meeting prior to free agency, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan mentioned that he’d like to get a player like Burleson.
The story goes that head coach Jim Schwartz told Linehan, "You want a guy like Burleson? Get on a plane, and go get Burleson."
The smell of burning shoe leather filled the Allen Park Lions HQ as Linehan raced for the airport.
OK, I made that last part up, but you get the picture.
At the same time that Schwartz was drinking wine with DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, Linehan was signing Burleson to a five year — $25 million dollar deal.
Did Burleson qualify as a "Square Peg" in Seattle? He must have, since the Seahawks failed to offer him a contract prior to free agency.
In any event, Burleson, like so many other Seahawks, found a home in Detroit. He’s been an excellent compliment to WR Calvin Johnson.
Burleson played 880 snaps in 2010, where he was targeted 85 times in 14 games. Burleson made 55 catches (64.7% avg) for 625 yards (11.4 avg).
Obviously, Burleson’s production will improve if QB Matthew Stafford can stay on the field. Watching Stafford working with Burleson I had the sense that they had a Zen—like connection.
One can only hope that the phrase "Stafford to Burleson" becomes a household phrase for many years to come.
Fourth Installment Preview
In the fourth installment of the "Square Peg Brigade", we will look at FS John Wendling, LB Bobby Carpenter, and CB Jonathan Wade.