Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lions, Stafford Best Served If The Kid Sits Out 2009

Charlie Batch is an ex-Lions quarterback, but not paying any alimony, despite his divorce.

In fact, Batch wears two Super Bowl rings, as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Life as a Lions "ex" often ends up being pretty good, after all.

Batch was gutting it out, leaving it all on the field in Detroit, gamely trying to lead a talent-challenged team to prosperity, when Matt Millen bounded into town as the Lions' new president.

Then, in the time it took Millen to utter a gauche comment, Charlie Batch knew his days were numbered as a Lion.

"We're married to Charlie Batch," Millen said, speaking of the Lions' quarterbacking situation shortly after being introduced as team president in January 2001.

It wasn't meant as a compliment.

Millen may as well have substituted the word married with "saddled."

Batch, despite that clumsy description of the state of his career from Millen, nonetheless went out in 2001 and worked his tail off, as he always had as a Lion.

"We're married to Charlie Batch."

That sentence clung to Batch, and to the Lions, like a school of zebra mussels.

And neither Batch nor the Lions could wash off the stench.

So when Millen drafted QB Joey Harrington out of Oregon in 2002, it didn't take a clairvoyant to figure out how the "marriage" between Batch and the Lions was going to turn out.

Irreconciable differences.

Harrington arrived in Lions Land, a smile on his face and with the reputation as an eternal optimist. He was a piano-playing quarterback in a guitar-playing town. A wine drinker among the shot-and-beer clientele.

Before long, Joey was starting, for a poor team with little pass protection and too few decent receivers.

Another match made in hell.

Harrington was routed out of town following the 2005 season after four turbulent seasons of marriage to the Lions.

In fact, Joey pretty much initiated divorce proceedings, when he failed to show up to Mike Martz's quarterback school in March, '06.

Millen consented, and Harrington took his piano and left for Miami.

Jon Kitna was then wed after a whirlwind courtship.

Matt Millen had become the Mickey Rooney and Liz Taylor of quarterback marriages.

Let's hope the Lions have learned a little from the Harrington failure.

There's a low rumble starting that I'm afraid is only going to get louder and more and more difficult to ignore as time goes by this summer.

Matthew Stafford, the Lions' bonus baby quarterback from Georgia, has his supporters, which is great.

But those supporters are taking their zeal too far.

They want Stafford to be the starting quarterback when the Lions tee it up for real on September 13.

What is it they say about those who forget the past?

If the Lions have even the tiniest peas for brains, they should at least be smart enough to know that Stafford shouldn't so much as warm up during any game this season.

He and his money should remain on the sidelines, from Week One thru Seventeen.

His jersey should be put on and removed week after week, never seeing a washing machine in between.

The Lions baseball cap should adorn his head at all times.

The clipboard should be firmly in hand.

Starting Stafford would be one of the biggest mistakes the Lions have ever made, and they've made some doozies.

Harrington wasn't ready to start in 2002, and it may have ruined him forever. Certainly it set the Lions franchise back several years, when they were already decades in arrears.

Stafford needs to sit. And watch. And learn.

But most important, he needs to wait.

Not on himself. On his team -- to get better.

Stafford would be working with, arguably, an even worse offensive line than the one that feebly blocked for Harrington in 2002.

You start him now, you turn him into David Carr -- flat on his back 60, 70 times from sacking, and his confidence eroded.

Is that how you develop and nurture a franchise quarterback?

Of course, Harrington never had anyone nearly as good as Calvin Johnson catching his passes -- when they were ever near enough to be caught.

That's OK, let Stafford throw to Calvin all he wants -- in practice. Just not during a real game.

The Stafford-to-Johnson pipeline might be the most exciting thing to happen to Detroit football since the jitterbug Barry Sanders dazzled us.

But it's not ready to be unleashed this season. Not even close.

Stafford, by all accounts, has impressive football IQ and a seemingly good grasp of what being the No. 1 overall pick in the draft means.

That's great. But you still don't start him.

For one, the Lions have Daunte Culpepper, and that's not chopped liver.

Culpepper has dropped weight, is working hard, and is embracing his role as leader. He's still only 32 years old.

Remember David Krieg? Or Steve DeBerg? Guys who called signals competently at advanced ages?

Oh, you wanna talk active players?

Then what about Kurt Warner?

Culpepper may be several years away from retirement number two. There might be a lot of good football left in his tank.

So it's not like the Lions have Tweedle Dee or Tweedle Dum listed first on the depth chart at quarterback.

But they will if they move Culpepper down a notch and replace him with the rich rookie.

This is no time for haste.

You're coming off an 0-16 season. And you'd put a rookie in charge of those bums?

Stafford, if all goes to plan, could be the best thing to hit the Lions in over 50 years.

If you treat him right.

Everyone -- Culpepper, the Lions, Stafford, coach Jim Schwartz -- is best served if the kid spends 2009 on the bench waiting for even more reinforcements to arrive courtesy of the 2010 draft.

It gives Daunte a year to prove to the NFL that he's still serviceable -- in Detroit or elsewhere.

It gives the Lions a veteran QB to lead them through a new coach's first year, coming on the heels of 0-16.

It gives Stafford a year to learn and saves him from a sack fest.

It gives Schwartz a smoother year of transition than if Stafford were the starter.

By my count, that's a win/win/win/win situation -- twice the usual amount.

And a much better chance of a long, healthy marriage between quarterback and team.

Resist the urge, Schwartzie!

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