Jim Schwartz needs to get Lions under control … fast
This much is clear: Jim Schwartz’s message, whatever it may be, has not gotten through to his players.
Aaron Berry was the latest Detroit Lion to have a run-in with the law this offseason, joining teammates Nick Fairley, Mikel Leshoure and Johnny Culbreath. Over and over again, Schwartz and the Lions organization have talked about the need for this team to mature — vice-chairman Bill Ford Jr. said just a few weeks back that “some of our young guys better get their act together.”
And yet, here we are again, wondering what the legal system has in store for a Lions player. Like Fairley and Leshoure before him, Berry is a critical part of the Lions’ plans in 2012, currently penciled in as the starting cornerback opposite Chris Houston.
At some point, though, the franchise is going to have no choice but to look beyond its depth chart (and how it has handled these situations in the past) and make an example of someone.
Maybe it should start with Berry.
This is a top-to-bottom problem in the Lions organization. Back in the summer of 2010, team president Tom Lewand was arrested for drunken driving. Last season, Jim Schwartz’s aggressive postgame encounter with Jim Harbaugh drew national attention, as did Ndamukong Suh’s stomp of Green Bay lineman Evan Dietrich-Smith. Now, this offseason, four Lions players have been arrested a total of six times (two each for Leshoure and Fairley), with Leshoure drawing a two-game suspension and Fairley likely following suit. That’s in addition to wide receiver Titus Young slugging Louis Delmas during an informal workout.
At some point, this all passes the threshold of just being a few random events and becomes a legitimate organization-wide problem. The Schwartz handshake and Suh stomp pale in comparison to driving under the influence, obviously, but they still speak to a lack of discipline.
Schwartz’s contract expires after this season, which will be his fourth in Detroit. He has helped orchestrate a sensational turnaround after inheriting a team that went 0-16 in 2008. The Lions won two games in Schwartz’s first year, six in his second and 10 last season, culminating in a trip to the playoffs. There is enough talent on the roster now to consider the Lions legitimate threats in the NFC.
But all we’ve talked about this offseason revolves around these run-ins with the law.
That’s probably not the sole reason Schwartz has yet to ink a long-term extension, but you couldn’t blame the Lions if they were hesitant at this point. The on-field improvement has been a long time coming, and Detroit fans have more than rallied around the first winning squad they’ve seen in years.
Still, given how fleeting NFL success can be, the constant stream of distractions could be what unhinges all this progress.
The Lions have to be asking themselves, at least privately, “Is Schwartz capable of getting this roster under control?”
If he’s not — and, so far this offseason, the evidence is not great — then the ceiling might be lower for him than Detroit wants to believe. There are only so many mistakes, on the field and off, that a team can overcome if it wants to be considered elite.
With every slip-up like Berry’s this weekend, the Lions move one step closer to the breaking point. The danger for Schwartz is that he loses his team or, perhaps worse yet, that the franchise loses its faith in Schwartz’s ability to lead the Lions forward in a positive way.
Wins and playoff berths are great, but at what cost?