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What Jeff Backus' retirement means for Lions

With Jeff Backus retiring, what direction should the Detroit Lions go in when it comes to the left tackle position next season?

Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the initial shock of Jeff Backus' decision to retire has gone away, the reality of the situation has set in. The Detroit Lions will have at least three new starters on their offensive line next season, as Backus is the third player from last year's starting O-line to leave the team this offseason. Previously, starting right guard Stephen Peterman was released and starting right tackle Gosder Cherilus departed in free agency for the Indianapolis Colts.

Clearly, the Lions' offensive line is going to look a lot different next season. With three starting spots to fill, how should the Lions go about addressing their needs on the offensive line, specifically at left tackle? Let's assess the situation.

The obvious move for the Lions would be to put Riley Reiff at left tackle. He filled in for Backus on Thanksgiving last season, and when the Lions drafted Reiff in the first round last year, the thinking was that he would eventually replace Backus. Of all the Lions' in-house candidates to replace Backus, Reiff seems to be the most qualified.

It's important to remember that the Lions also have Jason Fox and Corey Hilliard at offensive tackle. Both seem more likely to battle it out for the starting job at right tackle rather than Backus' old spot, though. I suppose if the Lions wanted to move Reiff inside to right guard, one of Fox and Hilliard could take over the starting left tackle spot while the other starts at right tackle, but that doesn't seem to be a very ideal option.

The other idea for left tackle, especially if the Lions want to go through with the Reiff-to-guard idea, is to draft an offensive tackle with the fifth overall pick. To me, this is the No. 1 option for the Lions given the strength of this year's offensive tackle class. Texas A&M's Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher and Oklahoma's Lane Johnson are all expected to be taken early in the first round. Joeckel and Fisher may actually be gone before the Lions even go on the clock. To me, if Fisher is there at No. 5, it's a no-brainer for the Lions to take him.

Let's play out that scenario for a moment. If the Lions were able to draft Fisher, he would presumably step in for Backus at left tackle. This would allow Reiff to start at either right guard or right tackle. If Reiff's landing spot is guard, then Fox or Hilliard would become the starter at right tackle.

Should the Lions not draft an offensive tackle, you're looking at a situation where Reiff will be the starter at left tackle. Fox and Hilliard would again be the top candidates to start at right tackle, and the starting right guard spot would probably come down to Bill Nagy and Rodney Austin unless the Lions draft one. I suppose you can't completely rule out the idea of Alabama offensive guard Chance Warmack at No. 5, but that seems a bit unlikely.

One thing is for sure: Any stability the Lions had with their offensive line the last few years is completely gone. That may not necessarily be a bad thing, but it's not going to be easy to replace three starters in one offseason. That's the challenge the Lions are now facing, though.


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