Dominic Raiola sad time with Lions is over

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

After 14 seasons with the Lions, Dominic Raiola considers himself a Detroiter. He's seen the city experience hardships and tried to provide a lift for the people in the area.

On Monday, news surfaced that the Lions will not bring the ironman center back for a 15th season, and as he reflected on his career Tuesday, he acknowledged that his career will be remembered as one filled with controversy and expressed regret for being unable to win more games for the city.

"I'm sorry. That's one thing if I could apologize to people in the city is that I'm sorry that we couldn't be more successful and ultimately win a championship while I was here," he said in a teleconference. "It sucks, but I really mean that. Some people can take it how they want, but the real fans know that I really mean that and that it really comes from my heart."

Raiola also said he hasn't yet considered retiring because he thinks he has at least one more year in him.

"Obviously, I still think I can play," he said. "I think a bunch of people might not thing I can, but a bunch of people haven't taken a snap in the NFL either."

For the Lions, the decision to move on made sense. Raiola turned 36 in December and struggled in 2014 with Pro Football Focus ranking him the No. 37 center, a stark contrast to his stellar 2013 season when the site ranked him second.

The Lions also drafted Travis Swanson in the third round last year, and even though he can play guard, his natural position is center. Now, Swanson will be the presumed starter.

"He's going to do great," Raiola said of Swanson. "He's tough, his track record, he's a proven guy who can play, he's durable. I'm just thankful that I got the year to work with him and just get to know him. He's a tough dude. He's smart.

"The Lions are in good hands with him and I'm glad I can leave what I did and move on to Travis. Couldn't happen to a better guy."

The Lions informed Raiola of the decision last week, and he said he spoke to the offensive line coaches then coach Jim Caldwell, general manager Martin Mayhew and president Tom Lewand. Even though it was painful to hear the news, Raiola said he appreciated how they informed him.

"Just knowing that I'm not going to be a Lion anymore, that's the hardest thing," he said. "But I'm a big boy, I'll deal with it, I'll handle it. It's fine."

The Lions drafted Raiola in the second round in 2001 and after replacing Eric Beverly in 2002, he started a franchise-record 203 games, missing just five starts over the next 13 seasons.

"I doubt we've ever had a more passionate player than Dom," general manager Martin Mayhew said in a statement. "In many ways, he's a throwback who could've played in any era of the NFL."

Of course, that throwback mentality got Raiola in trouble during his career as he was fined several times for safety violations and for using vulgarities toward fans. He was also suspended for Week 17 this year after stomping on Bears defensive tackle Ego Ferguson's ankle.

"I want to be remembered as a guy who went to work every day, left everything on the field and prepared his butt off and always came ready to play," Raiola said. "I played with passion. Yeah, it was controversial at times. … But if you live in this city, you understand the passion I played with."