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Lions could answer OL question marks in free agency

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
T.J. Lang

This is the fourth in a series looking at positional needs for the Lions in free agency.

Allen Park -- The Detroit Lions invested heavily in their offensive line last season, but didn’t see enough results. The pass protection lagged in the middle of the pack, while the run blocking remained troubling. The team’s backs averaged a paltry 3.6 yards per carry and ranked near the bottom of the league in stuffed runs (carries resulting in no gain or a loss) and third-and-short conversions.

That’s not to diminish what general manager Bob Quinn accomplished in the draft. Taylor Decker appears to be the real deal. The first-round pick didn’t miss a snap as a rookie and showed steady improvement as both a pass protector and run blocker. Third-rounder Graham Glasgow wasn’t nearly as effective, but adequately stepped into the left guard spot when Laken Tomlinson was struggling.

At center, Travis Swanson made a massive leap in his performance before his season was ended by a concussion that lingered the final six weeks. Obviously any brain injury that impacts a player that length of time is cause for concern, but he talked with the media twice at the end of the season, suggesting he was in the end stages of his recovery and should be back for the offseason program.

The right side is where the question marks truly begin heading into this offseason. Both Larry Warford and Riley Reiff, the senior members of the young line, are set to be free agents. And there’s a good possibility Detroit allows both to walk.

Lions’ defensive line has foundation, still needs help

Replacing Reiff could be easier. Entering his third year, Corey Robinson looks ready to handle a starting role. He just needs to stay healthy. At guard, it’s not as clear. The Lions could turn to Tomlinson, who had success on the right side in college. There’s also Joe Dahl, a fifth-round pick last year, who quietly developed on the practice field outside a handful of snaps at the end of the season.

But going too young risks negating the positive progress the unit has made. In free agency, the tackle market is thin. Baltimore’s Rick Wagner is the only clear upgrade from Reiff and the going rate for a quality right tackle will likely be $7-8 million per season.

At guard, there’s a number of quality options on the market. T.J. Lang will likely be a popular option with fans given his local ties. A southeast Michigan native who played collegiately at Eastern Michigan, he’s developed into one of the more consistent interior linemen in the league during his eight seasons in Green Bay.

Cincinnati’s Kevin Zeitler and Dallas’ Ronald Leary are also at a similar level to Warford. With the salary cap rising, each could command deals averaging $8 million per year.

Size, speed at RB available for Lions in free agency

A cheaper veteran option would be Stefen Wisniewski, who struggled to find a new home as a free agent last offseason before signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia, where he continued to perform adequately and will be just 28 years old to start next season.

Lions OL under contract: Taylor Decker, Graham Glasgow, Travis Swanson, Laken Tomlinson, Joe Dahl, Corey Robinson, Matt Rotheram, Brandon Thomas.

Lions free agents: Riley Reiff, Larry Warford, Garrett Reynolds, Cornelius Lucas (restricted).

Top free agents: Rick Wagner, Andrew Whitworth, Ryan Clady, Kelvin Beachum, Kevin Zeitler, T.J. Lang, Ronald Leary, A.Q. Shipley, J.C. Tretter.