Friday, March 14, 2008

Jones, Edwards Just Two More Examples Of The NFL's Harsh Reality

If there's a team in the National Football League that has so badly managed its draft in the past seven years as the Detroit Lions, I'm dying to know who it is.

Yes, luck plays a part. No question. But the consistently good teams consistently find gems in the lower rounds -- while also having a good retention rate from their first-day selections.

The Lions released Kevin Jones and Kalimba Edwards yesterday. Two more planned key cogs now jettisoned -- unemployed after years dotted with injury and lack of production. And two more unequivocal failures of the Matt Millen Era, now about to begin its eighth year of holding football fans hostage in Detroit.

Jones is gone because he could not stay healthy. There's no crime in that, but nobody said a football life was fair. Often, it isn't. And there simply is too much at stake to keep a running back who, when he carries the ball, causes you to hold your breath.

Barry Sanders did not get hurt. Emmitt Smith did not get hurt. Tony Dorsett did not get hurt. Jim Brown never missed a game. And the great ones who got hurt, their careers ended. Gale Sayers. Billy Sims. OJ Simpson, in the end.

You stay healthy, you play. You show a history of injuries, you get released. There's no room for empathy in professional football. It's about winning games and Super Bowls. And you can't do that with fragile running backs.

Or with underproductive defensive ends, as Edwards was.

Even after being rewarded with a fat contract a couple years ago, and being under the watchful eye of head coach Rod Marinelli -- and I'm tired of folks referring to Marinelli as a defensive line "guru" -- Edwards failed at the one main objective he was handed: to sack the quarterback.

You don't produce, you get released. And really, when you think about it, where's the unfairness in that?

Returning to Jones, some may look at this as a rather hardened move by the Lions. Jones, after all, is the team's winner of the Ed Block Courage Award -- given annually to one member of each NFL team who shows extraordinary examples of courage, on or off the field. Jones was recognized for his tireless efforts in coming back from his serious foot injury -- and early, to boot.

Kevin Jones, in an unfortunately typical scenario for him

But Jones got hurt again, tearing an ACL late last season. So, despite losing TJ Duckett to Seattle (a big blow, as far as I'm concerned), and with a supposed return to the running game under new o-coordinator Jim Colletto, Jones's injury-plagued past was enough to make the Lions jittery about committing to him again.

Taking the courageous efforts of Jones out of the equation, can you really blame the Lions here? Do YOU feel comfy with the idea of Kevin Jones being your running back and staying injury-free in 2008?

Jones's situation -- and he may end up on an NFL roster yet, and I hope that he does -- reminds me of the efforts of one Nick Eddy. Now THERE'S and Ed Block winner for you.

The youngsters among you don't remember Eddy, most likely. He was a star running back for Notre Dame (he finished third in Heisman Trophy ballotting in 1966), drafted by the Lions in 1967. But throughout his six years in the NFL, Eddy was hurt. Always hurt, it seemed. Actually, it started in college. It was his knees. But oh, how he tried to make it with the Lions. Tried like hell.

In Alex Karras's book, Even Big Guys Cry, Karras tells of how Eddy was coldly cut just before an exhibition game in 1971. The way Eddy found out? He noticed he had no locker in Philadelphia when the team entered Veterans Stadium off the bus.

"Nobody, NOBODY, worked harder to make a football team than Nick Eddy did to make the Lions," Karras wrote. Yet Eddy was released, because the team couldn't count on him staying healthy.

It's not warm and fuzzy. It's not even very nice. But it's the harsh reality of pro sports. You go with the players you can count on, extra courageous or not.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'd take kevin jones's injury history over matt millen's track record as a gm. if jones latches on somewhere else and becomes a productive back, it won't be the first time a player beat out the 'injury prone' label they received early in their career - steve smith being one.