Over the next few weeks, I will be going through the Detroit Lions roster position-by-position to identify where the biggest needs are. This will hopefully provide a better idea of where the focus should be during free agency and the draft as the Lions really will have to be very busy if this team will be improved for 2008.
The first look at a specific position brings us to the quarterbacks. This position has been a problem for the Lions for years as nobody has ever panned out to be a franchise quarterback. That was the hope with Joey Harrington, but hindsight he was nothing more than an overrated QB coming out of college. Once the Harrington era ended and Jeff Garcia even gave the Lions a try, the obvious answer to fix the problems at QB was to bring in Jon Kitna.
Kitna has played well at times as a Lion, but he was not the answer these past two seasons and will not be the answer in the future either. The Mike Martz system did a nice job of inflating his stats, but unfortunately that didn't exactly translate into a ton of wins. I will say that any QB would have trouble winning with an offensive line like the Lions had, but that can't be used an excuse for every bad mistake Kitna made. His biggest problem is being careless with the ball. In 2006 that problem directly caused a few losses for the Lions, and then this past season it was more of the same, except the numbers were down in the "L" column.
The 2008 season will provide only one viable option at QB, and that is Jon Kitna. New offensive coordinator Jim Colletto has said that nobody has been named the starter yet and there will be an open competition for the job, but Kitna is the only player that is good enough to start at QB right now.
For the 2008 season, the quarterbacks that are set to be on the roster are Jon Kitna, Drew Stanton, and Dan Orlovsky. The fourth that could be on the roster during training camp is J.T. O'Sullivan, who backed up Kitna this past season. He is going to be a free agent, so it isn't known if the Lions will decide to bring him back for another year. If they do, then there would be a competition between O'Sullivan and Orlovsky to be the third QB on the roster heading into the 2008 regular season as Kitna and Stanton aren't going anywhere.
Looking down the road beyond 2008, the Lions do have to figure out what their plan is regarding the quarterback position. Kitna isn't a long-term option for obvious reasons, leaving the Lions with a few options. One is to go all in with Drew Stanton. He will be working with former Michigan quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler from now on, which will hopefully make him a better drop-back passer. If he does improve enough to the point where starting is a realistic possibility, then I wouldn't be shocked to see him playing by the end of next season if things aren't going well. I'm not saying he will be effective or anything like that, but it could be possible if next season goes badly.
My personal opinion on Stanton has been well-known since he was first picked by the Lions last year. I don't think he will be a good NFL QB and I really think picking him was a huge mistake. That said, the Lions did make the move and have put the franchise in a tough spot for the next few years. Other than Stanton, there aren't any QBs on the Lions (assuming O'Sullivan does come back) worth talking about when it comes to the future as they are here only to backup the starter.
So, where do the Lions go from here? I see them staying with Kitna in 2008 and then deciding what to do a year from now. If Kitna works out then they will just bring him back, but if he has a rough season, then a decision will have to be made in regards to his future. Down the road, I would bet Stanton gets his shot at starting eventually. The realization likely will be that he isn't a franchise quarterback either, which means Detroit will probably look to the draft to make another mistake.
If I were running the team, I would try to find that franchise QB as soon as possible. One option would be to go after Derek Anderson of the Cleveland Browns. Problem is, getting him would cost the Lions something like a first-round and a third-round pick. With so many other needs, Detroit really can't afford to lose two draft picks. With that in mind, I would evaluate the progress of Stanton at the end of the year, and if it becomes obvious that he isn't going to be the future of this team, then I would resort to finding a QB by trading or via the draft.
Although quarterback is a huge issue for the Lions in the future, this year isn't really the time to address that need. There are bigger concerns right now, and getting a QB would simply create more problems in my mind. On a scale of 1-10 (1 being not at all; 10 being need someone immediately), I would say the need of a QB for the Lions is a 6. The future is unclear, but for this coming season it's pretty obvious who will be leading the Lions offense.