Lions’ Backus retires after 12 seasons
Honolulu Blue and Silver, Thanksgiving Day and Jeff Backus starting at left tackle.
One of those givens is coming to an end for the Detroit Lions.
Backus, who had been a starter since 2001 when he was a first-round pick coming out of Michigan, announced his retirement Thursday afternoon.
The very quiet and private man went out his way. There was no farewell news conference, just a statement released through the club that read in part:
“Today, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for me to hang up my cleats and retire. It’s a bittersweet moment, but I’m content knowing I gave everything I had, played as hard as I could and tried my best to live up to the standards I believe in.”
While fans at times mocked him, calling him “Sack-us,” the 6-foot-5, 305-pound veteran was admired throughout the organization for his hard work, professionalism and dedication.
“I will miss having JB guarding my blindside this year,” quarterback Matthew Stafford said in a message posted on Twitter. “Jeff is a pro that all of us aspire to be on and off the field. A great warrior! #76.”
Team president Tom Lewand said he will remember Backus for “his superhuman pain tolerance.”
“He defied medical logic at times,” Lewand told reporters. “He was all about getting the job done.”
Backus made 187 consecutive starts in the NFL, beginning with the opener in his rookie year, before having to sit out last Thanksgiving because of an injury.
That was the only game he missed during his 12-year career.
Backus, 35, suffered through the franchise’s endless futility, including the 0-16 embarrassment in 2008, but he did enjoy one winning season in 2011 when the Lions went 10-6 and made the playoffs.
With the loss of Backus, Detroit must replace three starters on the offensive line. Right guard Stephen Peterman was released last month and right tackle Gosder Cherilus signed a free-agent contract with Indianapolis this week.
The only starters returning up front are left guard Rob Sims and center Dominic Raiola.
The Lions drafted Riley Reiff, a highly rated offensive tackle out of Iowa, in the first round last year. Reiff is the top candidate right now to take over for Backus on the left side, a crucial position to protect Stafford from blind-side hits.
Other possible replacements on the line include Bill Nagy at guard, Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard at tackle, or perhaps a free-agent acquisition.
Backus’ retirement, however, also increases the chances that the Lions will draft an offensive tackle, either Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, if either is still on the board when Detroit picks No. 5 overall next month.