While Dominic Raiola says he's excited to work with new coach Jim Caldwell and try to reach his second postseason in 2014, he doesn't expect next season to be his swan song. (Daniel Mears / Detroit News)
Forced to take a pay cut of more $3 million before the 2013 season, veteran Lions center Dominic Raiola’s career seemed to be rapidly drawing to a close.
Then he went out and played the best of his 13 seasons in the NFL.
The Lions re-signed Raiola to a one-year contract this week, and he’ll make a significant raise from his $1 million base salary in 2013, though it will still be less than $2 million.
And while Raiola said he’s excited to work with new coach Jim Caldwell and try to reach his second postseason in 2014, he doesn’t expect next season to be his swan song.
“Not a lot of people can say they played 15 years, and that’s a realistic goal for me,” Raiola, 35, said in a phone interview. “And I say that very humbly and without getting too far ahead of myself.”
Raiola’s impressive campaign in 2013 began around this time last year when he started lifting to add weight. After gaining nearly 20 pounds, Raiola played last season at 310 pounds and didn’t allow a single sack.
He said he celebrated the new contract by working out back home in Hawaii, and because he already added the weight, he has a head start on his strength and conditioning regimen this year.
Raiola anchored an offensive line last year that ranked second in the league in sacks allowed (23) despite having three new starters, including three different players at right tackle. Raiola credited his teammates for helping him earn the new contract, and he knows the group will have to prove itself again next season.
“How are we going to respond?” he said. “What’s our identity really going to be? Was that a fluke, or is that us?
“I believe that’s us and we’re going to go into the offseason with a fresh start, learning new things, but I believe we’re going to go in and prove that that really was us. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
After going 11-21 the past two seasons, the Lions will have a fresh start under Caldwell, and Raiola said he’s excited to work with new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi because he likes how the New Orleans Saints played with him on staff. Although Raiola said it was unfortunate to lose some good coaches, he agrees with general manager Martin Mayhew’s desire to end the losing culture in Detroit, something that’s existed since before the Lions drafted Raiola in the second round in 2001.
Raiola has played 204 games in his career and started 188 since 2002, including every game the past five seasons.
While he was happy to see his former teammates playing in the Super Bowl this year — Cliff Avril with the Seahawks and Manny Ramirez and Paris Lenon with the Broncos, Raiola said it was frustrating to see them playing for the ultimate prize because it makes him wonder if the Lions will ever get there.
“I don’t think anybody that’s on an NFL team is a loser,” Raiola said. “It’s got to change. It’s happened long enough, and I believe it will.”
And even though Raiola is from Hawaii and went to Nebraska, he considers Detroit home and hopes to reward the Lions next year for their continued investment in him.
“I’m excited that I can come back and play for my home team,” he said. “This is the only team that I know and the only team that I put my heart and soul out there for, and that’s the Detroit Lions.”