Jon Kitna deserved better. I don’t care if you liked him, liked his play, hated his results or none of the above. He never gave less than his all. He played when his head was spinning. He played when other quarterbacks would have begged their agents to find a new team.
And the Lions just dumped him. They won’t say so. Teams never do. They couched it in a press release about consultations with the medical staff. But I spoke with Kitna on Tuesday night and he knew the score. He said he was ready to try to play last weekend and was ready to play this weekend and instead, after a very brief meeting, he was put on injured reserve for the rest of the season, with no chance to play and no way to prove he could.
“I’m not whining,” Kitna said. “Nobody wins when that happens. But this is factual. Not long ago, I had a talk with Rod (Marinelli) concerning my health and my overall fate with the team, and basically the things I had to say, he didn’t want to hear.
“On Friday they said you’re not going on the trip (to Minnesota) even though I was perfectly healthy on Friday, which is the norm with back spasms for me.
“Then they said they were gonna look at three possibilities. One, wait a couple weeks to see how my back responds. Two, put me on IR. Three, try and trade me.”
Trade deadline came and went Tuesday.
In effect, he was put out to pasture. Every job is on the line
Now, yes, this is Kitna’s take. And maybe we’ll hear more of the Lions’ as days pass. But let’s be honest. When a team is 0-5 and the president has been fired, everyone is scrambling. Marinelli’s staff and the new front office are working on borrowed time. It’s human nature to try to save your career. In football, that can mean sacrificing someone else’s.
In this case, Kitna’s. What would any of them gain by keeping him out there? The Lions have only LOST with him out there. Never mind that, besides the Green Bay debacle, the losses were hardly Kitna’s sole fault. All eyes are always on the quarterback. If by using Dan Orlovsky or Drew Stanton, the Lions somehow catch a spark, win a few games, who knows? Maybe the coach or front-office types can survive.
Kitna, despite one year left on his contract, is almost certainly done in Detroit. The Lions will say they can’t trust the bulging disc in his back. Kitna will tell you x-rays of any 36-year-old football player likely will show you a bulging disc. The fact is, he wanted to stay active, and he got the feeling nobody wanted to hear it. Coaches avoided speaking with him. It seemed to him their minds were made-up, a new direction was best – and don’t think the fact that Kitna has been critical of the “new” offensive system didn’t help seal his fate.
So, after starting every game the last two seasons, after exceeding 4,000 passing yards in each – he has been told, essentially, stay home. Kitna said he felt he was being treated like “a cancer on this football team, because I keep pointing out things that we can’t do on offense.”
Heck, I do that every week. It’s wait till next year again
Now, it’s clear from Tuesday that the 2008 Lions are now officially the 2009 Lions, all eyes on the future. And at 0-5 that makes sense – as does getting three draft picks for Roy Williams (although the Lions and draft picks go together like Wily Coyote and dynamite).
But there is always a casualty in football. The Lions used Kitna when they needed a quarterback to endure endless pressure. And, yes, they’re paying him well, and, yes, that’s his job – and, yes, he’s more right than they are that this offense won’t work with its current personnel and NFL defenses.
But he went out and battled anyhow, until they yanked him. “When they just stop talking to you, you know something is wrong,” he said. “But they created a perception in the building that I’m a selfish player and that bothers me. I have played my whole career putting the team first and that really stinks to me.
“I believe God is control of everything, even this situation. If God decides that football is over for me, I’m ready to accept that.”
In the meantime, he’ll probably watch games from home, like the rest of us, another experience in which God’s name is often invoked. You wish the Lions well. But this could have been handled better. Kitna deserved that much.
Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).