DREW SHARP: Cut Joey now? It makes no sense
BY DREW SHARP, FREE PRESS COLUMNIST
There was unity in the Lions' denial of a report published Wednesday that claimed they're discussing the possibility, albeit extremely remote, of cutting bait in the Joey Harrington experiment in the next couple of months.
Matt Millen and Steve Mariucci stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a team statement conveying their outrage.
Acrimony makes for a nice smokescreen.
But don't let the vehemence fool you. The divisions regarding Harrington might not be as strong as outgoing offensive coordinators firing off critical letters to ownership, but understand that there is a distinct difference of opinion regarding Harrington's development.
There is no rift between Millen and Mariucci, but rather a spirited debate on the pluses and minuses of their young quarterback.
Harrington remains the most polarizing figure in the organization, and the biggest problem in this ongoing debate is that there's no middle ground with this guy. Either you like him or you don't. Either you believe in him or you won't. Nobody can come to a consensus regarding Harrington, fueling the notion that the Lions might somehow consider releasing him, thus rendering the third selection overall in the 2002 draft a bust of biblical proportions.
Millen likes Harrington, but doesn't trust the offense. Mariucci likes the offense, but doesn't trust Harrington.
When in doubt, follow the money. And should a battle ensue over Harrington's future, there are 15 million reasons why Mariucci would win final approval.
That's how much money is left on his five-year, $25-million deal.
The odds are against Harrington succeeding here due to a question of confidence. His numbers improved this season. He completed more passes and tossed fewer interceptions, but relative to the overall numbers surge in the pass-crazed NFL this season, any improvement was negligible. The No. 1 objective of this season was solidifying an opinion, one way or the other, on Harrington, and the apparent divisions underscore the continued uncertainty.
The Lions must keep all their options open when approaching the free-agent shopping season, but cutting Harrington defies all logic.
Regardless of what you think about his long-range future, Harrington has earned the opportunity to fight it out next summer with a proven competitor. It was a mistake anointing Harrington as the unchallenged leader of this team as a rookie rather than entertaining the possibility of the two most despised words in the Lion vocabulary -- "quarterback controversy."
But nobody wants competition these days. Kurt Warner doesn't want to compete. He wants to start. Why should Matt Hasselbeck come here and fight for playing time when he could go to a team where his role is predetermined?
And, please, stop salivating over Drew Brees.
San Diego isn't letting the NFL comeback player of the year get away. The Chargers will tag Brees with the franchise label and give him a one-year, $9-million deal and hope this season wasn't a fluke.
Jeff Garcia was once Mariucci's guy in San Francisco and reportedly has worn out his welcome after one season in Cleveland. He would be available should the Browns' new coaching staff, whenever they arrive, cut him. But Garcia's career is on fumes, barely recognizable from his Pro Bowl days of a few years ago. He has earned more acclaim recently for passes thrown to Playboy bunnies than wide receivers.
The Lions aren't expected to bring back Mike McMahon and Rick Mirer, and jettisoning Harrington would mean bringing in three new quarterbacks next season. That's competitive suicide for a coach who desperately needs a playoff appearance next season to salvage a crumbling reputation.
It's no secret Mariucci isn't entirely sold on Harrington. He pretty much shoved him face-first under the bus when looking for reasons as to why the offense stuttered to a halt in the second half.
Who knows? Perhaps that's part of his grand scheme of molding a winning quarterback.
But the first intangible of a winning quarterback is breeding confidence in others, and Harrington hasn't accomplished that after 44 starts. It doesn't warrant cutting him right now, but it justifies the doubts.
Contact DREW SHARP at 313-223-4055 or mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org