by | Mar 15, 2006 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

There are four seasons in the NFL. The regular season, the postseason, the off-season – and quarterback season.

Unlike the other three, quarterback season runs 365 days a year. The moment there’s a rumor, it’s quarterback season. The moment a guy is cut or signed, it’s quarterback season.

And in Detroit, it’s quarterback season again – after the Lions hooked Jon Kitna to a four-year deal Tuesday.

Jon Kitna is not an electric name. In fact, since he was a backup in Cincinnati the last two seasons – and not even drafted when he came out of college – many Detroiters may never have heard of him.

Until Tuesday.

Then quarterback season took over. And already you hear people asking, “Can Kitna be the answer?””Will Kitna replace Joey Harrington?””Is Kitna better suited to the new offense than Joey is?”

Never mind that we went through this exact exercise last year with Jeff Garcia. Never mind that Garcia also was a veteran in his 30s who still wanted to be No. 1. Never mind that Garcia was a bust.

When I asked Kitna about the job Tuesday, he told me: “Until someone tells me otherwise, I’m going out there to be the starter.”

Here we go.

So who’s the No. 1 quarterback?

“They told me, from my first meeting with Coach Marinelli to my meeting with Coach Martz, ‘Listen, nobody has a job sewn up here. If you come and you’re the better guy, you’re gonna play,’ ” Kitna said.

Hmm. I’m sure Harrington is thrilled.

That’s if the Lions even want him. I can’t tell you what the Lions are thinking, mostly because some of the thinkers haven’t been Lions for very long. Rod Marinelli is yet to run a full practice here. And Mike Martz is cutting a Dick Cheney figure – influential, but largely invisible.

What I do know is Matt Millen and Marinelli spoke this winter about supporting Harrington. What I do know is they now have four quarterbacks on the roster: last year’s starter (Harrington), last year’s second backup (Dan Orlovsky), last year’s Cincinnati backup (Kitna) and last year’s nonentity (Shaun King, who was out of the league in 2005).

And get this. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that come the NFL draft next month, Vince Young, the biggest star of college football’s biggest night, might still be available at the Lions’ No. 9 spot. A long shot, sure. But possible. And if not him, then everybody’s new draft darling, Jay Cutler from Vanderbilt.

Then what do you do?

A real pro, but not an All-Pro

Kitna was given, reportedly, $3.5 million as a signing bonus. That’s not throwaway money. The Lions must be serious about him. But as what? A reliable backup? A starter? A seat-warmer until a new young quarterback is ready?

Kitna, 33, wants the reins in his hands. He said, “Being a backup” behind the younger Carson Palmer “was difficult. This past year, in particular, it’s eaten at me, not playing. I didn’t come into the league to be a backup. … I came to play.”

Here are the basics on Kitna: He has been in the league nine years and is supposedly well-liked and respected by other players. He started for Seattle. He started for Cincinnati. But both teams made big strides after he was replaced. He seems like a nice guy. He’s already asking about houses for his family. He’s never had a higher quarterback rating than 87.4. And he thinks enough of his own leadership skills to say the Lions “really want me to bring my leadership there … they want to increase the pro’s pros in the locker room.”

That may be true. All I know is this: Four quarterbacks are too many to carry, nobody wants to ride the bench, fans will want Vince Young if he’s available, and if Harrington is the starter come September, the fuse is already lit for “Start Kitna!”

It’s the way things work in quarterback season, which is every day of the year.

Contact MITCH ALBOM at 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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