Thursday, March 15, 2012
Lions aren't assuming return of Jeff Backus
By Kevin Seifert
The Detroit Lions' decision to bring free agent left tackle Marcus McNeill for a visit reminds us that, if nothing else, the return of veteran Jeff Backus is not a foregone conclusion. So does the fact that Ohio State offensive tackle Mike Adams is taking a visit to Detroit on Thursday as well.
Backus had surgery in January to repair a torn biceps muscle and is a 34-year-old free agent. The Lions know they will have to move on at some point, but most indications suggested that it wouldn't happen this year. Given his age and recent surgery, Backus doesn't figure to be swamped with offers in the coming days, and for now the Lions are at least reviewing their options.
McNeill is an intriguing player with a long medical file whom the Lions almost certainly would want their medical staff to check out. A top prospect in 2006, McNeill's draft status fell because he had been diagnosed with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine. He didn't miss a game in his first two NFL seasons, making the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007, but he has now had two fusion surgeries to repair injuries in his neck. The last, to correct an injury that cost him the final seven games of 2011, came in December.
That history would give any team reason for pause, and it's why the Chargers released him earlier this week. But players with the physical attributes to play left tackle are hard to find, and McNeill has them. Given their precarious situation at such an important position, the Lions owe it to themselves to make their own medical judgment on his future.
Adams, meanwhile, is ranked as the fifth-best tackle available in the draft by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper .