Friday, March 5, 2010

Nate Burleson

The Detroit Lions made a considerable splash on the first day of NFL free agency, addressing their need of a #2 wide-out to play opposite Calvin Johnson. Former Seahawk and Viking Nate Burleson was signed within three hours of free agency to a 5-year contract worth $25 million, $11 million of which is guaranteed.

The Lions obviously have their share of defecincies on both sides of the ball, and it has been a debate since December how pressing the need is for depth at the 'skill positions.' I am of the opinion that Detroit needs to fix the un-sexy positions, starting with the secondary and defensive line, before they throw tons of money at the so-called 'playmakers.'

On one hand, I do like this signing because it means the Lions won't be wasting a draft pick on a reciever (like they did last year with Derrick Williams). But on the other hand, I'm not thrilled for two reasons, both of which have to do with money.

Reason number one: quite simply, we're paying too much. $11 million guaranteed for a 28-year old going into his eighth NFL season with a history of knee problems? His career stats, averaged over a 16 game season are about 46 catches, 630 yards, and 5 touchdowns. In other words, just a little tiny bit better than Bryant Johnson was last year.

And reason number two: Burleson signed with Detroit for the wrong reasons. He was looking to get paid, and that's it. I know you can't really blame him, the NFL is a business and he's a professional, and he has to "take care of his family". But it does make it difficult to trust a guy who is clearly more interested in money than winning. Put it this way: his likelihood of suffering a serious injury early in the season just went through the roof.

One thing I don't have a major issue with is Burleson's talent. He's got good hands and great speed. He's a little on the smaller side, but he can turn a small play into a big play using his speed. Burleson can be used in the slot and split out wide interchangably. Everyone's going to be talking about how he's being re-united with Linehan, his former coordinator in Minnesota, but everyone said the same thing last year about Daunte Culpepper, so let's not get too excited about that. Perhaps the most important thing is this: Burleson is one of the better punt returners in the NFL. And that's something the Lions have lacked and seriously missed since Eddie Drummond.

Am I concerned that a receiver who relies on his speed and not his size becomes less effective as he nears his 30s? Of course. But look at Randy Moss. Joey Galloway. Steve Smith (the Carolina one). They all had good seasons past their 30th birthday. Burleson isn't exclusively a burner either; he's got the ability to be a possession receiver.

Also, Burleson was named the Best Dressed Player in the NFL in 2006 by Maxim magazine. Here he is accepting 'The Ed Block Courage Award,' which sounds like a joke but is a real thing.

Perhaps the best way to really know what Nate Burleson is like as a player is to ask Seattle Seahawk fans. Since I don't know any, I checked out a few random Seattle blogs. I found the general concensus to be this - they want him to stay, but don't want to pay him too much. (Leave that to the Lions). Here's a blurb of some random comments from Seahawks fans:

- "Nate ain't great but he's good"
- "A helluva teammate and great community guy"
- "He's been our most dependable receiver and our best return man. I don't see how the team can afford to let him go"
- "Who cares. Nate is fragile and drops too many passes"
- "Nate's a good reviever and a GREAT teammate"
- "Might not be the most explosive receiver out there, but he's crafty and can pick up first downs almost at will"
- "Good guy, but not really all that good. Plus injury prone to boot. Detroit overpaid"

Two other things I learned:
one, Seahawk fans HATE Deion Branch with a passion,
and two, that have very little respect for the Detroit Lions.

Overall, this move does bolster the offense from about a C- to a C. Stafford now has 3 legitimate, reliable weapons, one of which is a superstar, so he's almost out of excuses. The offensive line gets a lot of crap, but if you watched closely in 2009, the O-line was not the primary problem on offense. They really weren't. The running game was bad, but that was due in part to defenses giving no respect to Stafford, which was due in part to the Lions having only one dangerous receiver. So yeah, this really might have been a brilliant move by the Lions' management, if Burleson pans out. The $25 million dollar question is: how big of an 'if' is that.

My prediction for 2010: Burleson barely beats out Bryant Johnson for the #2 WR job, catches 13 balls for 108 yards and 0 TDs, and then suffers a season-ending injuy in week 4.

Sorry to be a downer, but I'm still a Lions fan.

(PS - posting this at 5 pm, timestamping at 11:30 am)

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