Jeff Risdon, DLD Editor
To the great mystification and chagrin of many Lions fans, wide receiver Titus Young remains on the roster. Young was suspended by the team after the Thanksgiving debacle, where he purposely ran the wrong routes and lined up incorrectly. That caused a sideline brouhaha between then-WR Coach Shawn Jefferson and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, who were both apparently arguing the same side of the anti-Young coin. Neither coach wanted anything to do with Young and he was summarily sent away. The Lions ended his season by placing Young on injured reserve with a knee injury that Head Coach Jim Schwartz quipped might need surgery.
Everyone, including Young, expected his Lions tenure to be over already. Young clearly wants no part of being part of the Lions anymore. He went on a Twitter tirade against the team just a few days ago, antagonizing the Lions and threatening to retire rather than come back to Detroit. Young is a firm believer in jumping off bridges he sets afire, an immature and recalcitrant moron who lacks both common sense and an agent worthy of his commission. Yet the Lions have yet to sever ties, which has many Lions fans wondering what exactly they are thinking.
Here is a theory on what they might be thinking: comparative history. Players with similar early career arcs to Young have proven worthy of the seemingly pointless patience and turned into very productive players. The Lions believe very strongly they have a strong locker room and culture that can rehabilitate even the biggest pariah, a moniker that Young apparently wears proudly. Just maybe the team believes they have the ability to produce one of the following results.
There are two cases similar to Young’s that have happy endings. The first, and the most pertinent, is Vernon Davis with the 49ers. Davis was a great physical talent but was on the verge of being one of the bigger draft mistakes of the last decade when his very public embarrassment happened. That flagellation at the hands of Mike Singletary was a defining moment not only for Davis as a player but also as a human being. Singletary angrily sent him off the sidelines and to the showers in the middle of a game after Davis’ effort and attitude were unsatisfactory, then publicly berated him in an infamous press conference where he talked about Davis’ selfishness. The light bulb finally went on. The underachieving selfish pariah evolved into the All Pro performer the Niners envisioned when they made him the 6th overall pick in the 2006 NFL Draft. Through the first two and a half seasons Davis had only hinted at it, playing on his own terms. Over the next three seasons Davis emerged as one of the best all-around tight ends in the game. He credits his banishment by Singletary as the reason why he matured, and he’s gone from the poster boy of egomaniacal team-killer to a venerated leader on a Super Bowl team. Even when the ball stopped coming his way after the midseason QB switch, Davis largely stayed positive and team-centric.
The other example comes from a different sport but probably relates better to Young’s mentality. Latrell Sprewell had a similar pugnacious background to Young; he was involved in a fight with teammate Byron Houston, not someone to trifle with, during his second season, just like Young with Louis Delmas. Two seasons later he sparred with another teammate (Jerome Kersey) and returned from his car with a 2 x 4 to continue the argument. Still, he made enough impact on the court to make three All-Star teams and was one of the leading scorers in the NBA when his most famous moment happened.
Sprewell will forever be known by most people for his worst moment. The ignominy came when he choked his head coach during a practice, threatening to kill PJ Carlesimo. After being initially separated, he went back at Carlesimo and hit him in the face. The Golden State Warriors voided his contract and he was suspended by the league. Ultimately, Sprewell wound up with the New York Knicks and was a key figure in their amazing playoff run in 1999, when the 8th seeded Knicks made the Finals. He earned a rich new deal and was a very good player for the next several years. He made another All-Star team and remained one of the most dangerous scorers in the league. More germane to the Young situation, he kept his truculent persona largely in check. He never lost the edginess or immaturity off the court, but he buried it deep enough below the surface to stay a strong contributor to some good NBA teams.
Young has a chance to become like Davis or Sprewell. His physical talent is certainly still there. It’s all about buying into being a professional and an adult. If he wants to continue to act like a 10-year old punk, his career is probably over. Should he somehow remain with the Lions, a Sprewell/Carlesimo moment is absolutely not out of the question. Many players would probably say Jim Schwartz has it coming…which is why the Lions cannot keep Young. Neither man is one to forgive or forget.
The strategy now is to extract as much value as possible from Young. Martin Mayhew is trying to sell the notion that Young can remain, but it’s doubtful anyone really believes that. The best that the Lions can hope is that Young makes some public showing of maturity and penitence, even if it’s tightly choreographed and scripted by his agent. Mayhew and Schwartz must continue to promote the façade that they still have the door open. That might be enough to convince a WR-needy team to part with a 6th or 7th round draft pick, convinced they can have the next Vernon Davis or Latrell Sprewell. But it’s more likely that Young is not with the team at the start of the new league year with nothing to show for it. He might not even make it through the next week.