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Reports: Lions set to make Ricky Wagner highest-paid RT

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Allen Park — At the NFL’s scouting combine last week, Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn said the team would make a run at some big-name free agents, and it appears they’ve been able to lure one in for the second consecutive offseason.

According to multiple reports, the Lions have agreed to terms with Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Ricky Wagner, the consensus top player at his position. Former NFL.com reporter Rand Getlin was first with the news. Contracts cannot be officially signed until Thursday, after 4 p.m.

Since taking over as the franchise’s general manager last year, Quinn has obsessed over upgrading Detroit’s subpar offensive line. He spent three of his first five draft picks on the unit, including first-round tackle Taylor Decker.

But last season’s improvement wasn’t enough. The Lions ranked in the middle of the pack in pass protection, and for the third consecutive year, were among the least effective running the football. Asked where why the team fell short in 2016, Quinn immediately highlighted the ground game.

“You look at the stats, you can go right to the league stats and say, ‘Where did we finish in running?’” he said at his season-ending press conference. “I think it was what, 30th in the league in rushing. That’s not good enough.”

Wagner, 27, has spent his entire career in Baltimore after being selected in the fifth round of the 2013 draft out of Wisconsin. While an above-average run blocker, where he truly outperforms his peers is in pass protection.

Pro Football Focus ranked him as their 18th tackle overall last season and ninth-best at protecting the passer. According to the publication, Wagner allowed three sacks and 32 overall pressures on 612 pass protection snaps. Reiff, on the other hand, gave up four sacks and 44 pressures in 604 snaps.

As expected, Wagner’s contract will set a new bar for his position. NFL.com is reporting the deal will average north of $9 million. Yes, former first-round pick Lane Johnson averages $11.25 million, but is considered a long-term solution at left tackle for the Eagles. No other right tackle is currently averaging more than $7 million per season.

Mitchell Schwartz, considered by most as the top right tackle last season, signed a five-year, $33 million pact with the Chiefs that contained $20.7 million in guarantees. That signing paid off in a big way as Schwartz earned second-team All-Pro honors his first year with the team.

Signing Wagner signals the end of Riley Reiff’s time in Detroit. A first-round pick in 2012, he started three years at left tackle before accepting a move to the right side last season to make way for rookie Taylor Decker.

The highly durable Reiff missed just three regular-season starts in four seasons, but was sidelined the final two games of 2016, including the team’s playoff loss to Seattle, with a hip issue.

Quinn acknowledged the importance of maintaining a veteran presence along the offensive line last week and said the team was continuing to talk with Reiff and free agent right guard Larry Warford.

“You can’t have all rookies and second-year players on your offensive line,” Quinn said. “I think that’s something that is a philosophy of mine. You can’t go too young.”

With Wagner coming aboard, it is also increasingly unlikely Warford is re-signed. While there’s still time to improve depth through the draft and free agency, it’s trending toward an offseason competition between Laken Tomlinson and Joe Dahl, one of Quinn’s three lineman draft picks, for the vacant job.

Quinn praised Dahl’s development at the combine.

“Joe Dahl didn’t play very much, but he was a guy that we really liked in the draft and he’s really a developmental player that needed that year to kind of sit back, see how the National Football League plays because he came from an offense at Washington State that threw the football, you know, the majority of the time,” Quinn said.  “To get him in a three-point stance, to learn how to run block, those are some things that he did a really good job working on and we’re excited to see what he has going forward.”

The signing of Wagner is similar to Detroit’s addition of free agent Marvin Jones last season. Quinn moved quickly to sign Jones, considered the top wide receiver available, to a five-year, $40 million deal.

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

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