Detroit Lions' wide receiver Nate Burleson was involved in a stunning car accident Tuesday morning, running into the median off I-696 in Farmington Hills, Michigan while searching for a piece of pizza which had fallen off the seat and onto the floor of his vehicle. As a result, Burleson broke his arm in two places, is scheduled for surgery, and his 2013 season has been cast in doubt.
Though every accident in life could be qualified as such, this one comes at the most inopportune time for the Lions, who had been getting outstanding performances from Burleson on the field in a bounce back year. Sunday, Burleson had led the way for the Lions with 116 receiving yards against Washington, and was Detroit's leading receiver through three games with 19 receptions for 239 yards.
Considering how awful the Lions' offense looked without Burleson last year after a broken leg cut short his 2012 season in Chicago, his latest injury could end up being the knockout blow for Detroit's offense, which had already seen its share of trouble with Reggie Bush dinged up, and lacks quality depth at wide receiver behind Calvin Johnson and Burleson.
So, with the offense's legitimacy now in definite doubt, where to the Lions go from here? There are several options, and the best might be making a big trade for a talented receiver. That's especially true considering the pressure on the front office and coaching staff this season to win.
How Martin Mayhew and Jim Schwartz deal with this piece of adversity could determine if they stick around past 2013, so it will be vital for them to think through the best way to replace Burleson. Here's a few options.
Promote From Within. Whether it be Matt Willis, Corey Fuller or Devin Thomas, the Lions have several options from the roster which were cut prior to the start of the season that could be looked to no. Wills, certainly, could be considered the best option, given his experience and knack for making tough catches. The Lions could insert a player here temporarily and look to make a bigger move later. Nobody from that group could provide the kind of lift the team will badly need.
Sign A Fill-In. Yesterday, the Lions had Lavelle Hawkins in for a workout, and likely continue to scour the market for other secondary options. Perhaps Detroit goes with a patchwork approach behind Johnson and Ryan Broyles once again. It's probably not the best idea considering Detroit tried this approach last season and it failed miserably. There's no indication why it wouldn't fail again this season. Simply, not enough impact would be felt from a borderline talent with no experience in the offense.
Shift The Offense, More From The Tight Ends? Joseph Fauria has two touchdowns in three games, and has looked like a solid, sure-handed target. Though he's been an afterthought lately, the Lions do still have Tony Scheffler on the roster, who has the size to make big plays over the middle of the field and has in the past. The Lions also have Brandon Pettigrew, but he hasn't been able to catch a cold lately. Using Fauria and Scheffler presents an interesting opportunity.
Make A Statement Trade. Several combustible options exist on the trade market, including Josh Gordon of the Browns (he of the failed drug tests), Kenny Britt of the Titans (he of the messy exit in Tennessee) and perhaps even Hakeem Nicks of the Giants (he of the complaints about targets in New York). Any one of these players could benefit from a fresh start, but do the Lions feel motivated to dangle the assets needed to land such a player? If they're truly "all in" for this season, they'll make a move to get better soon from outside the organization.
Obviously, the Lions aren't going to replicate Burleson's production just by signing a fill-in or inserting a player like Willis onto the roster. The team tried that in 2012 with little success, so the best choice is seeing what more two tight end sets provide the offense in the short term, then working to make a trade for an impact receiver prior to the October 29 trade deadline.
2013 is a make or break year for everyone within the organization, and through three weeks, it certainly looks like the team has a chance to stay in contention for a playoff birth. How they handle the adversity created by Burleson's latest misfortune will determine the course of the season. If no significant move is made and the season falls apart as a result, there would be no other choice but to hold Mayhew and Schwartz, the decision makers, accountable.
It's not a pretty or welcomed development, but responding to an unfortunate accident never is. Perseverance, thought and precision will now be key for everyone in the organization.
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