March 6, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Bob Wojnowski

Lions' pickups not flashy, but a solid move forward

The Lions will pay Kyle Vanden Bosch about $26 million over the next four seasons. (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images)

Hey, at least when the Lions want something badly enough, they go and get it. It's a positive strategy that doesn't guarantee positive results, but it certainly beats passiveness.

A daylong swirl began moments after midnight, and as the Lions leaped for free agents Friday, one word came to mind: Respectable.

That's all Lions GM Martin Mayhew and coach Jim Schwartz can shoot for right now, and that's what they got in defensive lineman Kyle Vanden Bosch and receiver Nate Burleson. Nose tackle Corey Williams also was acquired in a trade that should help that awful defense.

These were good, solid moves that definitely upgrade the team in the short term. Super-hyped franchise-turners? Nope, but that's OK. Free-agent signings are dicey and rarely secure the future, but while these were pricey, they weren't ridiculously so. Besides, heading into a season without a salary cap, the Lions should try to spend their way out of a mess.

Respectability is goal

Vanden Bosch, a three-time Pro Bowler, is the most intriguing, mainly because he has a nice history of rushing the passer. But -- there's always a but, isn't there? -- he's 31 and not what he was three years ago, when he had 12 sacks with Tennessee. Schwartz was his defensive coordinator then, and he sat outside Vanden Bosch's Nashville home at 12:01 a.m. Friday because he likes what he's getting now.

Vanden Bosch is a very respectable pro, and the Lions need lots and lots of those. The long climb to respectability for a team with a 2-30 record over two seasons begins in places like this. And no, it isn't cheap, with Vanden Bosch getting $26 million over four years.

Burleson is a clear upgrade as the Lions' new No. 2 receiver, although $25 million over five years ($11 million guaranteed) is a lot for a 28-year-old guy whose lone 1,000-yard season was in 2004 with Minnesota. I have my concerns about Burleson, but in free agency, this is pretty much what you get -- veteran players with flashes of production.

Yes, the Lions overpaid a bit, but bad teams generally have no choice. And in an uncapped year with front-loaded contracts, it's not as big a risk. If ever teams could spend a little more without immediate repercussions, this was the time to do it, and the Lions showed they were willing to give it a shot.

Burleson caught 63 passes for 812 yards last season in Seattle, considerably better than the Lions' last free-agent receiver hope. Bryant Johnson was supposed to complement star Calvin Johnson and was a bust. Burleson can be inconsistent, but there weren't many other options, and the Lions had to do something to take the pressure off Calvin Johnson. Burleson's speed should help.

Flexibility is result

Williams, 29, comes in a trade with Cleveland for a fifth-round pick and could fill a huge need on the defensive line. These are Mayhew's moves but they're Schwartz's imprints, stocking the defensive trenches.

Finally, slowly, the Lions are collecting players and adding flexibility. With Williams and Vanden Bosch, they don't have to be locked into taking a defensive tackle with the No. 2 pick, although they still should. The straightest line from football misery to football legitimacy is the defensive (or offensive) line, and I'll say it one more time: They'd better grab Ndamukong Suh if he's there, or they'll regret it.

The Lions went shopping with fervor, and they didn't head to a discount store. Free agency still isn't nearly as vital as the draft, but it can be a tool, if used correctly.

Just as they did with Matthew Stafford a year ago, the Lions identified what they wanted and charged straight for it. They're not just plugging in breathing bodies, which was all they could do after the 0-16 disaster. They're actually fleshing out the roster now, and in a quick, calculated flourish Friday, they took respectable steps in the right direction.

bob.wojnowski@detnews.com">bob.wojnowski@detnews.com

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