Lions: Jim Schwartz contract, Berry arrest

July, 2, 2012
7/02/12
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Only a handful of news items from last week merit further discussion Monday as we re-enter the blogosphere. Two involve the Detroit Lions, and we'll start with the most recent development.

It seemed hard to imagine that the Lions would open training camp with a coach entering the final year of his contract, not after the coach -- Jim Schwartz -- brought the team to the playoffs in his third season. So in that sense, it shouldn't be surprising that the sides agreed on a multi-term extension that eliminates any immediate awkwardness and distractions.

But the timing -- negotiations lasted six months -- and secrecy surrounding the agreement leave a few important questions unanswered. Most notably: Was this a short-term fix, to be revisited in the next year or so? Or did Schwartz cash in with a substantial long-term increase in security and salary?

In the video, ESPN's Adam Schefter notes that both sides were "mum" about the details. Terms of coaching contracts can be hard to come by, but eventually they tend to get out unless there is a reason to hide them.

Lions president Tom Lewand told reporters only that the deal was for a "multi-year" contract, but that doesn't mean much from a technical standpoint. Assuming the Lions gave Schwartz a new salary for this season, a "multi-year" contract could simply include the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

That's not a completely crazy possibility, as we discussed last month. It would make sense for Schwartz, whose value would only go up if the Lions have another playoff season. And the Lions would avoid locking themselves into a large payout if things somehow go awry in the next few seasons.

Meanwhile, the Lions promised to have "further comments" regarding the June 23 arrest of cornerback Aaron Berry " when appropriate" but publicized no immediate disciplinary action.

Berry's alleged drunken-driving incident was disturbing on many levels. Among them was the timing, considering five previous legal entanglements Lions players had already found this offseason. But I agree with Terry Foster of the Detroit News, who pointed out the fallacy in demanding the Lions release Berry as a show of strength.

Parting ways with Berry would set a precedent that must be threatened for all subsequent arrests. Otherwise it would lack any real deterrent value. If the Lions release Berry, but don't make clear it will be the consequence for all future trouble, players will fairly infer that he was simply made an example of and that they themselves might not face the same discipline moving forward.

In reality, the Lions couldn't establish such a strict policy. Would they really release any of the young stars that dot their roster if a similar situation arose? Matthew Stafford? Calvin Johnson? Ndamukong Suh? Louis Delmas? I doubt it. Releasing Berry would punish him, but would it scare other players into more careful behavior? That's debatable at best.

There are no easy answers for the Lions here. To me, it goes back to re-evaluating the process that brought these players to the Lions in the first place. Any time an NFL team veers from the league standard, positively or negatively, you wonder whether it is doing something differently from the pack.

What character criteria do the Lions have for their draft picks and their free agent signings? Did they miss warning signs that other teams saw in some players? Were they ignored? Accepted but deemed unimportant?

It's hard to run an NFL team without an occasional arrest. But if the Lions take any action, it should be to ensure their player acquisition process isn't inviting extra and/or avoidable trouble.

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