With Dominic Raiola back under contract, the Detroit Lions don't have a need for a new starting center, at least not this year. Next year could be a different story with Raiola set to turn 36 at the end of 2014. He was better than ever last season, but he's only got another year or two left in the NFL in all likelihood.
It really feels like we've been talking about the Lions finding a replacement for Raiola for a few years now. This year, though, it looks like the Lions might actually add somebody who could step in for Raiola after 2014. From the Free Press:
"I think, if you go back, I think the (Jeff) Backus transition went pretty smoothly by going out and finding the right candidate, a guy we felt comfortable with that could move into that role," Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said at the NFL combine last week. "We hope to do sort of the same thing with Dom’s situation, whether it’s a young free agent or whether it’s a guy in the draft, to get a young guy behind him that we feel comfortable with."
With the Lions releasing Leroy Harris last Monday, their backup center is currently undrafted free agent Darren Keyton. Ideally, the Lions will draft a center this year and put him on the Riley Reiff plan by grooming him to take over for Raiola in 2015. In 2014, the draft pick could serve as the Lions' backup in case Raiola gets hurt, and next year he would hopefully be ready to step into the starting lineup.
Of course, the good news is that with Raiola back, the Lions don't absolutely have to spend a draft pick on a center this year. If nobody available is to their liking, there's no need to reach for someone just to fill this need. It'd certainly be preferable to get someone this year and give him a season to get ready, but as Larry Warford taught us last year, an interior offensive lineman can make a big impact despite being a rookie. This is a situation where the Lions would like to secure Raiola's future replacement this offseason, but they have the luxury of being able to wait until 2015 if they don't like their options.