Last year, the Detroit Lions' decision to not pick up defensive tackle Nick Fairley's fifth-year option mainly revolved around the team's desire to motivate him. They wanted Fairley to get his career on track from an effort standpoint, and they also wanted him to stay in shape. Even with the option not being picked up, it took a preseason benching for the message to finally get through to Fairley, and an injury ended up cutting his season short anyway.
This year, the Lions have a decision to make on offensive tackle Riley Reiff's fifth-year option. Given the lack of motivational and injury concerns, you might think this decision is a no-brainer for the Lions, especially after watching Fairley depart as a free agent this offseason. That's not the case, though. In fact, the Lions have not yet made a decision on Reiff's option, according to general manager Martin Mayhew.
Mayhew said there have been no decisions on whether the Lions will pick up the fifth year on Riley Reiff's contract
— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) March 23, 2015
On the surface, it seems odd that the Lions aren't committing to picking up Reiff's fifth-year option. However, it's important to keep in mind that they have until May 3 to make a decision. In other words, they can wait to see how the 2015 NFL Draft plays out before making a final decision either way on Reiff. This could be important when you consider what Mayhew said about Reiff's position for 2015. From MLive:
"He's a heck of a good football player," Mayhew said of Reiff. "There's a lot of speculation about (whether) we're going to move him. I think he can play anywhere he wants to play, and play at a high level."
In other words, why commit to a fifth year of Reiff at a cost of approximately $7.5 million before you have a good idea of where he is going to play on the offensive line this upcoming season. The cost of his option won't change based on where he starts, but his overall value could differ quite a bit depending on if he's at left tackle, left guard or right tackle.
The other factor here is that the Lions may want to simply work out a long-term deal with Reiff before it gets to the point where picking up his option is necessary. They can keep negotiating even if they do pick up his option, of course, but perhaps they want to sign him to an extension before they have to factor in $7.5 million for 2016.
In any case, I can't imagine a scenario where the Lions get to May 3 and ultimately decide against picking up Reiff's option. This is not a situation even remotely similar to the one with Fairley last year, and although Reiff hasn't played at a Pro Bowl level or anything like that as the Lions' left tackle, he has been pretty solid in that role.
Perhaps the Lions could get to 2016 and sign Reiff at a lesser price if they don't pick up his option, but why risk needing to find a new starter on the offensive line? Whether he's at left tackle, left guard or right tackle in 2015, there's no sense in potentially opening up a hole in your starting lineup when you can just pick up Reiff's option for $7.5 million and know that he's under contract for another two seasons. This is really a situation where common sense says the Lions should pick up Reiff's option. Hopefully in this case common sense will actually prevail for the Lions.