(Ed. note: Bumped to the front page.)
When I started thinking about this offseason, I realized that the Lions may be at a vital and historic decision for the upcoming season. Who will be the left tackle and provide the protection that the pass happy Lions need for their outstanding QB?
This has not been a worry for the Lions organization for 11 years, although it has been a subject of intense debate among the fan base for much of that time. I'll present the options available, their positive and negatives, and then how I think the Lions should address this issue.
1. Bring back Jeff Backus - Backus has been the rock of this O-line for 11 straight years. Never missing a start and hardly missing a snap during that time. He has been a better than average LT throughout his career, but never the dominant, franchise LT that Lions fans have been clamoring for. He is a free agent who currently has a cap hit of $7 million (10th among all tackles) for 2011. I think he could be re-signed for around $5 million per year, which is projected to be around 20th in the NFL among all tackles.
+ves - A steady, reliable pass protector who was playing some of the best football of his career during the second half of the season. Only gave up one sack after week seven. Looked good run blocking as well.
-ves - He was injured at the beginning of the season and was injured in the fourth quarter of the wild card game. He will be 35 years old in August 2012 with a lot of hard miles on his body.
2. Draft a replacement in round one in 2012 - The Lions choose at No. 23 this year and there
will may be some (a) left tackle candidates available when they pick. In my view, the most likely OT available will be Mike Adams from Ohio State. The other LT candidates who could start immediately (Kalil, Reiff, and Martin) will likely be gone. If the Lions really want to target a starting LT they may have to move up.
+ves - This could be the new cornerstone of the O-line and provide blind side protection for Stafford for the next decade. Not to mention improved run blocking. Less costly alternative (less than $2 million per year than Backus or an FA).
-ves - The guy could be a bust and severely hamper the Lions offense. The Lions may have to give up multiple draft picks to trade up to get the guy they want.
3. Pick up a free agent left tackle - The three LTs who may be available are all coming off serious injuries (Gaither, D. Bell, and Max Starks) and will cost more than Backus. They are all younger, but not as reliable. I like Demetrius Bell from Buffalo as the best value among these three.
+ves - At least five years younger than Backus and all have shown they are at least above average LTs.
-ves - More expensive and less reliable than Backus (everyone is).
4. Promote from within - Give the job to the better of Corey Hilliard and Jason Fox. I really don't like this option at all. Hilliard is a barely passable right tackle and Fox has not been able to stay healthy through the preseason or practices. And I am not considering Gosder Cherilus, as he seems to be having enough trouble on the right side.
5. Trade? - I don't think even Martin Mayhew can get a decent LT in a trade, not to mention what he would have to give up and pay the guy. I don't think any team would trade a passable left tackle.
So, out of these options I believe that the Lions will re-sign Jeff Backus for two years and make a decision on whether Jason Fox can step up by 2013 during the 2012 season. That is dependent on Backus signing for a reasonable amount and that he makes a full recovery from his injury in the wild card game. I still believe he has a year or two in the tank, enough for the Lions to prepare for a succession in 2013.
I would love to hear what the rest of you think and will respond to all questions or comments.