As a precursor to free agency and the NFL Draft, Pride Of Detroit will take a look at each position on the Detroit Lions roster. The series continues with a look at the offensive tackle position.
Under contract: Jeff Backus (through 2013), Riley Reiff (through 2015 + club option for 2016), Corey Hilliard (through 2014)
Free agents: Gosder Cherilus (UFA), Jason Fox (RFA)
The Detroit Lions' starting offensive line is expected to look a bit different in 2013. After having the same group of starters for a few seasons, the Lions have already decided to make a change at right guard. At offensive tackle, changes could be made as well with Jeff Backus pondering retirement and Gosder Cherilus set to become a free agent.
Let's start with Backus. He is entering the final year of his contract, and he will likely retain his starting job at left tackle if he decides to return. I would personally be surprised if Backus decides to retire, as there haven't really been any signs that he is ready to walk away from the game.
At right tackle, Cherilus is coming off of the best season of his career. Many analysts believe he was the Lions' best offensive lineman in 2012, which bodes well for him as he enters free agency. The tackle market is quite deep, so he may not be able to go out and get a monster contract, but I don't expect him to return to the Lions. They have Riley Reiff ready to enter the starting lineup after playing a supporting role last season, and Corey Hilliard has been re-signed with the intent that he can take over at right tackle. So it's not like the Lions are going to be under pressure to re-sign Cherilus.
In addition to Cherilus, Jason Fox is set to hit free agency. Fox is a restricted free agent, and the Lions view him as a potential starter, so he will almost surely be back.
Need going forward?
With Reiff waiting to take over a starting job, there won't be a big need at offensive tackle unless Backus retires and Cherilus departs in free agency. Even then, the Lions may not feel like there is a huge need at this position given that they are high on Fox. He is quite unproven and has a history of injuries, though, so extra depth would be needed if both Backus and Cherilus aren't around next season.
Even if Backus does return, don't rule out the Lions using the No. 5 overall pick on an offensive tackle. The draft may develop in a way where the best player available is someone like Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher, and the Lions could decide that their best option is to take an offensive tackle in the first round for the second year in a row. Doing so would give the Lions solid depth at offensive tackle and the flexibility to move Reiff to guard. In a sense, the Lions would be making sure that offensive tackle isn't on their list of needs for years to come by taking one with the fifth overall pick.
UPDATE: This post has been updated to reflect that Hilliard has been re-signed to a two-year deal.