Many fans of the Detroit Lions were likely stunned when veteran defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch was released yesterday afternoon.
Titus Young? He was a malcontent, so that move was understandable. Stephen Peterman? There were better options on the table. But Vanden Bosch? A team leader? The guy Jim Schwartz once staked out in the wee hours prior to free agency's start in 2009? There was probably plenty of confusion.
This move, however, was less about leadership and more about value. Thankfully, the Lions took a "moneyball" approach with Vanden Bosch, quickly realizing that for his age and contract value, they could likely get better production out of a rookie or tandem of rookies and not have to pay as much on the salary cap.
The 2012 draft class proves them right. Last spring, the first defensive end selected was Bruce Irvin, who was drafted 15th by the Seattle Seahawks. Quinton Coples went one pick later, and Shea McClellin was selected three picks after Coples. Two picks later, Chandler Jones flew off the board. In the second round, the Denver Broncos snapped up Derek Wolfe. These five players showcase exactly what the Lions are now looking for.
Irvin was the most productive of the group, racking up eight sacks and 17 tackles in a roving linebacker role. He also forced and recovered a fumble, and was a major impact player. Coples, for his part, didn't disappoint either, collecting 30 tackles, 5.5 sacks and two passes defended. Jones justified Bill Belichick's faith in him with 45 tackles, three forced fumbles, five passes defended and six sacks. Wolfe was a second round steal for the Broncos with 40 tackles and six sacks. Finally, McClellin contributed 14 tackles and 2.5 sacks for the Chicago Bears.
What were Vanden Bosch's numbers, you ask? 36 tackles. 3.5 sacks. One pass defended. All but one of the rookies listed outperformed him statistically for less money, and McClellin's sparse looking production was still nearly equal to almost half of Vanden Bosch's. Also, we must remember that injuries become more of a concern for older athletes, even highly conditioned ones like Vanden Bosch. You won't have as many problems with that picking up a young athlete in his early 20s. Moving forward, youth will prove more dependable for the Lions.
With numbers and variables like that, how can you justify keeping a 34 year old defensive end on the roster who's due to make nearly $4 million dollars, including bonuses? He's on the downside of his career, and replacing him with a capable rookie or perhaps a cheaper free agent made more dollars and sense for the Lions. When Martin Mayhew takes a look at what happened in the defensive end market last year, that likely became obvious. It's the same variable which makes letting Cliff Avril sign somewhere else a real possibility, as well.
Sometimes, painful decisions have to be made. The new reality is, team building isn't always about what's doing best for loyalty's sake; it's about what's best for statistics and the financial bottom line.
The Lions must now set out to find their version of Irvin, Coples, Jones, Wolfe or McClellin, young defensive ends who quietly burst on the scene with monster statistical efforts. It's no knock on Vanden Bosch the person or team leader, but his production, quite simply, can be duplicated for less than half the cost.
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