Two of Detroit's Big Three automakers are in bankruptcy. The Michigan economy is hurting badly. The Lions are coming off the NFL's first 0-16 season.
And Larry Foote and Jon Jansen are coming home.
Both grew up in the Detroit area, both played at Michigan, both went on to successful NFL careers and both signed one-year contracts with the Lions in May.
"That's a good feeling, not only for the Detroit Lions," coach Jim Schwartz said. "I think that's a good feeling for the city of Detroit, for the state of Michigan, that you have guys like Larry Foote and Jon that want to come back and want to live here, want to play here, want to play for the fans here. I think that's a strong statement."
This isn't just charity. Foote wanted to leave the Steelers to show he can be a three-down linebacker in the NFL, and he wanted only a one-year deal so he can cash in next year as a free agent. Jansen declined an offer to retire as a Redskin, hoping to prove he can still play offensive tackle at a high level.
But both have strong connections to -- and feelings for -- the area.
Foote was building a home in Detroit long before the Steelers released him, and wherever he plays in the future, he intends to retire in Detroit. Friends have said he would like to coach at his old high school, Detroit Pershing.
"This is my home always," Foote said. "When I'm done playing, I'm going to be back here and doing a lot of stuff in the community. That's another plus factor of why I wanted to come here. Detroit's hurting a little bit, especially in the inner city. A lot of our young kids, they're going down the wrong direction."
Jansen's family still lives in the Detroit area, and his offseason home has been on a little lake in northern Michigan for the past seven or eight years. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder sent a private plane there to fly him to Washington so they could discuss his future, and before Jansen returned, he had, well, returned.
"We got on the plane back, and before we landed, my agent had called and said, 'Hey, it's a done deal. You're going home,' " Jansen said. "As soon as I knew I was going to be released, I said, 'Hey, why don't you call Detroit? I would love to play close to home.' "
Both want to help the Lions and their hometown.
"This is an area that I care deeply about," Jansen said. "I'd really like to come back and be a part of restoring the Lions to where they should be. Am I going to be the answer? No. But I'd like to be a part of the answer."
"Detroit is on the up-and-up," Foote said. "We're starting fresh with the football team. We've got a new mayor. We can't do nothing but go up, to be honest. But people have got to be willing to roll up their sleeves and get to the root of it and turn things around, and I'm definitely one that's on the positive side of that. I'm excited. Just off the field, just doing stuff in the community and reaching these young kids and getting this place turned around."
- OT Jon Jansen will compete with Gosder Cherilus, last year's first-round pick, at right tackle, though he might cross-train at other positions. Jansen has been a right tackle his entire career and fits what the Lions want to do in the power running game. He has struggled with injuries the past five years, but the Lions think he can still be an effective player.
"We've all had situations where a player's come available, and you can't believe it," coach Jim Schwartz said. " 'Whoa, how did he become available?' And then you watch tape, and he doesn't look like he did five years ago, something like that. We felt very comfortable with him that he's looked like he has. He has had injuries over the past few years, but he's also played productively and played at a high level when he's been healthy."
Jansen reunited with left tackle Jeff Backus. The two bookended the Michigan offensive line for two years -- 1997 and '98 -- going 22-3 and winning a share of the national championship.
"He was a couple of years older than me when I got there, and he was already an established starter," Backus said. "He was one of the guys you came in and you followed because he did things the right way. He was always working and working extremely hard. He was a two-time captain at Michigan and just a great leader."
- The Lions have claimed seven players off waivers this offseason, though they later released one player (receiver Will Franklin) and another (defensive end Brian Johnston) failed his physical. Because they had the NFL's worst record last year -- the league's first 0-16 season -- they have first dibs on any player who passes through waivers.
"Taking advantage of being first in line," Schwartz said. "Particularly at this point in the offseason, we're evaluating a lot of different guys. When we have a chance to bring somebody in, particularly somebody that we've had some feel for in the past, our college scouts or our pro scouts, we're going to bring him in even if it means basically an extended tryout, which some of those waiver claims have turned out to be. Let's bring them in. Let's look at them. Let's give them every opportunity. If it doesn't fit, then we move on. There's a lot of ways to find players, whether you're drafting, whether you're picking up street free agents, whether you're trading. It gives us a good tool to use this time of year."
- Schwartz is not a perfectionist. Not at golf, anyway. When he once wanted to try to lower his handicap into the single digits, a pro taught him a lesson. "He's like, 'Don't waste your money,' " Schwartz said. "And I'm like, 'What do you mean? I need to cut four strokes off my game. Blah, blah, blah.' He says, 'You're not that good, and you're not going to be that good because you only play golf two months a year.' He said, 'Take my advice: Go out, and when you hit a good shot, enjoy it and be happy. And when you hit a bad shot, tell yourself, 'You know, I'm really not that good,' because if you think that you're good, every bad shot you hit, you're going to get frustrated.' That's been the greatest advice I've ever received about golf, and now I enjoy it when I play," Schwartz laughed. "I appreciated the honesty."
- Schwartz has attended two Red Wings playoff games, and the Wings won both in overtime.
"I'm being spoiled," Schwartz said. "I don't expect anything less when I go to the game now."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "You 60?" -- Lions safety Louis Delmas, a rookie comfortable enough to tease coach Jim Schwartz on his 43rd birthday. Schwartz smiled and fired back that a girl had just asked if he was 35.