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Sprint is back for another partnership with SB Nation, and as a result each NFL blog in the network will be looking at some game-changing offseason moves for their team over the next couple of months. For the Lions you can bet that the draft will provide multiple game-changing moves to talk about, but right now the focus obviously is on what happened during free agency, both with trades and signings. In the first of six game-changing offseason moves posts, I will focus on two signings in particular that will impact the Lions in 2010.
The countdown to the start of free agency left all Lions fans excited because of the prospect of improving the roster so dramatically with a simple signing or two. Last year the Lions weren't all that active in free agency because there just weren't players out there that were a good fit both value-wise and with the team in general. That was not the case this year, however, as we quickly found out shortly after midnight in the East.
Word broke early in the night that Jim Schwartz was down in Tennessee meeting with Kyle Vanden Bosch, indicating that a deal was likely imminent. Meanwhile, out in Seattle, Scott Linehan was busy having dinner with Nate Burleson in hopes of landing the free agent wide receiver. These two face-to-face meetings were made possible thanks to the familiarity between Schwartz and Vanden Bosch and Linehan and Burleson. As you probably know, Schwartz was Vanden Bosch's defensive coordinator every year the defensive end played in Tennessee except for 2009, and Linehan was Burleson's offensive coordinator for two seasons in Minnesota. These past connections allowed Schwartz and Linehan to personally meet with their free agent targets and greatly help the effort to sign both of them.
By the next afternoon both Vanden Bosch and Burleson were signed and officially headed to Detroit to play for the Lions. The moves created buzz over the contracts that came along with the signings (Vanden Bosch's got $26 million for four years and Burleson got $25 million for five years), and they created excitement over the fact that the roster suddenly looked much better at defensive end and receiver.
By bringing in Vanden Bosch, a player Schwartz watched excel so much in Tennessee, the Lions' defensive line should be much better in 2010. Gone are the days of seemingly seeing different starters at both defensive end positions every week, as the right defensive end position is now locked down by Vanden Bosch. This will allow the other defensive end position to become better since there will be a fierce competition to start between the likes of Cliff Avril and Jason Hunter. In turn, an improved defensive line should lead to an improved defense in general, because if quarterbacks have less time to throw, suddenly opposing teams will have less time to attack the secondary, which has been a major liability in the past. This game-changing move will lead to a better defensive line first and foremost, but the defense should be even better as a whole with Vanden Bosch now on the roster.
What Burleson brings to the table is a legitimate No. 2 target for Matthew Stafford and the ability to give Calvin Johnson more room to work with. A problem for Calvin last year and in 2008 after Roy Williams was dealt was that teams could put so much focus on him and him only and not get burned. The reason for that was that outside of Megatron, the Lions really didn't have a serious threat in the passing game. Bryant Johnson made some great plays every once in a while, but more than not it seemed like he was dropping passes. The same can be said for players like Dennis Northcutt and Derrick Williams, who had trouble simply getting open. Brandon Pettigrew started to become more and more of a threat towards the end of the season, but he tore his ACL just as he was coming on as a big-time target. By adding Burleson into the mix in 2010, Calvin will have more room to make big plays, and even if teams still want to strictly focus on him, then Stafford can simply look to Burleson instead. This should lead to an improved passing game and a better offense in general.
By reconnecting with some familiar faces, Jim Schwartz and Scott Linehan have helped bring in free agents that will hopefully improve the defense and offense next season and for years to come. There's obviously no guarantee that any free agent signing will work out as one hopes, but in this case there is definitely a reason to believe Kyle Vanden Bosch and Nate Burleson will be great players for the Lions. What is that reason? Well, Schwartz and Linehan have seen what these players can do up close as their coordinators. They know how to help them succeed and they seem to also know what has given them struggles in the past. More than anything, though, what gives me confidence in these signings is the fact that Schwartz and Linehan wanted to add Vanden Bosch and Burleson to the team so much that they traveled and set up meetings right as free agency began. Needless to say, you don't see coaches flying around the country in hopes of signing a player that they don't think will add a lot to their team. With Vanden Bosch and Burleson, it is obvious that Schwartz and Linehan have big hopes for them and the Lions going forward.