As the retirement of Jeff Backus was announced on Thursday, I couldn’t help but think: No other player was robbed of more due to the Lions incompetency.
Sure, some of the draft busts may have worked out in other situations. Some coaches were put in impossible positions. Fans paid way too much money to watch a team that was terrible for way too many years. Everyone associated with the organization was embarrassed with 0-16, and for years, everyone has been embarrassed on national television on a yearly basis due to the Lions’ performances on Thanksgiving Day.
But draft busts ultimately were who they were going to be. If it was all the Lions, you would think at least one would rejuvenate his career on another team. Coaches fail all the time. Fans have the tough task of sitting there, drink beer and watch the game.
Jeff Backus played in 190 of 192 possible games in his now completed career. He suffered through 0-16 and those Thanksgiving losses as much as anyone. For 12 years he solidified one of the most important spots on the field. Granted, it was to varying degrees. Pro Football Focus labeled him as underperforming his contract and gave him a -2.4 rating last year. But he also graded positively as a pass protector his last four seasons and allowed just one sack last year on team that attempted more passes than anyone else in the league.
Yes, Jason Hanson has been around longer and suffered through it all. But let’s face it, Jason Hanson wasn’t getting his head bashed in on every play. Jeff Backus spent 12 seasons taking hits that more than likely took years off his life for two reasons: money and with the hope that he would be a part of a winning team. That hope was never realized. Despite being mostly part of the solution than the problem, he saw the playoffs just one time (2011). It ended with a double-digit loss in the first round.
While it’s always about the money, and Backus has made more than his fare share over his career, players still want to win. Because after you get your money, what is there left to do?
Backus has nothing but the money to show for his career. He never went to a Pro Bowl, was never named to an All Pro team. Does that change if he spends the prime of his career on a playoff contender? What if he’s selected one pick earlier in that 2001 NFL Draft and goes to Seattle instead of Steve Hutchinson? What if he’s taken one pick later and goes to the playoffs eight times and wins two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers instead of defensive tackle Casey Hampton? Do his best years earn him Pro Bowl nods then? I would be willing to bet they would have.
He wouldn’t have been close to the Hall of Fame or anything like that, but at least he would have something to show for his career. Now he has nothing. He holds the legacy of playing on a unit that was perennial labeled a weak point on the worst team in the league.
Imagine you’re a salesman. Imagine having some great years, where you brought in millions of dollars for the company and were one of the department’s top performers, yet you never won a salesman of the year award. And imagine you had some lean years where you were average to below average, but never the worst. Then imagine that no matter what happened, poor management meant your company lost money every year.
All of the sudden your 12 years are up. Your thoroughly unsatisfying legacy is working for a company that went bankrupt had to be bailed out and then went bankrupt again. How do you define your career? Is it failure? You can’t call it a success.
In situations like these we tend to glorify the accomplishments of those we despised just weeks and days and hours before. I have undoubtedly done that here. But for all the rage-inflicting false starts, for all the disappointing offensive lines he was a part of, Jeff Backus deserved better.