Detroit Lions: Offensive Line Could Be A Force In 2017

January 16, 2016; Glendale, AZ, USA; Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang (70) blocks Arizona Cardinals nose tackle Rodney Gunter (95) during the second quarter in a NFC Divisional round playoff game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Packers 26-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

After a flurry of free agent activity, the Detroit Lions offensive line is set up to be a potentially dominant unit in 2017.

Bob Quinn isn’t fooling around. While we are only a week into the new league year, the Detroit Lions second-year general manager isn’t wasting any time making changes to the organization. As far as assembling an NFL roster is concerned, it’s clear that Quinn believes teams are built from the trenches, and the amount of time and resources he has devoted to the offensive line during his tenure in the Motor City is proof positive of this.

Quinn comes from a New England Patriots franchise that has always prioritized placing a strong offensive line in front of quarterback Tom Brady. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the majority of the team’s free agent maneuvering has been carried out with an eye to doing the same for Matthew Stafford.

Going into the 2017 offseason, it was clear that the Lions were facing a dire situation. With both right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Riley Reiff headed for free agency, it seemed possible, if not likely, that the Lions were about to lose the entire right side of the offensive line. Ultimately, all of that speculation was proven to be accurate, and both Warford and Reiff signed big money deals elsewhere.

Warford agreed to a four-year, $34.5 million contract with the New Orleans Saints, good for an average annual salary of $8.5 million. Reiff, on the other hand, inked a five-year, $58.75 million pact with the Minnesota Vikings, which equates to an average annual salary of $11.75 million, with $26.3 million in guarantees to go along with it.

If the Vikings are comfortable paying Reiff that kind of money, it’s clear that they intend to play him at left tackle. The Lions, on the other hand, did not. Reiff was moved to the right side after the team spent the 16th overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft on Ohio State tackle Taylor Decker. The Lions have Decker locked up at a very reasonable price for at least three more seasons (at which point the team would re-sign him or exercise his fifth-year option in 2020) and the organization views him as a building block on Stafford’s blindside.

So with Warford and Reiff signing elsewhere, what would be the future of the Lions’ offensive line?

Ultimately, Quinn had a plan, and his team-building philosophy was on full display when the Lions made one of the biggest splashes in the early going of free agency. In fact, Quinn had found Reiff’s replacement before his deal with the Vikings had even been consummated. As the new league year began, the Lions signed former Baltimore Raven Ricky Wagner to a five-year, $47.5 million contract that made him the NFL’s highest-paid right tackle.

Without question, this is huge money for an offensive tackle, but Wagner was generally regarded as one of the very best free agent options. And considering what other offensive tackles were paid on the open market, the deal seems much more reasonable. With Wagner in place, the immediate expectation was that 2015 first-round pick Laken Tomlinson and 2016 fifth-rounder Joe Dahl would compete to fill the void Warford left at right guard, and that Quinn had made the best of the situation he was faced with.

But he wasn’t done yet.

Quinn’s next move arguably made an even bigger splash than the Wagner signing, as he moved to lock up former Green Bay Packers guard T.J. Lang. Lang was one of the very best interior linemen available this year, and bringing him into the mix was a huge coup for the second year general manager.

As a result of all of these moves, the Lions could very well boast of the NFL’s best offensive lines in 2017. Stafford will likely enjoy the best protection of his career, and the new additions will provide a boost to Ameer Abdullah and the running game. Decker will be back as the team’s franchise left tackle, while 2016 third-round pick Graham Glasgow will likely occupy the left guard position after showing promise in his rookie year. Travis Swanson will remain at center, and of course, Lang and Wagner will slide into their positions on the right side. With Tomlinson and Dahl providing depth on the interior, and Cornelius Lucas and Corey Robinson operating as potential swing tackles, the new Detroit Lions offensive line looks the best it has in years.

Somehow, the Lions were able to upgrade on both of the players they lost in free agency, while still paying the newcomers less per season combined than what Reiff and Warford received as free agents. No one would argue that Wagner and Lang aren’t being compensated handsomely, but looking at the raw data, it’s hard to argue that this has been one of Quinn’s greatest successes to this point in his young career.

With a stable offensive line in place, the Lions can prioritize  upgrading the defense in the NFL Draft, improving the team’s talent base even further. If the Lions are successful in 2017, the moves Quinn made this March will likely be remembered as the catalyst.

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