T.J. Lang is coming home. The Pro Bowl offensive guard grew up in Michigan. He went to college at Eastern Michigan. He spends his offseasons in suburban Detroit and trains about 20 minutes from the Detroit Lions' facility in Allen Park.
Lang, 29, understands what the Lions have endured throughout his life, with their history of losing. But lately they seem to be making the right moves to finally improve. Now, likely in the final big contract of his career, Lang is joining them.
Lang is the Lions' second-best signing in free agency this year, behind right tackle Rick Wagner, and Lang might understand better than any other free agent in the market what winning would mean to the Lions' franchise and fans. A huge Detroit sports fan, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch last July at a Tigers game at Comerica Park.
Terms: Three years, terms undisclosed
ESPN 150 rank: No. 10
Grade: A -- When the Lions decided not to pay guard Larry Warford, it looked as if the franchise wouldn’t find an equal replacement -- similar to what happened with the move from Riley Reiff to Wagner. Instead, the Lions signed Lang, one of the only guys who could be deemed an upgrade. Combined with Wagner and Travis Swanson in the middle, Detroit now has a consistent, veteran right side of the offensive line with a young, emerging left side.
What it means: Detroit continues to be serious about upgrading its running game and giving quarterback Matthew Stafford as much protection as possible. While the right side of Detroit’s offensive line will be new, it will be talented and should be well-positioned to give the Lions their best offensive line since 2013. That was a veteran unit, with Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims as the interior anchors. The Lions have spent the past three seasons looking for consistency, and while there were times last year when the Lions' offensive line played well, they haven’t had a strong player at every position since the last year of the Jim Schwartz era. This signing, combined with Wagner and blocking tight end Darren Fells, should accomplish that as long as Swanson returns healthy and the left side combination of tackle Taylor Decker and guard Graham Glasgow continue to improve. Lang’s signing could also put former first-round pick Laken Tomlinson in a precarious position on the roster. He won’t beat Lang out for a job, and Glasgow would have the edge at left guard. This training camp could be incredibly important for Tomlinson, who has a little over $1.2 million in guaranteed money in 2017.
What’s the risk: Lang's recent injuries have to be a concern – particularly the hip he had surgery on after the Green Bay Packers' loss in the NFC Championship Game. For the Lions to sign him, the medical reports must have gone well when he went through his physical, but the situation is worth watching. Lang also broke his left foot last season, causing him to miss three games. He has spent his entire career with the Packers and has played through various other injuries over the years, as linemen typically do. But he has missed more than one game in a season just once, other than last season. (He played in 12 games in 2010.) He’ll turn 30 in September, but that age is more of a concern for skill players than for linemen. This is a good signing, the second-best signing for Detroit in this period after Wagner, with the addition of Darren Fells right up there.