O'Hara's Monday Countdown: Does Stafford play or sit, Leshoure's performance and fantasy trade talk

Posted Aug 27, 2012

Matthew Stafford’s left hand was OK after taking a hit on it in Saturday night’s loss at Oakland. That’s the best news to come out of that game for the Lions.

Running back Mikel Leshoure played OK, not great, in his first game action in 20 months. Leshoure seemed to have his legs under him in an extended session of playing time in the first half. That was good news, but nothing spectacular.

Leshoure’s debut and Stafford’s health were the most noteworthy events in the Lions’ most ragged performance of the first three preseason games.

The 31-20 loss to the Raiders was not as close as the score indicated.

With the Lions on a blessedly short practice week to prepare for the preseason finale against Buffalo Thursday night at Ford Field, Stafford and Leshoure are the focus of this week’s Monday Countdown.

Stafford’s health has caused me to change my opinion on whether he should play against the Bills or sit out and point for the regular-season opener against the Rams.

With a deadline of 4 p.m. Monday for the first wave of mandatory cuts, there’s a look at two players on the Lions’ roster with rising and falling stock, one cut of a legend made over the weekend that should have surprised no one, and an opinion on trade speculation involving the Lions.

We start with Stafford:

1. Play or sit? My initial reaction when Stafford went out early in the second half with an injury to the back of his left hand was to hold him out of Thursday night’s game.

Put him in quarantine. Surround him by Secret Service agents.

Just don’t let him near the playing field. That’s what I thought.

Now I say play him – under the same tight restrictions of last season.

Some people might call this a flip-flop. But it’s really an evaluation of an issue after further fact-finding, thought and time to consider all options without being under the cranium-crushing pressure of writing a column.

OK, it’s a flip flop.

Stafford’s injury apparently is common to football players. He got hit on the back of his left hand by an opponent’s helmet, and the contact caused the tissue to swell. It was something like a bubble on an old bicycle tire tube.

After the game, Stafford explained his reaction to watching his hand swell: “Just scary looking down to your hand swelling up by the second.”

Had it been a regular-season game, he would have gone back in after injuries revealed no structural damage, Stafford said.

I think Stafford is tough physically and tough mentally. Playing or sitting proves nothing.

I also think there is no wrong choice on whether Stafford plays or sits out.

Having said that, under Coach Jim Schwartz’s plan last year, Stafford played the first series of the last exhibition. He was on the field for four plays – two passes, to handoffs - before turning the offense over to Shaun Hill.

He wasn’t in any physical danger at any time, and his play time can be scripted so that will be the case Thursday night.

2. Leshoure: His balance sheet was mixed – as should have been expected - in his first game action since playing in a bowl game for Illinois on Dec. 29, 2010.

Instead of spotting Leshoure, the coaching staff had him in with the No. 1 offense for the first two series. He played 19 snaps, which included plays nullified by penalties.

He showed quickness on a play when he side-stepped a Raiders defender in the backfield, and he made a good catch and run for a six-yard gain on a pass thrown slightly behind him. On the play, Leshoure made the catch and turned upfield without hesitation.

He went out in the second quarter and did not return, and that was according to plan.

“I just want to take the next step,” Leshoure said. “I’m not sure how next week’s going to work. I may be out there a little more, I believe. It feels good to be back.

“I think they wanted to give me some good work and get me out of there.”

Leshoure isn’t all the way back from the torn left Achilles sustained in training camp that ended his rookie season early last year, but he adds ability to the running game.

The downside, of course, is the two-game suspension he must serve at the start of the season for two arrests in the offseason.

“He ran the ball well, caught it well out of the backfield,” Stafford said.

It was a good start.

3. Fantasy trade: Trade talk – A national writer speculated that the Lions might be able to acquire holdout running back Maurice Jones-Drew from Jacksonville for Leshoure and a second-round pick.

Nothing is easier than making trades when you act as the agent for both teams.

For starters, discussing any possibility of a Jones-Drew trade and the Lions comes with a massive disclaimer. The Jags have never said they will trade Jones-Drew, and there has never been any comment from the Lions that they’d be interested in working out a deal.

Tampering issues are involved, and there is no way Lions management will get remotely close to jeopardizing the franchise with a possible tampering charge.

It’s hard to argue that Jones-Drew wouldn’t be an upgrade over almost any back in the league, but trading him to the Lions is fantasy-league stuff.

In reality, it’s not much more than a good talking point because of the money involved. It would take too much maneuvering for the Lions to fit Jones-Drew’s salary under the cap.

If Leshoure comes close to what the Lions are hoping he’ll be, they’ll have a productive back whose contract averages about $750,000 a year for the next three years.

Jones-Drew hasn’t reported to Jacksonville because he’s unhappy with a contract that pays him $750,000 every three games over the last two years of the deal.

Talk’s cheap. Contracts aren’t.

4. T.O. gone: Terrell Owens tweeted over the weekend that he was cut by the Seahawks, who’d signed him to compete for a roster spot at wide receiver.

It didn’t work out for Owens in Seattle, and that shouldn’t have been a surprise. He was out of football last year after sustaining a serious knee injury in an offseason workout.

He made no impact in two games with the Seahawks. He was targeted five times in Game 2 and failed to make a catch and caught two of three passes in the next game against the Chiefs.

Owens turns 39 in December, and there is no roster room to accommodate the drama he brings to a team without production.

He’s had a Hall of Fame career – 1,078 catches and 153 TD receptions for the 49ers, Eagles, Cowboys, Bills and Bengals.

After every stop, he brought drama.

At the last stop, he exited quietly.

5. The full Cleveland: It is no fun for any player, rookie or veteran, who gets cut, but Cleveland cut Matt Cleveland, an undrafted rookie offensive lineman.

6. Lion’s rising stock: Defensive end Willie Young. He has made a big play in all three preseason games – a fumble-causing sack against Cleveland, a blocked punt against the Ravens and an interception against the Raiders.

7. Lion’s falling stock: For whatever reason, safety Amari Spievey has plummeted. As a rookie in 2010, Spievey started nine games after being shifted from cornerback to safety, and he had 15 starts in 2011.

Erik Coleman and John Wendling have been the starting safeties with Louis Delmas out, leaving Spievey with a diminished role.