We're all aware of the shitstorm that plagued the Detroit Lions' offensive line last year. Whether it was Joe Lombardi, the lack of talent or complete mix-up between personnel and scheme and whatever other excuse you can think of, the offensive line was just plain atrocious. Firing Lombardi stopped the bleeding per se, but this unit is still far from what Jim Caldwell and co. are looking for. Speaking of Caldwell, here he is coming off of a disappointing 7-9 season, just barely escaping with his job intact. He has one year to get this team back on track and into the playoffs. With the help of Bob Quinn and his coaching staff, there is a lot that needs to be accomplished, with nothing more important than improving the offensive line.
So what's the plan? Right now your best option at right tackle is Michael Ola. Your starting left tackle, Riley Reiff, is coming off of yet another mediocre performance and is set to make $8 million ($0 guaranteed). Your backups consist of Useless Object 1 & 2. Hardly anything for Bob Quinn to write home about.
Do not cut Riley Reiff
Here is the good news. The Lions currently have 46 players under contract and a little over $17 million to work with (with a projected cap of $150 million). That's including Calvin Johnson's contract and other possible "cap casualties" still under contract. Money isn't the problem at all. If I'm Quinn, I'm eating the $8 million on Reiff's contract and overpaying because there really isn't any other alternative. Pay the man and worry about re-signing him next year.
With Reiff, you just have to deal with what you're getting. He's an average LT and a below average pass blocker, but despite his shortcomings, he's the best the Lions have, and I'd rather have one massive hole at OT than two to patch up. It could be a hell of a lot worse.
Go big or go home
Listen, Bob. You have one option. Go out and grab a big name free agent tackle and make him your starting left or right tackle. I don't care how you do it, but it has to be done. Standing pat during free agency and drafting an OT in the first round isn't going to solve any problems. Let's take a look at how rookie OTs have done in the past, shall we?
That's a lot of red.
Now I'm not saying that the Lions shouldn't draft an OT at all. They should, and there is still a need for depth. But if you're looking for an immediate starter, the best way to go is to find a proven commodity, especially when you have such a loaded list of free agent OTs this year. If the Lions are unable to sign a big name OT in FA, then that offseason grade is already no higher than a C or a D. Get the job done, Bob.
Free Agency options
Russell Okung (age 28)
Analysis: Okung is a household name that's going to come at a steep price if Spotrac's predicted salary is anywhere close to his real value. Despite being a known commodity, Okung hasn't been all that great over the past couple of years. He barely even made Pro Football Focus' top 75 free agents list. Here's what they had to say:
PFF: A few years removed from his best, Okung has shown his potential. Maybe a change of scenery can help him regain that form. If not, at worst he’s been an average tackle over the last three seasons.
Verdict: No thanks. Let someone else overpay him.
Cordy Glenn (age 26)
Analysis: Cordy Glenn's price will also come high, but he's worth it. He ranked 10th among all OTs via PFF and checks in at No. 10 out of 75 on their FA list.
PFF: Glenn ranked 11th among all offensive tackles in pass-blocking efficiency while allowing just two sacks and two hits all season. He was our 10th-ranked tackle overall tackle and has continued to improve as a pass-blocker each year.
Verdict: Pray that the Bills do not franchise him and the Lions do everything in their power to bring him to Detroit. He would give the Lions a massive upgrade at LT and would allow them to experiment with Reiff on the right side.
Donald Penn (age 32)
Analysis: Donald Penn is much older than some of the more viable candidates, but he has never earned a negative grade by PFF's standards and has consistently been effective in the run game. I see Penn as a nice stop-gap option on a short-term deal in case plan A, B or C does not pan out for the Lions.
PFF: The veteran left tackle is aging, but plenty of teams can use a reliable pass protector these days. Penn has also missed just 52 snaps over the past eight years.
Verdict: Think of him as a last resort.
The list doesn't end there. Kelvin Beachum, Mitchell Schwartz, Joe Barksdale and Andre Smith are a few others that could be solid starters and then of course you have to add some depth to the position as well. There is a laundry list of OTs to choose from this year in free agency, and this is the year for the Lions invest their money on the position.