Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said at the NFL combine last week that he was planning on going after some of the top free agents in the market, and on Wednesday he landed one of the biggest free agents out there at one of the team’s most-needed positions in right tackle Rick Wagner.
Wagner was the top offensive tackle on the market and gives Detroit a strong pairing of bookend tackles potentially for the next decade with last year’s first-round pick, Taylor Decker. It also solidifies strong blocking for a running game that finished 30th in the league last year in yards per game (89.1).
It’s a big-deal signing for Detroit.
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Grade: A. This is a somewhat surprising move, not because of potential interest in Wagner -- that was there by Detroit -- but the salary reported by NFL Network of around $9 million per year the Lions were willing to pay to get him. It shows how serious Quinn is in improving areas on his roster he feels can get better and that he --and the Lions franchise -- are willing to pay to make that happen. That’s a huge change from the thoughts of the Lions in the past.
What it means: First, this all but seals the departure of former Lions first-round pick Riley Reiff, who is one of the other top tackles on the market. It also might seal the departure of free-agent guard Larry Warford, who is expected to be paid as one of the top interior offensive linemen on the market, because of the amount likely invested in Wagner. This should give Detroit’s fan base confidence in Quinn as well. For the second straight year he has said he had a goal heading into free agency and accomplished it. Last year it was building the depth of the roster. This year, it was improving the running game. Wagner does that and was the ninth-best right tackle in the NFL last year as rated by Pro Football Focus, according to ESPN Ravens reporter Jamison Hensley. Wagner also should give quarterback Matthew Stafford comfort as well, as he will have strong bookend tackles to keep people from rushing him off the edge -- somewhat of an issue last season.
What's the risk: The risk whenever a team brings in an offensive lineman is how he'll fit within the overall chemistry of the line. This is a little bit less of an issue here because the Lions will likely have a new starter next to him at right guard, but it’s going to be a work in progress throughout the spring and training camp. With Wagner, there also could be some concern because he struggled in 2015 between a good 2014 season and a standout 2016 season. The Lions have to hope 2015 was more of a blip in the career arc instead of something that could be a long-term concern. As far as talent, though, the Lions couldn’t have done better in the free-agent class on the offensive line than Wagner.