Thursday, December 08, 2005

Updating the Boss Ross disaster...

I got sucked into another discussion about the Bobby Ross influence on the Lions of Millen's era tonight, and in the process of reading a few more things, I found an error with my earlier Ross discussions - Bobby came on board in 1997, not 1996. That meant that he didn't draft Jeff Hartings or Reggie Brown. The impact of that makes his record actually look worse. Here's my updated take on how Boss Ross messed up the Lions for several years...


Since someone got the whole subject of how Boss Ross set this team back at least 3 years, it's time to set the record straight.

First, as some people have correctly pointed out, you can blame Ross for the pathetic mix of players that were here for the first 2 of Millen's seasons. Starting in 2003, a full 80% of the roster was acquired by Millen. Going into the 2003 season, the only holdovers from Ross's drafts were Eric Beverly, Donte Curry, Jared DeVries, Barrett Green, and Stockar McDougle. That's it. There were still a few players left that had been signed as free agents (like James Stewart), and there were a few players that pre-dated Ross (like Luther Elliss). But only 5 players in their prime years left from Boss Ross. Yes, Boss Ross couldn't draft his way out of a wet paper bag, but by Millen Year 3, most of his lousy draft choices had "Got a quick bus ticket out of town."

Second, of those players that Rick mentioned, it's a stretch to label them the way they were labeled. I'll first go with the injured guys.

I'll concede that Bryant Westbrook was on the verge of breaking through. But Reggie Brown came to Detroit before Ross got here - not one of Ross's draft picks. However, Terry Fair, Kevin Abrams and Germain Crowell were not. Terry Fair was a pro-bowl alternate as a rookie as a kick returner - not as a positional player. Anyone who watched him knows the truth. Was Kevin Abrams ever NOT injured? When he actually played, he was not even close to being ready to break through. As for Crowell, he had one good year, but anyone who actually remembers him will admit that Bill Schroeder and Az Hakim were considered a step up from him in terms of butterfingers.

Next, the guys who've had good success. Hartings is legit, and has been for a long time, but he wasn't a Ross draft pick - he pre-dated Ross. And Millen really did screw up in trying to retain him, but he wanted insane cash to stick around. Fair was and is a joke. Liewinski was a late round pick who was signed off our practice squad by the Vikings before Millen got here. Droughns was all but a bust here, and was made into a RB by the magic Denver system.

The "Starters on better teams than ours" is skewed as well. Boone was the second to last pick in the draft who was signed off our practice squad before Millen got here. Spicer was an undrafted free agent who was also signed off our practice squad before Millen got here. Claiborne was vastly overrated and even the Vikings let him go after seeing him try to arm tackle opponents for a season. Kirschke is a starter only due to injury. And McDougle has been benched 2 times this season in Miami. Again, hardly an awe-inspiring group.

When you add it up, out of all the players Boss Ross drafted, the "good to great" players in the NFL really amount to only Droughns as being near the 'great' category, with Liewinski and Boone being in the good category. Westbrook and maybe Crowell (as a stretch) were the only guys who could be considered 'injury flameouts'. The remainder of the players mentioned are either colossal busts or role players.

Another item that people forget that Ross did is he saddled the team with a salary cap disaster that only Super Bowl contenders should ever see - and the Lions never even sniffed the Super Bowl. In the 2003 season - Millen's third season here - the Lions were still paying to the salary cap for the contracts of Charlie Batch, Herman Moore, and other bit players to the sum of over $11 Million dollars. In 2004 - LAST YEAR - the Lions were still eating the contracts of Luther Elliss, James Stewart and others (including Millen's first mistake - Bill Schroeder) for over $10 Million dollars. In the age of the salary cap, those are huge hits, and dramatically impacted the club's ability to go out and get additional free agents that could have helped the team post a better record. To put it in perspective, when the 49ers were imploded and went through their salary cap nightmare (1999-2000), they had dead cap space of about 13 million and 10 million to deal with in those two seasons. But they not only played in a few Super Bowls in the years leading up to that, they won a few. The Lions barely sniffed the playoffs while Ross was here.

And finally, people want to go back and point at the 2000 9-7 team and say they were thisclose to the playoffs, but they forget the fundamental problem with that team - they were OLD. In fact, the Lions fielded the 2nd oldest roster in the NFL that season. The team was so old that two season later, in 2002, only 7 of the 22 starters from the 2000 team were still still starting in the NFL (Claiborne, Elliss, Hartings, Morton, Porcher, Schlesinger and Stewart). What this means in simple terms was that even if Millen hadn't come in and torn the team apart that it still would have been horrible because of the departure of the aged veterans on that club, with precious little in the way of fresh blood from Boss Ross's drafting that was ready to step in and take over starting positions.

