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.
Expectations before 2016
Warford entered the 2016 season as the undisputed starting right guard. Entering a contract year, many were hoping Warford would take his play to a whole new level. Warford had been one of the Lions’ most consistent linemen over his three years, and arguably their best lineman in his breakout rookie season, but he hadn’t quite reached a level of play that warranted a big second contract.
Actual role in 2016
2016 stats: 15 games (15 starts)
Warford’s 2016 was much like his first three years in the pros: His play was not offensive enough to draw a lot of negative attention, yet it wasn’t flashy enough to earn him any accolades.
Warford finished with an above average 81.5 grade with Pro Football Focus—21st among 76 qualifying guards—with nearly even grades in pass and run blocking.
However, the Lions still struggled immensely running the ball in 2016 and Warford deserves some of the criticism there. According to Football Outsiders, the Lions ranked 29th in average yards per carry to Warford’s side of the field.
Outlook for 2017
Contract status: Unrestricted free agent
Along with Riley Reiff, this may be the biggest free agency decision the Lions will make this offseason. If Detroit lets Warford go, he will be one of the best guards on the free agency market, which could lead him to earning some serious dough. On Tuesday, Jets guard Brian Winters got a four-year, $8 million per year extension. That could have huge implications on the going rate for a free agent guard:
If these numbers are true, it will reset the guard market. The top guys this season will be looking at 10-12M/yr https://t.co/ck6gQ11cA8— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) January 17, 2017
Even though the Lions have plenty of cap room to make that work, that’s a pretty big price to pay for a guard that hasn’t exactly been dominant over his first four years. The Lions also have Laken Tomlinson still on the roster, who many believe would benefit from a move back to the right side of the line, even though he was benched for overall poor play in 2016.
Another option for the Lions would be to place the franchise tag on Warford, but this option will end up being more costly than just signing Warford to a long-term deal. The franchise tag contract size is determined by averaging the top five salaries at a position. Fortunately for Warford, the league combines all offensive line positions into one category, so a guard’s franchise tag number is the same as a left tackle’s. Last year, that number was $13.7 million, and that number will only go up with the expected salary cap jump in 2017.
So the Lions will likely have to choose between two options: sign Warford to a potentially pricey long-term deal, or rely on the play of either Tomlinson or second-year player Joe Dahl to become the new starting right guard.