Lions part ways with Raiola
Many will remember Dominic Raiola for stepping on the leg of an opposing player, which got him suspended for the regular-season finale when the Detroit Lions had a chance to win a division title last month.
It was one of many transgressions during Raiola’s 14-year career with the Detroit Lions. He also yelled profanities at hometown fans and gay slurs at Wisconsin band members.
Raiola certainly doesn’t live by the politically correct rule book. Never has, probably never will.
But what he did do was give the Lions a solid, durable player for more than a decade, someone who truly wanted in the worst way to win for the Detroit fans. He was one of the biggest leaders in the locker room and an unofficial team spokesman, in part because of his longevity.
The Lions, however, have decided to part ways with Raiola, informing him that they don’t plan to bring him back for the 2015 season.
Two weeks ago, a day after the Lions had been eliminated from the playoffs by Dallas, Raiola sounded like a veteran who had at least one more year in him.
"I still want to play," he said at the time. "I still think I have a lot to offer this locker room."
It turned out to be wishful thinking.
After cleaning out his locker, Raiola had to wipe away some tears that day over the heartbreaking loss to the Cowboys. He was still irked by the controversial decision to pick up a flag for an interference penalty against Dallas with less than nine minutes remaining, which became a turning point in the game.
And, perhaps, the beginning of the end for Raiola’s career.
Raiola, 36, a second-round pick by the Lions in 2001 out of Nebraska, started 205 games at center and played in a total of 221, including two in the playoffs.
Coach Jim Caldwell and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi praised him throughout the season for what his leadership meant to the team.
After Raiola made his 200th career start, Caldwell said, "Because there haven’t been very many guys that have done it, that shows that there’s excellence involved. He can play through pain, difficulty, which is hard to do with as much banging as the do down in the trenches. The leadership he provides is the apex to our offensive line and is invaluable. We certainly appreciate him."
It became clear, though, that Raiola wasn’t performing nearly as well as he had a year earlier. Father Time catches up to everybody in the NFL, and that’s what happened to Raiola.
The Lions started preparing for this moment during last year’s NFL Draft when they selected Arkansas’ Travis Swanson in the third round.
Swanson played well when he replaced Raiola at center for the final regular-season game. Swanson also started four games at guard. He suffered a knee injury in the playoff game at Dallas, but was not expected to require surgery.
The Lions, coming off a season in which the run game was ineffective and quarterback Matthew Stafford got sacked a career-high 45 times, also will have to make a decision on whether to bring back left guard Rob Sims.
Sims, 31, just finished his ninth season in the league and, like Raiola, also showed signs of aging.
During his season-ending news conference, general manager Martin Mayhew said of Raiola and Sims: "Both outstanding guys. I think the world of both of those guys. They’ve been big contributors for us over the past few years."
Sadly, much of Raiola’s career was spent in frustration with loss after loss after loss.
It was during the team’s 0-16 season in 2008 that he cussed out some fans at Ford Field. He did it another time when hecklers were targeting a young Stafford.
The Lions won just 71 of the 221 games over Raiola’s 14 seasons. He was part of only two winning seasons — 10-6 in 2011 and 11-5 in 2014, only to lose in the opening round of the playoffs both times.
The closest Raiola ever came to celebrating a division championship was in his final year.
But with that title on the line, he had to sit out the biggest regular-season game of his career at Green Bay while serving a one-game suspension for stomping on Chicago defensive lineman Ego Ferguson a week earlier. Raiola insisted the controversial incident was totally unintentional, but most who saw the replay doubt it.
Dom, as he’s known by most, certainly had his faults. There’s no denying that.
But he also played his heart out year after year, game after game. He wasn’t afraid to say what was on his mind, which is what sometimes got him in trouble.
He can be replaced on the field, but he will be missed in the locker room.
— The Lions denied a request from the Chicago Bears to interview quarterbacks coach Jim Bob Cooter for their offensive coordinator’s job under new coach John Fox, according to the NFL Network.
— With Denver’s hiring of Gary Kubiak and Dan Quinn apparently a lock to get the Atlanta job, it appears the Lions will have defensive coordinator Teryl Austin back for at least another season.