To sum it up, it was a Boss Ross trifecta of ineptitude - Bad Drafting, Bad Contracts, and Old Players - that doomed the Lions for the first two years Millen was here. The Salary cap mess that Ross created hampered the Lions even last year in 2004. That's a situation that is arguable worse than even being an expansion team as they don't have to deal with the salary cap disaster.

Please note - this argument is not an attempt to say that Millen is great, or even good. This is simply trying to set the record straight about the disaster that Boss Ross left this team with - one of the worst situations in the NFL. Millen has screwed up enough in his own right, but he inherited a very bad situation.


porkchopz said...

i don't remember ross negotiating any of these contracts. contract are worked out by other members of this regime. you can't blame him for saddling this team with budget woes. ross's plight was furthered hampered by the fact that he had to have the "win now" philosophy when he came here. there was no time for rebuilding. (i'm laughing, too) his window of opportunity was shrinking as soon as he took the job here. i think you can go to any team and find just as many busts as ross had. he needed to fill those positions immediately and not worry about the future. he had try to win in the next year or two because like you said these players that he had on that team were old.

i think has to do more upper mgmt than coaching. i really believe that there is some serious power struggles behind the scene on players taken in the draft.

i will always remember ross just breaking down at those press conferences, wanting to fine the players for penalties, bus tickets out of town...etc. those memories are priceless. the guy wanted to win and maybe he wasn't the greatest coach but he was passionate about this team. like barry said at his hall of fame speech, he never seen a coach work harder than coach ross.

as for millen and coaches and what has his draft picks done since ross, or are you just going on what they potentially can do. i've seen nothing from these guys except poor play and attitude. i don't see the guys lighting it up on the field or the pro bowl scene.

as for setting the team back three years, somebody has been putting this team back for the last 48 years. coaches have come and gone and still we are mediocre.

we can point our fingers all we want at a single person but there is one consistent thing in this equation and that is management of this team as a whole.

Uncle Miltie said...

Again, more misconceptions to clear up. Boss Ross was the Head Coach and General Manager when he was here. He was responsible for not only selecting which players were acquired by the team, but for negotiating their contracts. While he may not have actually written the contract details out, he was ultimately responsible for the deals. This is nearly identical to how Millen and Lewand work - Millen is responsible and helps negotiate the contracts of the players he has brought in, but Lewand works out the details and fits the deals into the salary cap. You can split hairs if you want and say that Ross didn't negotitate the contracts, but then you have to forgive Millen for the cap problems that will be encountered if / when Joey and CRog are let loose.

To suggest that Ross had an old team when he started is ridiculous - the key players on that team were in their prime. Barry Sanders, Herman Moore, Johnnie Morton, Luther Elliss, Robert Porcher, Reggie Brown, Jeff Hartings and even Scott Mitchell were all on the team and far from retirement when Ross took over. He had to find missing pieces to fit in to try to get the team over the hump, and he failed miserably in that aspect. Of course I won't discount that the Lions made the playoffs in 2 of his 4 years coaching here as we would love to have that today, but the team was far from being over the hill.

His drafts from 1997 through 2000 were absolutely horrible. A quick summary of the round 1-3 picks and significant later round picks in his drafts drafts is this:

1 - Bryant Westbrook - Out of football - was dramatically improving at CB until achilles tendon tore, never the same since.
2a - Juan Roque - out of football - BUST!
2b - Kevin Abrams - out of football, probably still injured too.

1 - Terry Fair - Backup CB for his 5th team since being cut
2a - Germane Crowell - out of football
2b - Charlie Batch - backup QB for Steelers
7 - Chris Liewinski - Backup OG for Vikings - first of only 2 late round picks of Ross Era to be a consistent starter, now on the bench

1a - Chris Claiborne - part-time starter for the Rams - overrated from day one.
1b - Aaron Gibson - currently out of football, played briefly for the Bears after being cut, BUST.
3 - Jared DeVries - Backup DT for Lions
6- Clint Kriewaldt - backup LB for Pittsburgh

1 - Stockar McDougle - Backup RT for Dolphins - Has been benched 2 times this season in Miami after not being pursued by the Lions in free agency.
2 - Barrett Green - IR for the Giants, bad tackling and stupid penalties forced Lions to let him walk
3 - Reuben Droughns - Starting RB for Browns - took him a while and playing in the Dnever RB machine to become a starter, but looks like he is finally panning out.
7 - Alfonso Boone - Backup DT for Bears - part-time starter for 2 seasons with Bears, signed away from Lions practice squad.

When you look at that drafting record, it's not impressive at all - he struck out on nearly every player he selected. All of the players selected in those drafts should be in the prime of their careers if they progressed as expected. And every one of those picks was made exclusively by Boss Ross.

Now, I'm not excusing what Millen has done at all - he's made his own fair share of blunders. Whether it's letting Hartings go, insulting Morton, signing Hakim and Schroeder, or failing to blow up the team before his first season here, he's had far from a stellar record. But to discount the shambles that Boss Ross left this team in is intellectually dishonest.