New Detroit Lions general manager Bob Quinn has made improving the blocking of the team his primary offseason focus as he signed the top right tackle in free agency, Rick Wagner, and then managed to pull T.J. Lang away from the rival Packers. He also signed Cardinals blocking tight end Darren Fells to improve that area.
The offensive line in general has been a focus since Quinn came to Detroit, drafting Taylor Decker in the first round of 2016 followed by Graham Glasgow and Joe Dahl later in the draft. His strategy saw Riley Reiff move on in free agency to the Minnesota Vikings while Larry Warford got his payday with the New Orleans Saints. That leaves only Laken Tomlinson and Travis Swanson from the Mayhew days, but only Swanson is expected to start in 2017.
Fans weren’t really excited when the Lions drafted Tomlinson in the first round of the 2015 draft. Detroit wisely traded down and acquired Manny Ramirez from the Broncos, but it was surprising when they then picked another guard when their name came up again.
Regarded as the top true guard in the 2015 draft, Tomlinson was heavily scouted by several teams and was expected to not last past the New England Patriots at the 32nd overall pick. He started and played sporadically as a rookie before entering 2016 as the incumbent but eventually lost the job to Glasgow, who would play there most of the season and played well enough—though not great—to leave many thinking it’s his job to lose coming into the season.
Fans never warmed to the Tomlinson pick, and despite showing some very promising potential when playing right guard against the Rams and a late season surge after Swanson’s injury pushed Glasgow back to guard, fans are already talking about how to get him out of town.
Normally that’s just hyperbole; fans don’t like a guy and want him cut regardless of cap or roster circumstances. However, in the case of Tomlinson, we’re talking about a guy who was replaced on the roster last season, blocked from his only avenue to a starting role in the coming season by a free agent, and fits an athletic profile outside of what the new general manager prefers. The roster currently has Joe Dahl, who many expected would challenge Tomlinson at guard this coming season, and Brandon Thomas, a former high pick that the Lions kept on their practice squad and blocked from being signed away. Tomlinson has starting experience, but there’s very little to hold him on this roster with its present makeup.
The thing is, the Lions get no cap savings for cutting Tomlinson, and in fact would end up paying more than what they would if they just kept him on the roster. His current cap number is $2,331,886 according to OverTheCap, but it would leave the Lions with $3,451,476 in dead money if he were cut. The team doesn’t get much of a cap saving if they trade him, only $92,706, but it raises some pretty interesting questions when you look at that route.
We know already that the Patriots are busy with trades this (and every) offseason, and we also know that they showed heavy interest in Tomlinson prior to the 2015 draft. The Seattle Seahawks are also still looking for offensive line help and lost out on Lang when he signed in Detroit. The rival Packers are also reeling from losing their own free agents and have no current on roster replacement at right guard.
In most trade situations, fans over-estimate how much the team can get in return for a player. We often forget that Brandon Marshall was moved for two third-round picks once. With the guard market mostly dried up and the cost much higher than estimated, this is probably a situation where the Lions could get more for a player like Tomlinson than he’d have been worth in years prior. If packaged with an additional pick, the Lions could pull in as high as a third-round pick from a cash-strapped, guard-needy team but will likely be asking for a fourth or fifth straight up. This isn’t a situation like with Kyle Van Noy where the player had no value and there was no market. The cheap contract and fifth year option is going to be appealing to teams who need help at guard and think a change of scenery could help make late 2016 Laken Tomlinson become permanent.
Picking Tomlinson up now would allow a team to keep him on a very cap friendly contract and also retain the fifth-year option if he works out in their system. Since he is no longer part of the Lions’ long-term plans, it makes sense that they shop him to teams looking to bolster their offensive lines on the cheap. The guard market has shaped up much larger than many were anticipating and it is no longer a cheap position to fill in free agency. With trades flying all over the place, this is a move the Detroit Lions should be seriously considering, and I have no doubt Bob Quinn is furiously working his phone right.