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Detroit Lions 2016 roster review: Lions face huge decision with Riley Reiff

Chief among the Lions’ free agency decisions is their right tackle situation.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Now that we’re in full offseason mode, we’re going to review every single Detroit Lions player that finished the 2016 season under contract. We’ll look at their expectations coming into the season, whether they met those expectations and what to expect of them going forward. We will begin with the upcoming free agents, as they are the most intriguing and time sensitive.

Riley Reiff

Expectations before 2016

Riley Reiff entered his contract year as the presumed left tackle, but when the Lions drafted Taylor Decker with their first-round pick, things were suddenly less clear. It still seemed likely he would hold the job as Decker eased his way into his professional career. This was going to be a make-or-break season for Reiff, whose career had been defined by inconsistent play to this point.

Actual role in 2016

2016 stats: 14 games (14 starts) — all at right tackle

Decker took all of the reps at left tackle during the offseason and ended up taking every snap there during the regular season, too. Reiff shifted over to the right side and, at first, excelled in his new role. To his credit, he seemed to fully accept his new role and worked hard to prove his worth there. However, as the season went on, we saw the same, familiar consistency issues.

According to Pro Football Focus, Reiff ranked 48th out of 81 qualifying tackles in the league, which sound about right for Reiff. His play was definitely around average.

He was unable to play in the final game of the regular season against Green Bay and the Wild Card matchup with Seattle due to a hip injury.

Outlook for 2017

Contract status: Unrestricted free agent

Reiff is the biggest free agent the Lions will have in 2017. The Lions have struggled for years in solidifying the right tackle position due to injuries (Cornelius Lucas, LaAdrian Waddle) and poor play (Gosder Cherilus). Reiff won’t ever likely be an All-Pro player at right tackle, but even if he could remain average, it would be an upgrade.

I expect the Lions to give him an offer for a new contract, but the price will be the ultimate sticking point. For comparison’s sake, here are the most recent contracts given to right tackles:

Mitchell Schwartz (PFF rank: 30th of 81): Five years, $33 million
Lane Johnson (PFF rank: 9th of 81): Five years, $56.3 million
Ryan Schraeder (PFF rank: 12th of 81): Five years, $31.5 million
Bobby Massie (PFF rank: 43 of 81): Three years, $18 million

Reiff would probably deserve a contract close to Massie’s deal, but sometimes you have to overpay a player to prevent him from hitting free agency. Plus, Reiff may be willing to test the market to see if he can get paid left tackle money from another franchise, although the difference between right and left tackle is shrinking by the year. Regardless of the contract Reiff will be demanding, the Lions have a tough decision ahead.

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