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Paper Lions? Detroit makes waves, but wants wins

The SportsXchange

T.J. Lang was right -- a little funny and a little snide, but he was right.

The Packers offensive lineman Tweeted Wednesday, after the Lions had signed four free agents in rapid succession, "So do the lions get hats and t shirts for winning the off season NFC north title?"

They most certainly do not. But, coming off a 4-12 season, with 22 of their players bound for free agency and seemingly very little cap room, it was a huge win for president Tom Lewand and general manager Martin Mayhew to sign running back Reggie Bush, safety Glover Quin, defensive end Jason Jones and re-sign cornerback Chris Houston.

It gave the franchise a much-needed jolt of hope.

"I think we have a chance to make a Super Bowl run," receiver Nate Burleson. "Reggie Bush is a game-changer. But I tell people all the time it's not about how big a splash you make in free agency. It's about the fit, and we made both."

Bush, who averaged more the 5 yards per touch the last two seasons in Miami, is expected to be the featured back. He will fill the void left by the concussion-related departure of Jahvid Best.

"Football is about matchups and this gives our offense some tremendous options," said quarterback Matthew Stafford, who along with Calvin Johnson and Burleson helped recruit Bush. "It's exciting for me personally and it's exciting for our entire team. Reggie is a proven commodity. He has made plays at every level of his career and has done everything asked of him. I am thrilled to call him a teammate."

Bush, 28, signed a four-year, back-loaded deal worth $16 million. His cap hit for this season is just $2 million. The Lions did the same with Jones and Houston. Houston's deal was five-years for $25 million, with a cap hit of $2 million this season.

Jones, 26, a Detroit native who played collegiately at Eastern Michigan, signed on for three years and $9.5 million.

Quin, 27, a converted cornerback who will provide a long-sought anchor to the back end of the defense, signed a five-year deal with terms not immediately available.

"We want to win," said Jones, who is expected to replace Cliff Avril, who signed with Seattle. "I'm a part of it now. We want to win. To get the three people that they targeted, I'm pretty sure they'll probably go out and find some more, but to get those three on the second day of free agency, it shows their commitment to winning."

Bush said it took very little convincing to sign with the Lions.

"All they had to do was put that tape in once," he said. "With the way teams defend Calvin Johnson, and all the soft boxes we see, it's a running back's dream."

Although the Lions apparently told him he will be an every-down back, presumably using Mikel Leshoure in short-yardage situations, Bush didn't seem overly concerned.

"I've done three to four carries a game, I've done 20, 25 carries a game," Bush said. "I'm comfortable when we win.

"That's what I'm most comfortable with and that's what I'm here for to help this team. Not so much worried about my personal stats. I think I'm at the point in my career now where winning is the most important thing to me, and I felt the same with the coaches and the players here, too."

Lions notes

So how did they do it? How did they go from about $2 million in cap space on Monday to signing four players for probably close to $80 million? They didn't go the route they wanted. They were unable to work out an extension with Matthew Stafford, who continues to count $20.8 million on the cap. Instead, they worked a simple restructure of defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh's contract.

They saved close to $10 million by knocking his cap hit of just under $19 million down to under $10. They converted most of his $12 million base salary into a bonus and most likely added a voidable year to the back end of his deal.

--Still, the Lions are playing a dangerous shell game. Both Stafford and Suh can hit the market after 2014 and, with exorbitant cap hits in 2014, neither will be candidates for a franchise tag.

The team will be desperate to negotiate extensions next offseason. Also, by back-loading the four free agent contracts, the team set itself up to deal with a lot of dead money. Bush's cap hit in the final two years, when he's 30 and 31, will be $9.5 million. Houston's will be $12 million the last two years.
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