The Lions have lost defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, replacing them with Haloti Ngata. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin sees that as an upgrade. And it wasn’t an April Fool’s Day gag.
“We plan to be better this year,” Austin told a gathering of season-ticket holders at Ford Field on Tuesday, via Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
“We tell our guys all the time, you go in, the No. 1 thing you want to do is stop the run, and Haloti’s a premier run-stuffer,” Austin said. “I don’t know if there’s any better in the league. He’s that good. And from the people that aren’t familiar with him, I had an opportunity to be in there with him for three years and just know the difference he makes up front.”
Colts coach Chuck Pagano was with Ngata, too. Which makes Indy’s failure to pounce on Ngata even more confusing, especially given their struggles against the run. Then again, the Colts may have tried to get Ngata, but the Lions struck too quickly.
“We literally finalized the trade with Baltimore, and Martin Mayhew and I are on the phone in my office, we hadn’t even told Jim [Caldwell] yet, and we’re on the phone to Bill Ford letting him know that the trade had finalized and it pops up on Twitter as we’re telling the owner that we had just finalized it,” team CEO Tom Lewand said, via Birkett. “So Twitter was finding out before our head coach, and we had to go down the hall and I had the privilege of interrupting a staff meeting and stuck my head in and said, ‘Hey we got Haloti Ngata,’ and the looks on the face of these guys was like it was Christmas morning and Santa Claus had just come down the chimney.”
It’s a neat story, but let’s be realistic about this. The Lions wanted to keep Suh. The Lions tried to keep Suh. The Lions reportedly hoped Suh would “come to his senses” after reports emerged of a looming deal with the Dolphins.
Austin now sees Ngata as an upgrade over Suh. Less than two months ago, Austin said he planned on Suh returning, and that a possible departure hadn’t even crossed Austin’s mind.
The truth is that the Lions are seeing the glass as half full because they have no other choice, especially when talking up the upcoming season to a room full of season-ticket holders. The offseason requires teams to sell hope to the fans, plausible or otherwise. Which likewise requires teams to create the impression that any losses via free agency ultimately weren’t losses at all.
Besides, if Austin’s assessment eventually is proven to be wrong, it’s unlikely that anyone will throw his words back at him. Even if they do, Austin will come up with a new reason for thinking that the glass is half full, no matter how empty is actually may be.
That’s not a knock on Austin. It’s a recognition of the reality that only one team wins the Super Bowl every year. For all 32, the challenge is to make the fans think they have a chance to be that one team.