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The Downfall of Joey Harrington


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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

By Tom Kowalski

ALLEN PARK -- Quarterback Joey Harrington's career in Detroit might be over.


According to sources close to the situation, the Detroit Lions are considering releasing Harrington in late February, prior to paying him a scheduled $3 million roster bonus.


In addition to the bonus, Harrington will make nearly $5 million in salary for the 2005 season -- there has been heated debate within the Lions organization about whether to make the additional financial investment in Harrington.


"That decision hasn't been made yet," said a Lions source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "We're looking at all the options."


According to several sources, Lions president Matt Millen wants to bring Harrington back but the team's offensive coaching staff wants to go in another direction. After Sherm Lewis was forced out of his offensive coordinator job one day after the regular season ended on Jan. 2, he wrote letters to Millen, team owner William Clay Ford and vice chairman Bill Ford Jr., stating that the Lions would never win with Harrington playing quarterback.


Lewis, who officially "retired" following the season, said Harrington didn't have the intangibles to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. Lewis' letter did not come as a surprise to anyone in the organization because he was never in Harrington's corner. Still, it shows the level of disagreement between the different factions.


Millen was in San Francisco for a scouting trip on Tuesday and was unavailable for comment.


Members of the Lions front office, coaching staff and scouting department are expected to meet several times over the next five weeks to discuss whether Harrington will return. While money will be an issue, it won't be the deal-breaker in either situation (whether they keep or cut him).


By cutting Harrington now, the Lions would face an immediate salary cap hit of $5.5 million, but it wouldn't affect their ability to re-sign their own free agents and pursue other unrestricted free agents.


The debate will be whether the Lions believe Harrington is the player who can ultimately lead the Lions to the Super Bowl.


One of the factors in deciding whether to keep Harrington is Detroit's other available options. Backup quarterback Mike McMahon, who had the support of both Mariucci and Lewis, doesn't appear to be a candidate for the 2005 season.


Because the Lions would have to release Harrington prior to the start of the free agency signing period and the college draft, there is no guarantee who the Lions could acquire. Other quarterbacks, who are currently in backup roles, could also be available via trade.


According to sources, Millen wants to make sure that -- whatever the decision is -- everyone in the organization stands behind it.


After three years and 44 career starts, Harrington has not lived up to the billing of the third overall selection in the 2002 draft.


While he has shown improvement in each of the last three years, and his statistics this season were good, they were not overly impressive in the league's current pass-happy trend. Harrington completed 56 percent of his passes for more than 3,000 yards, but threw only 19 touchdown passes.


Harrington threw for more than 300 yards only twice all season and that came in two of the final three games, which is the core of the team's internal debate.


According to sources, Millen believes Harrington's growth was stunted by the conservative offense of head coach Steve Mariucci. Meanwhile, Mariucci believes his West Coast system was crippled by Harrington's lack of accuracy and leadership.


At the urging of Millen, Mariucci surrendered his play-calling duties in the final three games and, with quarterback coach Greg Olson taking over, Harrington became more aggressive. Still, the Lions lost both games in which Harrington threw for more than 300 yards.


The Lions are searching for a new offensive coordinator and received permission from the San Francisco 49ers to talk to their offensive coordinator, Ted Tollner. Other candidates are believed to still be coaching in the playoffs and the Lions can't approach them until their teams are knocked out of the Super Bowl chase.


As the Lions continue to debate Harrington's future, one thing appears certain. If Harrington returns, he will not have his contract restructured. Harrington has offered to get his deal re-done but the Lions aren't interested.


If Harrington were to play the 2005 season with the Lions, his salary cap number would be just under $10 million. The Lions can absorb that for this year and also make it easier for them to release Harrington next season (for a cap hit of less than $4 million).


If the Lions restructure Harrington's deal, however, and then want to cut him next year, the cap hit would be closer to $8 million.

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Mooch and Millen denied the story...


anyway, Harrington had a solid year and should have a better one next year if his WRs could stay healthy


They are saving a media firestorm. They wont say anything until they know they can get a guy like Garcia soon after and not look like clowns.


The 3 mil is what would hold it up.

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